The MPAA has been handing down a lot of ridiculous ratings to movies lately, from letting Saw 3D slip through with a mere R-rating to shoving the documentary The Tillman Story in the same restrictive category. But when it comes to The King's Speech and Blue Valentine, two films given ratings widely perceived as unfair in recent weeks, the MPAA may have tangled with an opponent too big for them to handle: The Weinstein Company.
In a press release the company has announced their plans to fight the MPAA on both ratings, lumping together two films that might otherwise have to struggle on their own, and probably lose. The King's Speech, which is scheduled to open in limited release next week, will be fighting to get a PG-13 rating rather than an R, emboldened by the fact that the equivalent British rating was lowered, with a note that the film includes profanity "used in the context of speech therapy." Blue Valentine, stuck with an NC-17, has a tougher road ahead, being less high-profile and also getting slapped for sexual content, which is one of the things the notoriously prudish MPAA is typically most fearful of. If quotes like the one Ryan Gosling provided below count for anything, though, they ought to reverse it just to avoid being called sexist:
"You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It's misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman's sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film."
The full press release is actually worth reading, given how many insightful comments they got from the filmmakers and stars behind The King's Speech and Blue Valentine. With the Weinstein Company lawyering up to an almost unprecedented degree, this is a story we won't see going away any time soon, whether or not they win these appeals.
LOS ANGELES, CA (November 18, 2010) – In response to the ratings given to two of its upcoming films, The Weinstein Company (TWC) announced today that it has engaged a formidable legal team to challenge the NC-17 rating for BLUE VALENTINE and the R rating for THE KING’S SPEECH given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), according to TWC Co-Chair Harvey Weinstein.
“While we respect the MPAA, I think we can all agree that we are living with an outdated ratings system that gives torture porn, horror and ultraviolent films the same rating as films with so-called inappropriate language,” explains Weinstein.
In mounting the challenge, TWC has assembled a team of top attorneys including David Boies, who serves as legal advisor on both films, Bert Fields, who is overseeing the appeal for THE KING’S SPEECH, and Alan R. Friedman, the lead attorney for BLUE VALENTINE.
THE KING’S SPEECH drew an R rating due to its multiple occurrences of strong language, even though it is used in a non-aggressive, non-sexual, therapeutic way. Director Tom Hooper states, "I hope that language can be judged by its context just as violence is currently judged in context. The f-word in ‘The King's Speech’ is not being used in its sexual sense, or in its aggressive sense, but as a release mechanism to help a man overcome a stammer in the context of speech therapy, in a scene that is also very funny. This was a technique that David Seidler, the writer, encountered as a boy in the 1940s - discovering he didn't stammer on curse words was hugely helpful to him overcoming his speech problems. Fortunately in the UK we have been granted a 12A, and the on screen certificate will explain that there is some bad language "used in the context of speech therapy". I hope that in the light of this context the R rating for the movie can be reconsidered."
Prompted by the decision from the British Board of Film Classification to lower the rating of THE KING’S SPEECH to 12A, the equivalent of our PG-13, and to use the specific warning: “Contains strong language in a speech therapist context,” as well as the outcry from parents, teens and educators who have already seen the film, TWC has requested what is referred to as a Special Hearing with the MPAA. The Special Hearing is necessary because the film is now within 25 business days of its theatrical release. “We were so encouraged by the British Film Board’s decision to lower the rating in England that it motivated us to fully support the Special Hearing that TWC has requested. We feel that school kids in America would otherwise miss out on the opportunity to see this film which at its core is a film about overcoming adversity, based on moral themes of friendship and self belief,” comments Iain Canning.
Not only has the film received support from filmgoers, but also from a chorus of key journalists, including Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times, Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly, and countless other editors and writers. The other motivation for proceeding with the 11th-hour appeal is in response to audiences who believe the current powder-keg issue of childhood bullying, and its effects long into adulthood, subtlety illustrated in the film, should reach pre-teen and teenage viewers.
Attorney Fields adds, “This rating for THE KING’S SPEECH is arbitrary and irrational. In my view, it violates The Weinstein Company’s right to freedom of speech under the state and US constitution. It should strike fear in the heart of every director and producer.”
BLUE VALENTINE, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, in a film already acclaimed by critics, tells the honest and personal story of a troubled marriage, and yet apparently drew an NC-17 due to one scene, a sexually intimate sequence between a married couple trying to repair their broken relationship.
Gosling comments, "You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It's misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman's sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film."
“The MPAA’s decision on Blue Valentine unmasks a taboo in our culture, that an honest portrayal of a relationship is more threatening than a sensationalized one,” says Williams. “Mainstream films often depict sex and violence in a manner that is disturbing and very far from reality. Yet, the MPAA regularly awards these films with a more audience friendly rating, enabling our culture’s desensitization to violence, rape, torture and brutality. Our film does not depict any of these attributes. It’s simply a candid look at the difficulties couples face in sustaining their relationships over time. Blue Valentine opens a door for couples to have a dialogue about the everyday realities of many relationships. This film was made in the spirit of love, honesty and intimacy. I hope that the MPAA will hear our pleas and reconsider their decision.”
In order to appeal, TWC is forced to accept the NC-17 rating for now, the first step in the appeals process. Initially TWC sought to go outside of the ratings board, and release the film unrated, however in the last 10 days so much support of the film has been garnered that TWC has decided to move forward with an official MPAA appeal. “Over the past year I have witnessed audiences all over the world personally relating to the story and characters, so brilliantly and bravely performed by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams” states director, Derek Cianfrance. He adds, “The one positive to come out of this miss-directed decision, is the passionate outpouring of support from the industry, the media, and the fans of the film. I have yet to meet someone who has seen the film who agrees with this ultra-conservative decision.”
“Stamping this film with the rarely used NC-17 is a travesty,” says attorney Friedman. “That rating is out of sync with R ratings awarded to films for sexual conduct, where the scenes in question are far less sensitively handled. The scene, consistent with the entire film, like all of BLUE VALENTINE, was shot with great care and tact. In fact, the NC-17 suggests a coarseness of content that is nowhere to be seen. I look forward to providing the appeal board with the chance to correct this mistake by lowering the rating to an R.”
As both films are slated for an end of the year release and are considered by many to be leading awards contenders, TWC hopes to come to a resolution on an expedited timetable.
THE KING’S SPEECH, starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter is directed by Tom Hooper, written by David Seidler and produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, will have an exclusive Thanksgiving release.
BLUE VALENTINE, directed by Derek Cianfrance, produced by Jamie Patricof, Lynette Howell and Alex Orlovsky, will be released on December 31 and expands nationwide January 2011.