The Conversation: What Does the NC-17 Rating Mean for 'Shame'? And What Does 'Shame' Mean for the NC-17 Rating?

The Conversation: What Does the NC-17 Rating Mean for 'Shame'? And What Does 'Shame' Mean for the NC-17 Rating?

Oct 26, 2011

As you read in this morning's Movie News in 60 Seconds, and as you probably expected, Steve McQueen's Shame has been rated NC-17 by the MPAA. And distributor Fox Searchlight is completely embracing the mark with hopes for Oscar glory in spite of the stigma attached. While this wasn't a surprise, it has still spawned some debate and discussion around the web, including the usual protest against the ratings board and more specific arguments for why this might be the film to change the world -- or, at least the film and theater industries along with social attitudes of both the Academy and Americans overall. Could the film be a bigger deal for the NC-17 than vice versa? That's a big weight on Shame and Best Actor hopeful Michael Fassbender's shoulders. But perhaps it's a weight worth suffering?  

What are people saying about Shame's official rating announcement? Here's The Conversation heard around the blosophere and Twitter: 


Perhaps “Shame” will open the door to more movies embracing an NC-17 rating not as scandal, but as an indicator of a movie that is purely for adults, with mature material that your twelve year old probably shouldn’t see. - Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

What Fox Searchlight may be able to accomplish with this maneuver is to remind people of what a rating is and is not. It is not, as Gilula says, a scarlet letter. It is not a badge of sin or badness. It is information for parents, and if it's only used that way, it doesn't require that a film be edited or even that a rating be appealed in most cases. There's nothing wrong, in and of itself, with parents who want to look at ratings information being told that Shame isn't appropriate for kids. It undoubtedly isn't meant for kids. Standing by the rating and then reminding people that the rating isn't any bigger of a deal than people choose to make of it could potentially make all of this much less important in the future. - Linda Holmes, NPR's Monkey See

All the rating does is make teens, maybe some tweens, download it for free as opposed to paying for it in the theater.  Do any of you parents really know what your kids are doing online?  Wake up, parents. You have no idea what your teens are doing and seeing.  No idea.  If you are lax enough with them to let them go to the movies by themselves as teens — as in, “I’m going to let the MPAA and the theaters parent my child for me because I’m too lame to parent them myself” then you probably don’t care enough to think about what they’re doing online. [...] Probably what everyone wants to know is whether the NC-17 rating will affect Shame’s Oscar chances.  And the answer is, of course it will. - Sasha Stone, Awards Daily

If they really want to see a thirty-something man rimming a prostitute they have all the necessary tools at their fingertips. What they won’t find on, however, are the aspects of Shame that make it worth protecting from thugs like [MPAA rating's board member Joan] Graves: the remarkable performances from Fassbender and Mulligan, the pitch-perfect cinematography from Hunger alumnus Sean Bobbitt and the arrival of Steve McQueen as a major international director. - Charlie Lyne, Ultra Culture

The question is what impact the rating will have on Fassbender’s real shot at a best actor nomination. Even Searchlight has no idea if the Academy will go along with a transgressive movie like this. My sense is that the actor will be nominated by the actors branch, who will watch the film out of curiosity and will appreciate the quality of his performance. - Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood

It's going to take an almighty amount of lobbying to get Academy voters to see Michael Fassbender's performance - the best I've seen this year - and give it the Oscar nomination it deserves. And if Fassbender misses out, it's the MPAA, not the film's sex addict Brandon, who should feel the most ashamed. - Simon Kinnear, Kinnemaniac

The problem lies not in the NC-17 rating itself; it's perfectly acceptable, even worthwhile, to have an "adult's only" rating. The problem is in the MPAA's puritanism about the rating, the way they wield it, and in American puritanism surrounding sexuality in general. [...] I think we owe it to Steve McQueen and future filmmakers to pay for Shame in the theaters. And I hope the Academy voters realize they owe it to future filmmakers to give NC-17 a real fighting chance. Artists need to have the option of creating art for other adults and adults need art that is specifically for them. Man cannot live on Disney alone. - Nathaniel Rogers, The Film Experience

Personally, I think it's time we took back the NC-17 from the religious zealots who think that anything rated that must be filthy and pornographic.  Sex is a major part of our lives (at least many of us) and it's just as much a valid topic of discussion and thematic material for a film as anything else.  I love a good violent film as much as anyone else, but violence has been so hyperstylized at this point that it's practically pornography itself, and most films never get called on it. - Nordling, Ain't It Cool News


@akstanwyck: Shame Embraces NC-17 Rating; Will Oscar Voters Punish Fassbender?: There is no shame in earning an NC-17 rating....

@awardsdaily: You didn't just say there is no shame in earning an NC-17 rating. Huh?

@akstanwyck: I don't get your take on shame NC-17 at all. Rating expected by all from start, all part of game plan, no surprise.

@ReubixCube: why exactly is it shameful to earn an NC-17 rating?

@GuyLodge: Yeah, I don't get it. Where's the shame in being for adults only? Searchlight is doing everything right here.

@awardsdaily: the whole point of the rating is to shame.

@ReubixCube: but that's only if you view it that way. Searchlight wears it as an honor & I think it's brilliant of them.

@akstanwyck: strictly eye of beholder issue for theaters, newspapers, moviegoers. Mpaa deems art film for over 18 only, is all.

@ReubixCube: I think the rating will eventually get the film more publicity & thus more viewers curious about the fuss.

@akstanwyck: searchlight's plan is to take full advantage of nc-17 spotlight on shame. Natch.

@DrewatHitFix: If there was no economic impact built into the rating, I'd love it. I'd encourage it, even. But "Shame" can only play on a small percentage of America's screens. No matter what. I worked for several theater chains, and in every case, the leases with our landlords prohibited us from showing any unrated or X films.

@MarioAlegre: but NC17 is a rating. A legit MPAA rating. It isn't unrated. Why is that different than any of the others for these chains?

@DrewatHitFix: Because it is. When created, it was explained as "the alternative to X." To many chains, X=NC-17. No difference.

@darkhorizons: Seems a strange policy, why would theatres limit selves from revenue, especially in tough times like now.

@DrewatHitFix: Because they don't want to debate with landlords if the NC-17 means the same thing as an X. Losing battle.

@darkhorizons: It's just strange. Cinemas here in Oz & UK in big family malls have no real issues playing non-X 'Over 18's Only' movies.

@forfoljare: The fact that Hostel II was rated NC17 and was then re-rated R on appeal, but Shame is given NC17 makes the MPAA look silly.

@nevpierce: Shame gets NC-17 certificate. You can show US teenagers rape, murder & torture, but beware the moral danger of Michael Fassbender’s willy.

@DavidPoland: There is no question that the NC17 is broken




Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

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