Over the summer they earned controversy for their decision to give Yael Hersonski's gripping Warsaw Ghetto documentary, 'A Film Unfinished,' an R-rating, eschewing precedent on films like 'The Last Days,' which earned a PG-13. Such is the way of the MPAA. They rule and contradict themselves, and moviegoers and filmmakers throw up their hands in exasperation.
But now a war is brewing. After receiving two very surprising ratings for their premiere awards contenders -- 'The King's Speech' and 'Blue Valentine' -- The Weinstein Company has had enough. They're not going to just accept the awards and let the MPAA rule over the fate of their films -- they're assembling a "formidable legal team" to fight.
Deadline reports that after 'Speech' earned an R rating and 'Valentine' received an NC-17, The Weinstein Co. is preparing to challenge the verdicts with a team of top attorneys that include David Boies, Bert Fields and Alan R. Friedman. Harvey says: "While we respect the MPAA, I think we can all agree that we are living with an outdated ratings system that gives torture porn, horror and ultraviolent films the same rating as films with so-called inappropriate language."
'Speech' drew an R-rating not for sexuality and skin, nor violence, but for the use of the f-bomb. As director Tom Hooper explains: "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." To relay the use of the word without restricting access, the UK gave the film a 12A, with an explanation that there is some inappropriate language "used in the context of speech therapy."
'Valentine,' on the other hand, got its NC-17 for sex. This is "due to one scene, a sexually intimate sequence between a married couple trying to repair their broken relationship." Star Michelle Williams responded to the rating, with her own take of the sexuality in the film: "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."
Co-star Ryan Gosling adds: "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."
It might seem like a moot argument, since many of these points have been made before, without the ratings body listening. But it looks like the Weinsteins are prepared to make this more than the usual pointless battle. Bert Fields sees it as a break of basic rights: "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."
The TWC's first course of action for 'Valentine' is to appeal, which means that they must accept the NC-17 rating for 'Valentine' and begin the appeal process. At first, they planned to ignore the board and release the film unrated, but have since been inspired by the growing public support for the film. Director Derek Cianfrance explains: "The one positive to come out of this miss-directed [sic] 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."
One can only hope that one day, the f-bomb won't be worse than violence -- that torture porn won't be deemed more appropriate for younger viewers than marital sex. Could this be the moment when complacency and bitter discourse morphs into a fight against the system?