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Editorial: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, IFC, & MPAA Ratings Discrepancy

Lea Seydoux Blue is the Warmest Color La vie d Adele

Blue is the Warmest Color / La vie d’Adèle, from inception, raised eye brows for its content, the awards it garnered, and the NC-17 rating the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) bestowed upon it when it came to Unites States shores. Recently “The IFC Center in Greenwich Village (on 6th Ave at 3rd Street) — part of the IFC family, which includes Sundance Selects, the label that submitted ‘Blue’ to the” MPAA, decided to show the film and admit teenagers under 17 years of age without a parent present. “In France, ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ has a ’12’ rating, which means that anyone over that age is permitted to attend. This is the second-least restrictive classification, roughly equivalent to our PG-13.”

The official press release from John Vanco, senior vice president and general manager of the IFC Center, on Blue is the Warmest Color and the MPAA rating:

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is one of the most profound coming-of-age stories ever put on film. Given the unique and powerful resonance of teenaged Adele’s story, we at IFC Center are honored to be able to share this film with NYC audiences.

This is not a movie for young children, but it is our judgment that it is appropriate for mature, inquiring teenagers who are looking ahead to the emotional challenges and opportunities that adulthood holds.

The MPAA has recommended that no American citizen under the age of 18 be allowed to see the film. While many people find the MPAA’s recommendations useful, others may look to alternative sources: reviews, recommendations of friends, etc., in making movie choices. The MPAA rating is a voluntary guideline that we as a theater are not obligated to enforce. In this case we feel it is unnecessarily restrictive and we will indeed admit high school age patrons to screenings of this perceptive and moving film at the IFC Center.

On the MPAA:

The MPAA administers a motion picture rating system used in the United States to rate the suitability of films’ themes and content for certain audiences. The system was first introduced in November 1968, and has gone through several changes since then. The ratings system is completely voluntary, and ratings have no legal standing. Instead, theater owners enforce the MPAA film ratings after they have been assigned, with many theaters refusing to exhibit non-rated films.

I love the fact that the IFC Center (any theater for that matter) took a stand like this. The MPAA skew against sexuality while violence has been dealt a far more lenient hand has always aggravated me. How is it that decapitation (accompanied by blood and viscera spraying) gets an R rating and simulated coitus gets an NC-17 rating? Its very strange, especially if you consider the gargantuan increase in school shootings during the last fifteen years. While listening to a prominent radio show, the host related a story about how he was at the theater watching The Avengers and children were getting upset and left the theater over the violence perpetrated by Loki after his pugnacious portal entrance.

Seven people violently killed in the above scene in 20 seconds, PG-13 rating. Boy masturbates in American Pie, R rating. Girl masturbates in But I’m a Cheerleader, NC-17 rating. I would say that is a ratings discrepancy. Wouldn’t you?

I am not the only one that has this point of view regarding the MPAA’s capricious rating practices:

The MPAA has come under fire plenty of times over the years for its inconsistent — some would say totally nonsensical — approach to ratings. It tends to be far more forgiving of violence than of sensuality or bad language, which is how The King’s Speech winds up with an R while The Dark Knight gets away with a PG-13. Heck, it even gave the documentary Bully an R at first, essentially arguing that kids are too young to hear the language that they themselves are using in real life.

The good thing about all this hoopla over Blue is the Warmest Color, the IFC Center, and the film’s rating is that it points out a very important fact. The MPAA is not a government organization and their ratings are not law. No theater chain is legally obligated to adhere to the MPAA’s rulings. Movie theaters can theoretically show any movie they like to anyone they like regardless of the MPAA’s ratings.

The IFC theater in NYC took this occasion to do just that.

 The Parents Television Council was not happy with IFC’s stance, issuing this statement:

PTC Calls on NYC Theater to Enforce NC-17 Movie Rating for Sexually Explicit Film

LOS ANGELES (October 30, 2013) – The Parents Television Council issued a stern warning to the IFC Center in New York City requesting that the theater not allow the admittance of children to the NC-17-rated film, Blue Is The Warmest Color, as the theater has presumably been doing.

In a letter to John Vanco, senior vice president and general manager of the IFC Center, PTC President Tim Winter wrote:

“On behalf of the 1.3 million members of the Parents Television Council, whose mission it is to protect children from sex, violence and profanity in entertainment, I am deeply distressed to learn of your decision not to abide by the MPAA guidelines for the motion picture rating NC-17 by allowing minor children admittance to the film Blue Is The Warmest Color.

“Media accounts regarding the film’s content indicate that it features, among other graphic sexual content, a 15-minute long explicit sex scene. In a recent interview, actress Lea Seydoux, who plays Emma in the film, said that during the filming of this centerpiece scene that she felt ‘like a prostitute.’ Consequently, the MPAA’s assigned rating of NC-17 for ‘explicit sexual content is not in dispute.

“The MPAA ratings exist for one reason alone: to give parents information about the content of motion pictures. In your statement regarding this issue, you claimed ‘this is not a movie for young children, but it is our judgment that it is not inappropriate for mature, inquiring teenagers who are looking ahead to the emotional challenges and opportunities that adulthood holds.’ By what measure will the IFC Center be ascertaining the maturity of the children to whom you will sell tickets? At what age, or what unascertained maturity level, will a child be denied entry? And if, in your sole determination, this film is so vitally important for some children to see, then why would you charge them for admission – unless of course this is nothing but a publicity stunt for a film that is D.O.A at the US box office? These are questions left unanswered because there is no reasonable answer you could possibly give that preserves parental input and authority over the media consumption of their children.

“Simply put, you and the IFC Center are in no position to determine which children are ‘mature’ enough to view explicit sexual content without the presence of a parent or guardian. Whether a child should view explicit sexual content is a decision best left to parents and families, and we strongly object to your theaters’ usurping of their appropriate role.

“Therefore, we call on the IFC Center to immediately begin enforcing the reasonable MPAA guidelines for the NC-17 rating and not allow the admittance of children. This will in no way inhibit those adults who wish to view the film every ability to do so; but it will ensure that parents have the information they need and the industry backing they’ve been promised for more than 50 years.

NC17 Rating

“The IFC Center’s decision to usurp parental and family authority by allowing unfettered access to children of adult-rated, explicit sexual content is a direct assault on parents and families across the country. Your selective unenforcement of the MPAA guidelines in this instances approaches industrial fraud, in that the system is intended specifically for the purpose of parental reliance, and that reliance has been obviated. Parents must be assured that content ratings are accurate, consistent and transparent, and they must be confident that exhibitors will enforce them appropriately at the theater; otherwise the system is utterly worthless.

“We ask that you immediately reconsider this self-serving and undermining business decision, and instead do what is in the right and best interests of parents, families and children. The Parents Television Council will bring its full weight and credit to bear to make a national issue of your decision, via every available means, until it is reversed.”

The Parents Television Council® (www.parentstv.org) is a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. It was founded in 1995 to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media.

This national grassroots organization has more than 1.3 million members and 56 chapters across the United States, and works with television producers, broadcasters, networks and sponsors in an effort to stem the flow of harmful and negative messages targeted to children.

The PTC™ also works with elected and appointed government officials to enforce broadcast decency standards. Most importantly, the PTC produces critical research and publications documenting the dramatic increase in sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. This information is provided free of charge so parents can make informed viewing choices for their own families.

John Vanco gave this response via Twitter to the Parents Television Council’s statement:

So happy to be ‘slammed’ by a group guided by board members Pat Boone & Michael Medved! bit.ly/17tsjhu @ifccenter
John Vanco (@JHVanco) October 30, 2013

In the Parents Television Council letter, this issue was raised:

At what age, or what unascertained maturity level, will a child be denied entry?

That is a valid question. How does the IFC Center make these determinations? Where is their oversight and what is its make-up? What teens 17 and below get in to see Blue Is the Warmest Color? Where is the cut-off for the film? 12? 13 years old? These are questions that the IFC Center has not answered. THey say highschool age teens will be allowed in to see the film. What if the high school student in question is extremely smart but is 12 years old? By the IFC Center’s criteria, he would be allowed into the film.

Those answers are IFC’s problem, theirs to solve, and are beside the point (sorry about the digression).

The point is that Blue Is the Warmest Color can be viewed through the IFC Center by the very demographic that the film pertains to and affects the most.

Others feel the same:

in some ways, because of its tone and subject matter, “Blue” is a movie that may be best appreciated by viewers under the NC-17 age cutoff.

It’s a movie about a high school student, after all, confronting issues — peer pressure, first love, homework, postgraduate plans — that will be familiar to adolescents and perhaps more exotic to the middle-aged. In spite of linguistic and cultural differences, the main character, moody, self-absorbed and curious, will remind many American girls of themselves, their friends and the heroines of the young adult novels they devour. The content of the film is really no racier that what is found in those books, but our superstition about images designates it as adults-only viewing.

Comparing the characters within Blue Is the Warmest Color to those found in The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games novels is bold but no less true (the teens in those books are drawn less like cartoons than their film incarnations. Trust me. Case in point: A Walk to Remember).

The above demographic viewpoint raises an even more electrifying question: If teens should be allowed to see Blue Is the Warmest Color because it pertains to them, their world, and their choices so closely, should they have also been allowed to see Kids when it was released? Many if not all of the criteria in favor of teens being allowed to see Blue Is the Warmest Color can be applied Kids as well.

What are your thoughts on teens being able to see Blue Is the Warmest Color? What are your thoughts on teens being able to see films like HostelThe Devil’s Rejects, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre far more readily and with less restrictions by the MPAA than films like Blue Is the Warmest Color?

Leave your thoughts below in the comments section. For more editorials, visit our Editorials Page, subscribe to us by Email, “follow” us on Twitter, Tumblr, or “like” us on Facebook.

Source: Variety, Wikipedia, Slashfilm, Parentstv, Insidemovies, Ifccenter

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About the author

Rollo Tomasi

A Political Science and MBA grad who started FilmBook during an eCommerce B-School course in 2008. Cinema and TV addict. Former writer at Empire Movies, Blogcritics, and Alternative Film Guide. In addition to writing for FilmBook, he also edits the copy published on the website, manages its writing staff, manages the back-end operations, site finances, its social network accounts, and works with publicists, actors, and companies on press coverage and promotions. He has also created ProMovieBlogger.com and Trending Awards.com.

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