Should Younger Teens Be Allowed to See This NC-17 Movie?

A NYC theater showing the Cannes sensation 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' has decided to ignore the MPAA's recommendations

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Sundance Selects / IFC

For months, conversation about the French film Blue Is the Warmest Color — known in its native tongue as La vie d’Adèle — has been dominated by three things: its Palme d’Or victory at the Cannes film festival, infighting between director Abdellatif Kechiche and his young stars and, perhaps most of all, the movie’s explicit sex scenes. Blue is a coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old girl, played by 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos, discovering her own sexuality. As part of that story, it contains extended and graphic lesbian sex scenes with Exarchopoulos and co-star Léa Seydoux. It has, unsurprisingly, been given an NC-17 rating for its Oct. 25 U.S. theatrical release.

But that doesn’t mean teens 17 and under won’t be able to check it out.

As the New York Times reports, at least one of the handful of theaters that will open the movie tomorrow has decided that, in this case, the rating doesn’t really matter. At New York City‘s IFC Center (interestingly, a cousin of the film’s U.S. distributor, Sundance Selects), “inquiring teenagers” of “high school age” will be allowed to purchase tickets, since the theater’s management has decided that the topic will be relevant and appropriate for teens who are “looking ahead to the emotional challenges and opportunities that adulthood holds.” Usually, an NC-17 rating means absolutely no one under 18 is allowed into the theater — as opposed to an R rating, which requires those 16 and under to be accompanied by a guardian — but MPAA ratings are recommendations rather than requirements. (Studios can receive sanctions for misusing the ratings system, for example by receiving a rating and then failing to display it properly, but theaters are not involved in that and the ratings have no legal teeth.)

(MORE: Richard Corliss — ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’: How Much Sex is Too Much Sex?)

The IFC Center is only one of the handful of theaters that will show Blue this weekend;  the box office at the movie’s other New York venue, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, said they would not sell a ticket to anyone under 18. Still, the IFC Center’s decision is a nod to an ongoing debate about movie ratings and what is or is not appropriate for children and teens.

The MPAA says that NC-17 does not necessarily indicate that a movie is pornographic, in a negative sense, just that due to “violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse, or any other element that most parents would consider too strong” it is not appropriate for children. In practice, however, sex is what puts a movie over the top; the MPAA’s own ratings tracker website makes that clear. Every single movie to receive an NC-17 rating over the last five years (fewer than 10 in total) has involved explicit sexual content, and the same trend holds true well before that, implying that the ratings board believes younger audiences are better prepared for gore than for passion.

Even beyond the leniency violence receives, the MPAA has been accused of arbitrariness and bias. For example, the 2010 uproar before MPAA overturned its initial decision to slap Blue Valentine  with an NC-17 involved Ryan Gosling pointing out that the ratings board’s concern about whether the recipient of oral sex is male or female seemed to him to smack of hypocrisy and sexism.

(MOREPalme d’Or Winner: Cannes Has the Hots for Adèle)

Still, an NC-17 rating can be a death sentence for a movie’s box-office power: fewer people who are allowed to buy tickets equals fewer dollars, and thus fewer theaters that are even willing to show the picture. Ad opportunities and chances for future broadcast are also affected. As a result, many studios will recut a movie or release an unrated version rather than accept the NC-17.

When it comes to Blue is the Warmest Color, however, the rating stuck. That lack of re-editing adds one more factor to consider, in terms of whether high-schoolers should be allowed to watch. Blue is, just as it has been at festival screenings and in France, a 179-minute-long French film with serious artistic merit. In other words, it’s not exactly bait for the stereotypical sex-crazed teen trying to sneak into a movie; the hypothetical “inquisitive” teen the IFC Center plans to admit will be a special breed of moviegoer, and perhaps one particularly well suited to get the most from seeing it. In reporting on the IFC Center’s decision, the Times‘ A.O. Scott noted that he feels Blue is “a movie that may be best appreciated by viewers under the NC-17 age cut-off,” due to the age of its protagonist — and that his own 14-year-old daughter has seen it twice.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the NC-17 age cut off. It is “17 and under,” not “under 17.”

10 comments
smelleecat
smelleecat

i still dont get the restrictions that are put on americans. if you can get online, you have access to way more explicit things than this...for free. for teens just wanting to see sex, they dont need to pay to do it, or even leave their house. so i imagine the teens who do go see this would genuinely care about the story and message rather than some "girl on girl action."

mr.m3ph
mr.m3ph

What idiots. Teens under 18 have access to the internet.

coronafl
coronafl

The only problem I see is that instead of the "curious teen exploring their sexuality" you will get a bunch of hormonal male teens wanting to see girl on girl sex.

sinya
sinya

as a teenager I can't stand this...

3tsand2ms
3tsand2ms

They are considering letting tens younger than17 to see this movie because of its coming of age story line? Are you kidding me? Is there not enough sex and enough pressure to explore any & everything sexual without a blatantly controversial movie being dangled in front of them like a carrot? I have not seen the movie haven't watched it before I would make that decision but I don't see how any parent what lol their children under the age of 17 to see this movie without seeing it themselves first. But then again I don't agree with a 15 year old being able to buy the morning after pill without parental consent either so maybe I'm just an old fuddy duddy.

TheBuser
TheBuser

The MPAA is a fraud. It's about time theaters revolted.

AusamaAnwar
AusamaAnwar

Of course am not kinda of conspiracies believer, but due to latest love story-based movies ive watched all those last years, all i see there is a process which's trying to make homosexual relations love stories, and its gonna help spreading those kind of ideas, and helping for legalizing gay-lesbian marriage .

1118ice
1118ice

@3tsand2ms u r an old fuddy tuddy. teens under 17 who are exploring their sexuality should see it and who are experiencing emotional challenges and wondering about opportunities that adulthood holds.