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Feminist Filmmaking Means NC-17 Rating from MPAA

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by Inkoo Kang
December 20, 2013 12:00 PM
5 Comments
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Jill Soloway's 'Afternoon Delight'

Director Jill Soloway gave a wonderfully insightful interview to Flavorwire yesterday about the crude double standards at work at the MPAA. 

Soloway directed this year's Afternoon Delight, a story about a housewife, played by Kathryn Hahn, who discovers she likes to get it on far more and in different ways than she'd previously thought. In a discussion of her film, Soloway reveals that to get the film the R she promised to her distributors she had to cut the scenes depicting women enjoying having sex. 

Asked which aspects of the film the MPAA deemed were "only for adults" as opposed to "with adult supervision," Soloway answered,

I think it's about the sexual agency of female characters. The scene portrays two women in a sexual situation connecting emotionally with one another. That might be what was "uncomfortable" for the MPAA. It's infuriating, to encounter this editing-down after pushing through the many doors to get this movie made. I even won the Directing Award at Sundance, but that kind of lauding didn't protect me from this organization's opinion that sex from a woman's perspective is somehow too dangerous. Did you see that thing about Evan Rachel Wood complaining that a scene where her character received oral sex was cut for the theatrical version of the movie? 

[Flavorwire:] Yeah. I mean, I think your film is a better example because now that I've seen Charlie Countryman, but reports do not suggest the frame of the movie is self-consciously feminist, whereas yours is. 

But it doesn't matter, really, whether the film is feminist or not, it matters that what they cut is the one sex scene where she's getting the oral sex! It's about female pleasure making people uncomfortable, it's insane. Particularly when you think about how much misogyny makes it through in other movies, how much violence, too. Is it weird that I even want affirmative action or reparations that reward women filmmakers for taking the risks of expressing authentic sexuality? I'm so mad that I was raised on the highly commercial, misogynistic characterizations of sexual women as disposable sluts or props for a man's storyline, yet if I try to disrupt that portrayal, I have to minimize the parts that are "uncomfortable." Uncomfortable for whom?

Afternoon Delight and Charlie Countryman aren't alone. As you may remember, a high-profile fight over ratings occurred over another cunnilingus scene, the one in 2010's Blue Valentine. With the Michelle Williams-Ryan Gosling romance, though, Harvey Weinstein did the heavy lifting in convincing the MPAA to recognize the error of their ways, just as he did for November's Philomena

As for the "highly commercial, misogynistic characterizations of sexual women as disposable sluts or props for a man's storyline" that Soloway railed against, one of them might be Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall StreetDeadline ran an interesting piece earlier this week that asked why and how the film got away with just a R rating: 

The film begins with an assault of coarse language -- c*cksucker, f*cking, and lines like, "Who's ever sucked a dog's c*ck out of loneliness," and "f*ck this, sh*t that, c*ck, c*nt, a**hole" -- and within the first hour and 15 minutes, audiences will see two orgies; heavy drug use (smoking crack, snorting loads of cocaine); a father and son offhandedly discussing (at length) what's au courant in wome's “bushes"; a woman performing oral sex on one man while getting rammed from behind from another; full frontal nudity of women; and lots of misogyny. There is also a scene later of a prostitute pulling a candle out of the rectum of a married Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio) who then drops hot wax up and down his back.

Scorsese also had on hand a ratings "consigliere" former Academy head Tom Sherak who acted as a go-between between the director and the MPAA. 

To be fair, The Wolf of Wall Street is as much a condemnation of sexual and misogynistic excess as it is a celebration of it, but Soloway's point remains. The MPAA is happy to give a pass to "boys being boys," but any picture that portrays a woman taking pleasure in sex on her terms should be treated like obscene material. 

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5 Comments

  • BS | December 23, 2013 5:56 PMReply

    "To be fair, The Wolf of Wall Street is as much a condemnation of sexual and misogynistic excess as it is a celebration of it,"...That's nice, but I hate it when movies play both sides of the fence. Do you think that everyone watching Wolf of Wall Street is going to be aware of such minor shades of nuance?

  • John G | December 21, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    Though I am all for fair rights for women (and everyone of any shape, color, size, age, etc), I'm no "feminist." I will say that this is a blatant example of how women are treated unfairly to the detriment of everyone. The amount of misogyny and violence (against women and men) that is spewed across our screens daily is unacceptable on its own (IMHO); but to add on top of that the dis-allowing of portrayals of sexually empowered women, or, just a woman getting head from another woman, and enjoying it…well, that's just unconstitutional if you really want to get down to it.

    To PERFORMANCEHD: Everything is driven by economics in our world, that's a given. That does not make it OK for anyone to be censored though, and when someone is, they have to put the focus on the supposed injustice, they can't just start ranting about economics. Also, Scorcese admitted that the MPAA process for WOLF was relatively easy (i even red it here on indiewire), and it surprised him how smooth it went. I don't see that Soloway is mad at Scorcese, I just see that she is using a recent example of a film that helps her make her point.

    Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a fair world where there was no need for consigliere's or lobbyists or PAC's or even investors requiring a certain rating so they can feel more secure about making their money back (let alone a profit)? That would be an amazing world, and one that is within reach, so long as everyone has the right to fight for their rights to make the changes that will ensure our continued evolution. This is a fight worth having for so many reasons (the most base being that we would see more beautiful and realistic sex scenes depicted on screen). I stand behind Jill Soloway and I would ask that she make the scenes cut by the MPAA available (for a fee, of course) as an extra on the dvd or via download if you stream it. I, for one, would pay to see it.

  • Artistic Freedom | December 21, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Let's look at American film. In particular, let's consider the inexplicable discrepancy in the instances of female frontal nudity vs. male frontal nudity. Why is this? Is one kind of nudity more revealing than the other kind? Now let's consider the virtual absence of female-driven depictions of women having sexual experiences ---- in whatever way and with whomever those may be ---- versus the gratuitously excessively overdone excess (redundancy intended) of sexual content involving women that portrays them as objects, passive parties in their own sex lives, if not just straight-up victims of sexual violence. There is no question that gender bias is one of the things driving MPAA ratings. Not the only thing, but DEFINITELY one of the biggies. This, in my opinion, is a separate matter than the influence of money and star power in one sense. Although in reality there is much overlap between gender bias and the power dynamic in H-wood, at the end of the day, Wolf of Wall Street *did* get an R-rating, and not surprisingly, none of the film's sexual content (as described in the article) included a scene of a woman enjoying cunnilingus, two women discussing the relative merits of male genitalia, or a man performing oral sex on a woman while being penetrated by a woman wearing a strap-on. I wonder if Wolf still would've gotten an R rating if any or all of those things had been in the film...even with it's money, star-power and ratings "consigliere." I think not.

  • performancehd | December 20, 2013 1:46 PMReply

    Soloway sounds like an angry kid attempting to pin down one film as misogynist because of it's un-PC portrayal of life, or the truth. Whatever you wanna call it. Glad the article writer called her out on it in the last paragraph, but Wolf also was almost slammed with an NC-17 rating during the editing process. Also, the mpaa didn't avoid an NC-17 to Wolf of Wall Street due to it's a boys will be boys portrayal, it's because the director and company that made the film happen to have a lot of money and star power. That's the problem with independent film is that it has no power where it should. Soloway's making this a gender war when it should be a war on the value of money in the filmmaking process, and how the religious background of the mpaa is keeping our freedom of expression in the dark ages.

  • Schooner | December 20, 2013 4:26 PM

    And who has all the power and money in movie making - or anything else for that matter? This is about gender bias, all the way around.

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