As you know there are various ratings that movies receive before it gets released to the public. The most known and used system in the US is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) system. The rating that this is about is the infamous NC-17 rating. According to the MPAA website, NC-17 means
“[the] rated motion picture is one that, in the view of the Rating Board, most parents would consider patently too adult for their children 17 and under. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not mean “obscene” or “pornographic” in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense. The rating simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience. An NC-17 rating can be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.”
In other words…IF YOU ARE NOT 17 YOU CANNOT SEE THIS MOVIE (even though the cut off is actually 18). Some would think Rated R it worse, but no, you can go to a Rated R movie with someone over 18 but NC-17, at no point in time ever can you legally see this movie in public theaters unless you are at least 17 years old.
A little history: The NC-17 rating was not introduced until 1990. Before then movies that would nowadays receive an NC-17 rating got an X-Rated rating. Before then, most movies that didn’t get the standard G through Rated R ratings were mostly pornographic but no to the point where it was XXX rated, extra soft-core porn maybe. It wasn’t until movies starred being made that were not pornographic but still not suitable for children to attend to, with or without supervision.
Then in 1996 the 17 year old age was raised to 18 getting “No One 17 and Under Admitted” as a tagline.
NOW to show the implications it has had on the indie film world!
When art houses were a popular trend, NC-17 movies were the rage and very profitable, like when they put the language warning tags on rock albums. Theaters like, AMC and Regal have outright REFUSED to show NC-17 films in their theaters, obviously taking away the risk of a minor sneaking into a showing with this rating and putting the company in legal issues. A lot of horror films were re-cut and changed to satisfy the MPAA specifications to get an R-Rating so their film had a shot at making a profit to be release publicly without having to defend it from the stereotypical assumption that the movie if full of nothing but tits, ass, and bloodshed.
Now, filmmakers will have a theatrical version and an unrated or uncut version of the film when released on DVD.
Indie filmmakers do not have the luxury of doing so. It is hard enough trying to make the movie on your own and get the movie’s existence known. Getting it put in theaters is another major feat, but to be told that you movie has too much violence, too much blood, too many nude scenes, too much cursing, or what ever it may be, and that it needs to be changed in order to be publicly seen; it’s not only a way to keep indie films out of theaters but a slap to the face of the creator’s vision.
It is also a known fact that there are movie that SHOULD, under the parameters laid out by the MPAA, have been rated NC-17 but because it was backed by a studio (like the MPAA member’s pockets) it was given an R rating. Take Scary Movie for example. I was take to the film with my father when I was a small child and he spent about have the movie covering my eyes, shielding my from penises and breasts popping up everywhere.
It’s a sad thing to know that money is the main way to get an artist’s creation known to the public on a large scale in the US film culture and money is the one thing that indie filmmakers have an issue with getting. This is way, now more than ever, the underground of artists need to stick together and support one another as much as we can.