Why is ‘Blonde’ – Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe biopic – rated NC-17 instead of TV-MA?

The NC-17 rating has always been a film certification that is bad for business due to its adult-only label and pornographic stigma.

Still, Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe biopic “Blonde” will carry the rating – a first for the company. On September 28, 2022, it will debut on its streaming platform, after premiering at the Venice Film Festival.

Based on the 2000 book by Joyce Carol Oates and starring Ana de Armas, the film would include a graphic rape scene and a vaginally shot point of view in its treatment of the Hollywood icon’s life and career.

I study the rating system and am the author of “The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Doesn’t Make X-Rated Movies”.

Films with an NC-17 rating were often difficult to screen and promote, as they were excluded from some theater chains and traditional advertising. 2013’s critically acclaimed and sexually graphic “Blue is the Hottest Color” was the last serious film released with the chart. Although it grossed over $2.2 million from 142 screens, its relative success as an NC-17 film did not fuel the production of more films like it.

So why would Netflix resurrect a rarely used, controversial and restrictive NC-17 for “Blonde”? Netflix’s 2020 film “Cuties,” which caused a PR crisis over the perceived hypersexualization of young girls, now has a “TV-MA” rating on the streaming service. Why wouldn’t the company just use the same rating for “Blonde”?

From ‘X’ to ‘NC-17’

NC-17 is one of five ratings – the others are G, PG, PG-13 and R – that the Classification and Rating Administration, a division of the Motion Picture Association, assigns to films submitted for certification.

NC-17 stands for “No one 17 and under admitted”. This classification prevents children from buying a ticket or entering a theater, even if accompanied by an adult. It replaced the X rating in 1990, which had been the adults-only marker since Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti created the rating system in 1968.

Although the “X” rating might simply recognize excessive violence or drug use, it has become widely associated with pornographic films.
Wikimedia Commons

However, Valenti’s failure to copyright the X allowed any film to carry the adult-only rating without its distributor having to officially pay the Classification and Rating Administration for certification. This allowed filmmakers to slap him on pornographic films like “Deep Throat” to attract viewers and gain access to the legitimate market.

Although the X rating could also be attributed to depictions of nudity, violence, language, drug use, or general “tone”, this association with hardcore sexual content has stigmatized the use of the category by serious filmmakers for years.

Valenti hoped that renaming the X rating to NC-17 would boost the use of the adult-only rating by the film industry. For the most part it wasn’t, with a few notable exceptions like “Showgirls” (1995), “Bad Education” (2004), and “Shame” (2011).

Instead, virtually all distributors whose films were initially given an NC-17 by the Classification and Rating Administration chose one of three options: re-release their films up to an R rating, release an R- rated and unrated for home video. or DVD, or just drop the rating altogether and release the movie theatrically without one.

It was generally believed that an unrated film would encounter fewer barriers to exposure in the US market than an NC-17 film.

An eye on awards season

Netflix, however, is not a movie theater. It is a streaming service that requires no admission in the traditional sense, has no employees patrolling its screenings for underage viewers, and shifts responsibility for denying access to its content to subscribers them. themselves. Netflix offers parental controls so users can restrict access to certain content for each profile in their accounts.

Significantly, many Netflix movies with mature content carry a “TV-MA” rating. The TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board developed the designation, which stands for “For Mature Audiences. May not be suitable for ages 17 and under.” He is recognizable to viewers of TV series like AMC’s “Better Call Saul”, FX’s “American Horror Story” or even Netflix’s “Ozark”.

So why wouldn’t Netflix apply a TV maturity rating to “Blonde”?

The answer is simple: Netflix probably sees the film as an Oscar contender.

According to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rules, to qualify for the Oscars, “Blonde” must have a theatrical release, even if that release is extremely short. In 2019 Netflix joined the Motion Picture Association – the first and only streaming service to do so. So if it decides to release its films theatrically, Netflix has to do so with a rating, as do legacy member companies: Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros.

With its ‘Ibiza: Love Drunk’, ‘Cuties’ and ‘365 Days’ rated by TV-MA, Netflix has never been rated by the Motion Picture Association because those films completely bypassed theatrical exposure in the States. -United.

Go around the media

Netflix no doubt also uses the NC-17 for “Blonde” as a marketing ploy – what film pundit Justin Wyatt has called “marketing controversy,” a technique used in the past to sell films that have received an X or NC-17.

Netflix has remained silent on the subject. Instead, “Blonde” director Andrew Dominik and the de Armas star hinted at the film’s provocative and sensationalistic aspects to the media, while expressing their disbelief at the film’s NC-17 rating.

Man in sunglasses smoking button cigarette in suit jacket.
“Blonde” director Andrew Dominik.
Danny Martindale/FilmMagic via Getty Images

“I was surprised,” Dominik told Vulture. “I thought we colored inside the lines.” De Armas said much the same thing in an interview for French fashion magazine L’Officiel. “I didn’t understand why [the rating] past.”

Almost in the same proverbial breath, the director and star also teased the subject’s salaciousness.

“It’s an NC-17 movie about Marilyn Monroe, that’s kind of what you want, isn’t it?” Dominik told Screen Daily. “I want to go see the NC-17 version of the Marilyn Monroe story.”

De Armas, meanwhile, backs Dominik’s unfiltered look at Monroe’s life, declaring it “the most daring, shameless, feminist version of her story I’ve ever seen.”

‘A little steam to keep the flow’

I wonder though: is the NC-17 in “Blonde” really a selling point, given what viewers are regularly exposed to in their living rooms?

In a streaming landscape littered with sexually explicit TV-MA TV series like HBO’s “Euphoria” and “House of the Dragon,” Hulu’s “Minx” and “Pam & Tommy,” and even “Sex/Life” and “How to Build a Sex Room”, it shouldn’t be.

Dominik indirectly, but perhaps rightly, undermined the heaviness of his own film, telling Screen Daily: “If I watch an episode of ‘Euphoria,’ it’s a lot more graphic than anything in ‘ Blonde hair'”. De Armas echoed the same talking points. later in his L’Officiel interview: “I can tell you a number of shows or movies that are much more explicit with much more sexual content than ‘Blonde’.”

This new wave of sexually outspoken and progressive series, according to Variety TV writer Joe Otterson, could be one strategy streaming companies are using to keep subscribers enthralled in an increasingly competitive market. “It may take a bit of steam to keep the flow going,” writes Otterson.

“Blonde” – NC-17, TV-MA or unrated – is just another provocative addition to this pot.

The trailer for “Blonde”.

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