To quote an official MPAA movie ratings poster: "THE SYSTEM CAN'T WORK UNLESS YOU UNDERSTAND THE SYSTEM."

How many NC-17-rated films did you see in the theater in the past year? Maybe one? That is if Ang Lee's Lust, Caution even played in your 'hood. And considering the most screens it ever played on in any single week was 143, I highly doubt it (understandably, it could have played in more than 143 locations over the course of its 20 weeks in theaters, but I doubt many more).

But if there had been more NC-17-rated films, and they actually played near you, would you have gone to see them? And if so, why? Because you expect something more titillating than the other releases to choose from? And if not, why? Are you afraid of others thinking you are going to see something dirty? Are you embarrassed about both attending and watching graphic sex on screen? Do you correlate the experience to going to a porno theater? After all, who thinks about films rated NC-17 as being simply films for adults, rather than "adult films"? Yeah, hardly anybody. Despite the fact that almost one year ago, John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), spoke at the cinema exhibition convention ShoWest about removing the stigma attached to the rating. And now, with this year's ShoWest beginning next Monday (March 10), that stigma seems to be as strong as it ever was.

It just goes to show how little Hollywood listens to the exhibition industry. Last year, Fithian also called upon the studios to do away with releasing specially advertised unrated-DVD versions of its movies, because the audiences for raunchy comedies and violent horror films are less likely to see those releases in theaters when they know what to expect down the line on home video. But that practice is still going on strong, too.

However, at least two months prior to ShoWest 2007, MPAA president Dan Glickman had also declared that he'd like the world to love and embrace the NC-17 rating. Well, if either the MPAA or even NATO had campaigned for the end of the stigmatism, I must have missed it. As far as I can tell, moviegoers still think NC-17 is a naughty stamp, and therefore the studios and most other filmmakers are still staying away from it.

At least next Tuesday, though, Fithian will present Ang Lee and James Schamus, director and writer/producer/distributor, respectively, of Lust, Caution with the first ShoWest/Nato Freedom of Expression Award. This is to honor the filmmakers for their decision to release that film with its NC-17 rating and not give in to a censored cut, as most other filmmakers would do or would be forced to do.

In my opinion Lee and Schamus should decline the award. They should throw it back in NATO's face with the statement that, yes, they had the uncompromising integrity to stand by their film, but NATO failed to clearly support the film by passively allowing the stigmatism to continue unreformed. They should ask why NATO hasn't yet begun an educational campaign, with posters and pre-show ads, which explains to audiences how the NC-17 rating is not the same as an XXX. They should challenge the members of the organization to admit why they didn't book the film in their cinemas.

Of course, it's not all NATO's fault. Glickman and the MPAA, with help from the studios, needs to do the same sort of campaigning. And certainly the media needs to get with the program, too. Sure, Lust, Caution may have had some sex in it, but as far as I could tell from reading about the film last year, that was all it had in it. I can see why audiences may not have been interested.

Yet these may be the same moviegoers who complain about the kids in the audience. Who want more adult-geared screenings or cinemas, such as those that have alcohol and so don't admit young people. Wouldn't these people be happy to see a movie that is for them? Which kids aren't allowed to see?

I guess not. I guess people actually want to see the mainstream movies that are primarily made for kids (the main target age for most movies is young boys, isn't it?). They just don't want to see it with the kids. Just like how they want to read Harry Potter, but alone and not necessarily with children reading over their shoulder, they want to go see Harry Potter movies alone and not necessarily with children kicking the backs of their seats.

So that means to eliminate the stigma, we need the cooperation of NATO, the MPAA, the studios, the media and the people. Well, which one is best to get this started? I'm looking forward to hearing what happens next week (one of these years I hope to attend the thing). Will Fithian keep discussing the problem and not actually offer any solutions? A year is too long to go without any sign of change. If I was Fithian, I'd be more embarrassed right now than a prudent person going to see an NC-17-rated movie
categories Movies, Columns, Cinematical