Showing someone getting shot in the head is fine, but suggested oral sex? Nope (Boys Don’t Cry). A fully clothed character admitting she masturbates twice a day? Not allowed (Jersey Girl). Doggie-style sex between puppets? Forget it (Team America).
In Kirby Dick’s wry documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (out on DVD 1/23), you not only get to see the above supposedly naughty bits (which prompted, respectively, initial NC-17, R, and NC-17 ratings), but also get to spy on some of the ultrasecretive Motion Picture Association of America censors themselves — Dick hired a private eye to hunt them down. (Spoiler: They’re a bunch of yahoos.)
Why does it matter? As various blindsided filmmakers explain in interviews, studios routinely force them to recut their work to get a “better” rating — because, for instance, NC-17 movies are harder to distribute.
Prepare to be offended by what the MPAA thinks is offensive (e.g., female sexual pleasure).
By the way, missionary-style puppet sex? That’s fine.
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