For Shame: Fox Searchlight Celebrates Its NC-17 Rating, Aims for Oscar

By  · Published on October 25th, 2011

Feel free to stand up from your seat and slow clap while loved ones and strangers stare, because one studio has decided to slap the stigma of the NC-17 rating right in its moronic little face.

As we all know, that stupidity is two-fold. The first is in its existence in the first place. A betting man or woman could win easy money that most don’t even know that the NC stands for No One 17 and Under Admitted (because there’s a confusing C in there), but it might as well just stand for No Children. There’s an absurdly thin line between R and NC-17 that becomes all the more apparent when you hear a screaming 4-year-old in the theater where Jason Statham is beating a dude to death on screen before banging down Amy Smart’s doors.

Come to think of it, the No Children of NC sounds pretty good in those cases.

The second part of the stupidity surrounding the rating (which inherited its bad reputation from the X rating that it morphed into), is in the connotation that some doomed by Puritanical high horsemanship slather onto it. Yes, NC-17 means adult, but there’s also nothing wrong with making a film for an adult audience. Those that don’t think so, aren’t adults. In a way, the rating’s reputation does a small service in weeding out those too emotionally, psychologically or sexually infantile to handle a solid adult drama (no matter their age). Sadly, that small service is a life raft in an open ocean of limitations for filmmakers because of how commercially dangerous it is to make a film that will be stamped with the Crimson A of NC-17.

But one company and one film are fighting back this year, and they deserve a standing ovation, because they’re doing it on the back of Michael Fassbender’s naked ass.

It hasn’t been rated yet, but with the heavy nudity, straight sex, gay sex, multiple partnered sex, hints at acts that are legal in more states than gay marriage is, and the raw emotional devastation promised, Steve McQueen’s Shame should be a shoe-in for the honor of being labeled NC-17. The film follows a sex addict (Fassbender) whose sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to live with him. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Searchlight is celebrating the ratings challenge. The money quote from co-President Steve Gilula: “I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner. The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It’s not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It’s a game changer.”


What’s more, the company isn’t being coy about its Awards Season goals, which are no less than huge pushes for all the major categories at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. This is one of those rare moments where “game changer” might actually apply. If Shame can prove itself in a major way to the AMPAS and HFP voters, it could have an impressive impact on more general audiences that could draw them to the arthouse no matter what logo the MPAA forces it to wear.

Plus, at a more basic level, the publicity and nature of the film itself could be enough to mesmerize movie-goers into taking a chance. Still, the NC-17 stigma isn’t imaginary, and it’s promoted as much by those in the public who would never see a film of this type anyway and by the cowardice that most studios show in this situation.

It should be noted that this isn’t the first NC-17 film to be released proudly. Fox Searchlight successfully released Dreamers in 2004, earning $2.5m; Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features have also gotten their hands dirty, releasing 2004’s Bad Education and 2007’s Lust, Caution respectively to solid sales (and even bigger home video cash).

Now, won’t it be crazy if Shame makes Black Swan money?

What’s your take?

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.