Oscar buzz is growing—nominations for the February 27th ceremony are revealed tomorrow night. The event, hosted by the uncontroversial Anne Hathaway and former Columbian James Franco, promises to be, well, as tepid as every other Academy Awards. And while the ceremony may rely on the same bad jokes and the same emotional speeches, the movies involved have not gone without their share of controversy. Take Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan—two films garnering attention for something a little different.
The former was originally was slapped with an NC-17 for a specific scene of female oral pleasure (according to executive producer Harvey Weinstein), while Black Swan, which depicts a similar event, got an R-rating right off the bat. An NC-17 rating is Hollywood's own dark mark for an independent film. Yes, it means horny high school boys looking for soft-core porn can't buy a ticket—but more importantly, it limits the amount of theaters it opens in and practically ruins its chances come award season. NC-17 rated movies just don't get Oscar nominations (see Ang Lee's Lust Caution). more
But what causes the MPAA to give films this slap on the hand? Gratuitous violence? The Saw and Hostel series make millions slicing babes in half and pulling out eyeballs out of their sockets. Yet all of the films got away with R-ratings. What is it really all about? Sex. But not just any kind of sex.
In Black Swan (SPOILER ALERT), Natalie Portman's character Nina imagines her rival Lily (played by Mila Kunis) going down on her after a night of drinking and drugs – but at various points during their lovemaking, Lily's face morphs into Nina's. The scene is a complete fantasy, just one of Nina's crazed delusions.
In Blue Valentine, Dean (Ryan Gosling) performs cunnilingus on his girlfriend Cindy (Michelle Williams). As Michelle Williams points out in this interview, the scene is realistic and Michelle Williams unabashedly expresses her pleasure.
Luckily, executive producer Harvey Weinstein saw MPAA treating of Blue Valentine as a grave injustice and hired two top-tier lawyers (one of which represented Al Gore in Bush vs. Gore) who successfully repealed the NC-17 rating.
With an R-rating, Blue Valentine now has a shot at earning some Oscar nominations. But the MPAA's initial decision raises the question of why realistic female pleasure is considered obscene. The MPAA is usually fine with scenes depicting women giving men blowjobs in R-rated movies, so why does the board seem to think that it's only appropriate for women to be on the receiving end if the act is performed in dreams or fantasies?