Shame gets NC-17 certificate: don’t say I didn’t warn you
At the London Film Festival press conference for Steve McQueen’s Shame earlier this month, I asked the panel if they’d had any trouble distributing the film in America. Producer Ian Canning pretty much said (I’m paraphrasing) “Everything’s fine. Might be a few places in the middle of the country that won’t show it, but most are really excited, and we’ve not had to cut anything out.”
Now the film has been slapped with the dreaded NC-17 certificate, which was pretty much the point of my question. Knew this was going to happen.
Like Empire’s Nev Pierce tweeted this morning, “you can show US teenagers rape, murder & torture, but beware the moral danger of Michael Fassbender’s willy.” Extreme horror gets a free pass these days. In contrast, as I remarked in my review of the film, Shame is a genuinely provocative, thought-provoking movie about sexual urges and adult relationships, so it was always going to get the Puritanical hypocrites at the MPAA hot under the collar.
If even I can spot the likelihood of this happening, then for sure distributor Fox Searchlight has a plan and Ian Canning’s apparent nonchalance makes more sense. The talk from Searchlight involves wearing the NC-17 as a “badge of honour,” using the excellence of the film to smash through the stigma, bring in an audience keen to see what all the fuss is about and bag an unprecedented awards-haul in the process.
On the one hand, this attitude is a commendable fuck-you to the MPAA. It’s doubtful Fox Searchlight will bother appealing the decision, despite the precedent of Blue Valentine successfully getting its certificate reduced to an R-rating. But, in that film, there was only one scene that scandalised the MPAA. Shame is wall-to-wall fucking (at one point against a wall with the word ‘fuck’ written on it). It’s a film drenched in the smell of stale semen, so it’s nigh-on impossible the MPAA would relent on this one.
But it’s still a gamble for Searchlight to make. In cultural terms, the NC-17 is treated like a red flag warning people “Don’t watch this.” It’s going to take an almighty amount of lobbying to get Academy voters to see Michael Fassbender’s performance – the best I’ve seen this year – and give it the Oscar nomination it deserves.
And if Fassbender misses out, it’s the MPAA, not the film’s sex addict Brandon, who should feel the most ashamed.