Weinstein lawyers up on MPAA

Posted by · 11:37 am · November 18th, 2010

Well, we all knew Harvey Weinstein wasn’t going to take that head-scratching (and commercially damaging) ‘NC-17’ rating for “Blue Valentine” lying down. (While still generating maximum publicity from the unfortunate situation, natch.) The Weinstein Company today announced that it has gathered “a formidable legal team” to challenge the MPAA’s decision — and while they’re about it, they’re contesting that ‘R’ rating for “The King’s Speech” too.

And Weinstein’s lawyers mean business: Bert Fields, the attorney overseeing the “Valentine” appeal, goes so far as to say the extreme age restriction “violates [the company’s] right to freedom of speech under the state and US constitution.” Alongside the legal speak, the press release issued today by TWC also includes this heartfelt, well-reasoned plea from star Michelle Williams:

The MPAA’s decision on Blue Valentine unmasks a taboo in our culture, that an honest portrayal of a relationship is more threatening than a sensationalized one… Mainstream films often depict sex and violence in a manner that is disturbing and very far from reality. Yet, the MPAA regularly awards these films with a more audience friendly rating, enabling our culture’s desensitization to violence, rape, torture and brutality. Our film does not depict any of these attributes. It’s simply a candid look at the difficulties couples face in sustaining their relationships over time. Blue Valentine opens a door for couples to have a dialogue about the everyday realities of many relationships. This film was made in the spirit of love, honesty and intimacy. I hope that the MPAA will hear our pleas and reconsider their decision.

Their approach to reversing the rating for “The King’s Speech” reads a little less aggressive, citing no constitutional crimes (yet), but underlining the victimless, irreverent context in which the offending four-letter words that earned the ‘R’ rating are used. The same tactic recently did the trick across the pond: the British Board of Film Classification reduced the film’s rating from ’15’ (denying access to anyone under that age) to the softer ’12A’ (requiring under-12s to be accompanied by a guardian). It’ll be interesting to see if the MPAA can be similarly persuaded.

Whatever the end result for either film, one has to applaud (yet again) Weinstein’s matchless sense of media showmanship: what began as a tough break for a little indie has been skilfully transformed into a full-blown industry cause célèbre, one that not only heightens awareness of the films at stake but also positions them, both artistically and politically, on the side of the angels. (Also clever? Binding the low-profile hard sell that is “Blue Valentine” to the broadly liked Oscar frontrunner that is “The King’s Speech,” subtly suggesting that both films are fighting an equal battle. “Love one, love both,” is the implied message.)

Well played all round. Full (and I mean full) press release below.

LOS ANGELES, CA (November 18, 2010) – In response to the ratings given to two of its upcoming films, The Weinstein Company (TWC) announced today that it has engaged a formidable legal team to challenge the NC-17 rating for BLUE VALENTINE and the R rating for THE KING’S SPEECH given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), according to TWC Co-Chair Harvey Weinstein.

“While we respect the MPAA, I think we can all agree that we are living with an outdated ratings system that gives torture porn, horror and ultraviolent films the same rating as films with so-called inappropriate language,” explains Weinstein.

In mounting the challenge, TWC has assembled a team of top attorneys including David Boies, who serves as legal advisor on both films, Bert Fields, who is overseeing the appeal for THE KING’S SPEECH, and Alan R. Friedman, the lead attorney for BLUE VALENTINE.

THE KING’S SPEECH drew an R rating due to its multiple occurrences of strong language, even though it is used in a non-aggressive, non-sexual, therapeutic way. Director Tom Hooper states, “I hope that language can be judged by its context just as violence is currently judged in context. The f-word in ‘The King’s Speech’ is not being used in its sexual sense, or in its aggressive sense, but as a release mechanism to help a man overcome a stammer in the context of speech therapy, in a scene that is also very funny. This was a technique that David Seidler, the writer, encountered as a boy in the 1940s – discovering he didn’t stammer on curse words was hugely helpful to him overcoming his speech problems. Fortunately in the UK we have been granted a 12A, and the on screen certificate will explain that there is some bad language “used in the context of speech therapy”. I hope that in the light of this context the R rating for the movie can be reconsidered.”

Prompted by the decision from the British Board of Film Classification to lower the rating of THE KING’S SPEECH to 12A, the equivalent of our PG-13, and to use the specific warning: “Contains strong language in a speech therapist context,” as well as the outcry from parents, teens and educators who have already seen the film, TWC has requested what is referred to as a Special Hearing with the MPAA. The Special Hearing is necessary because the film is now within 25 business days of its theatrical release. “We were so encouraged by the British Film Board’s decision to lower the rating in England that it motivated us to fully support the Special Hearing that TWC has requested. We feel that school kids in America would otherwise miss out on the opportunity to see this film which at its core is a film about overcoming adversity, based on moral themes of friendship and self belief,” comments Iain Canning.

Not only has the film received support from filmgoers, but also from a chorus of key journalists, including Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times, Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly, and countless other editors and writers. The other motivation for proceeding with the 11th-hour appeal is in response to audiences who believe the current powder-keg issue of childhood bullying, and its effects long into adulthood, subtlety illustrated in the film, should reach pre-teen and teenage viewers.

Attorney Fields adds, “This rating for THE KING’S SPEECH is arbitrary and irrational. In my view, it violates The Weinstein Company’s right to freedom of speech under the state and US constitution. It should strike fear in the heart of every director and producer.”
BLUE VALENTINE, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, in a film already acclaimed by critics, tells the honest and personal story of a troubled marriage, and yet apparently drew an NC-17 due to one scene, a sexually intimate sequence between a married couple trying to repair their broken relationship.

Gosling comments, “You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.”

“The MPAA’s decision on Blue Valentine unmasks a taboo in our culture, that an honest portrayal of a relationship is more threatening than a sensationalized one,” says Williams. “Mainstream films often depict sex and violence in a manner that is disturbing and very far from reality. Yet, the MPAA regularly awards these films with a more audience friendly rating, enabling our culture’s desensitization to violence, rape, torture and brutality. Our film does not depict any of these attributes. It’s simply a candid look at the difficulties couples face in sustaining their relationships over time. Blue Valentine opens a door for couples to have a dialogue about the everyday realities of many relationships. This film was made in the spirit of love, honesty and intimacy. I hope that the MPAA will hear our pleas and reconsider their decision.”

In order to appeal, TWC is forced to accept the NC-17 rating for now, the first step in the appeals process. Initially TWC sought to go outside of the ratings board, and release the film unrated, however in the last 10 days so much support of the film has been garnered that TWC has decided to move forward with an official MPAA appeal. “Over the past year I have witnessed audiences all over the world personally relating to the story and characters, so brilliantly and bravely performed by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams” states director, Derek Cianfrance. He adds, “The one positive to come out of this miss-directed decision, is the passionate outpouring of support from the industry, the media, and the fans of the film. I have yet to meet someone who has seen the film who agrees with this ultra-conservative decision.”

“Stamping this film with the rarely used NC-17 is a travesty,” says attorney Friedman. “That rating is out of sync with R ratings awarded to films for sexual conduct, where the scenes in question are far less sensitively handled. The scene, consistent with the entire film, like all of BLUE VALENTINE, was shot with great care and tact. In fact, the NC-17 suggests a coarseness of content that is nowhere to be seen. I look forward to providing the appeal board with the chance to correct this mistake by lowering the rating to an R.”
As both films are slated for an end of the year release and are considered by many to be leading awards contenders, TWC hopes to come to a resolution on an expedited timetable.

THE KING’S SPEECH, starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter is directed by Tom Hooper, written by David Seidler and produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, will have an exclusive Thanksgiving release.

BLUE VALENTINE, directed by Derek Cianfrance, produced by Jamie Patricof, Lynette Howell and Alex Orlovsky, will be released on December 31 and expands nationwide January 2011.




→ 18 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

18 responses so far

  • 1 11-18-2010 at 11:54 am

    Graysmith said...

    Go Harvey!

    It’s most likely a completely futile endeavour (because the MPAA doesn’t answer to anyone as far as I know, i.e. they are gods in their universe) but at least they’re making a noise. One can only hope that in time more power players in Hollywood will join up and demand change.

  • 2 11-18-2010 at 12:23 pm

    jon said...

    I recently saw Kick-Ass and couldn’t agree with Williams’ statement more.

  • 3 11-18-2010 at 1:06 pm

    JuJu Boy said...

    I saw the film at TIFF and am thrilled they are challenging this utterly ridiculous MPAA rating. The film does not deserve to be slapped with such a outrageous classification.

  • 4 11-18-2010 at 1:09 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “It’s most likely a completely futile endeavour (because the MPAA doesn’t answer to anyone as far as I know, i.e. they are gods in their universe)”

  • 5 11-18-2010 at 1:10 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    No it isn’t. Plenty of films (including Scarface (1983) have had their rating over turned on appeal.

  • 6 11-18-2010 at 1:14 pm

    Graysmith said...

    I have to say, Weinstein getting the stars of Blue Valentine in on this is an exceptionally smart move. Not only does it ensure them that this story will get even more attention, but it also all but makes the film out to be a martyr in the name of free speech and artistic freedom. Even though it is one of the most shrewd publicity “stunts” I’ve ever seen, I do believe they are absolutely sincere about this too, it just so happens that it can create a whole lot of sympathy and goodwill towards the film as well from within the industry.

  • 7 11-18-2010 at 1:55 pm

    Marshall said...

    Is the title supposed to invoke memories of Eduardo Saverin’s “you had better lawyer up, asshole” or is that just me?

  • 8 11-18-2010 at 1:56 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Of course it is. The conversion of “lawyer” into a verb is possibly the best thing Aaron Sorkin has ever done.

  • 9 11-18-2010 at 3:40 pm

    Liz said...

    Aaron Sorkin converted “lawyer” into a verb? I’ve been hearing about people “lawyering up” for a while.

  • 10 11-18-2010 at 3:49 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Okay, I take back “conversion.” He seems to have helped it catch on, though.

  • 11 11-18-2010 at 4:30 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    If anyone can kill the MPAA, it’s Harvey Weinstein. And make no mistake, the MPAA needs killing.

  • 12 11-18-2010 at 8:04 pm

    Joe7827 said...

    Weinstein’s not just coming back for “Blue Valentine” and “King’s Speech”, he’s coming back for EVERYTHING.

    Seriously – isn’t Dagenham light on the swearing as well? What are the odds that that will be appealed?

  • 13 11-18-2010 at 8:51 pm

    a-mad said...

    I see Weinstein succeeding with their appeal of Blue Valentine, but not King’s Speech.

    An “f” word is an “f” word… and as innocently as it is used in other films, if it is said more than twice, a film immediately receives an R rating – no matter how it is used.

    I’m not saying this because I agree with the MPAA – I just say this because if they repeal King’s Speech I would be floored. Other films with equally innocent uses of the word were slapped with an R – and had less usage of the word.

  • 14 11-18-2010 at 9:35 pm

    Glenn said...

    Stick it to the man, Harvey!

  • 15 11-19-2010 at 10:15 am

    The Dude said...

    Honestly, this NC-17 rating has helped “Blue Valentine” thus far, as it’s gotten Hollywood’s attention…if this controversy didn’t exist, I wonder if AMPAS would remember this movie come voting time. This rating thing has been pretty beneficial in getting people to notice that this movie exists. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t comment on the rating itself, although from what I’ve read it sounds ludicrous that this was rated NC-17.

    Regarding the “King’s Speech,” I don’t know if that’ll get overturned. Everyone knows the swearing rule…say “f*ck” once, you can get a PG-13 rating, but say it twice and you get an automatic R (didn’t they make a joke about this in “Be Cool?” and should I be embarrassed that I remember ANYTHING from “Be Cool!?”). The MPAA takes their f-bombs seriously, so I don’t know if it’ll change. But I do expect to see “Blue Valentine” change.

  • 16 11-19-2010 at 10:54 am

    Ro345457 said...

    I don’t know. As Good As It Gets and Hero (1992) had more than 2 and got a PG-13. Hero had a bunch of f words, strangely.

  • 17 11-19-2010 at 11:10 am

    Ben M. said...

    As Good As It Gets actually had to get its PG-13 on appeal, and the MPAA seemed to be more lenient on language a while ago. After all before there was a PG-13, All the President’s Men was able to successfully appeal down to a PG with probably around 10 “F” words. You still see a film get by with more than two every once in a while, but I can’t think of a single film with more than 40 “F” words (which King’s Speech is said to have) not rated R.

    I kinda agree with what everyone is saying, they may have a chance to change the Blue Valentine rating without cuts, but King’s Speech will probably stay as an R.

  • 18 11-20-2010 at 9:31 pm

    jake said...

    I admire the boldness of the weinsteins to do this — it is so true — If you torture a human body, you get an R, show nudity — get an nc-17. What really needs to change are the people who watch these movies and determine the ratings — do we know how the process works? Is it a jury type thing? I thought the f*** rule was say it twice pg-13 and say it 3 times automatic R