Censorship at Blockbuster

Steve Fesenmaier (fesenms@wvlc.lib.wv.us)
Wed, 19 Feb 2003 07:43:31 -0800 (PST)

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Film · Vol 24 · Issue 1159 · PUBLISHED 2/19/03
URL: www.citypages.com/databank/24/1159/article11070.asp
HOME: www.citypages.com

Mamá Said Cut It Out

by Jeremy O'Kasick

During the climatological and cinematic freeze-out otherwise known as
February, Midwestern movie-lovers may find
themselves scouring their local video stores for the 2002 gems they
missed on the big screen. But be warned: If you rent a
sizzling movie at Blockbuster Video, the tape or DVD might leave you

Y Tu Mamá También, a road-trip romp that landed on many critics' Top 10
lists, explores teen friendship and sexuality in a
Mexico of divided cultures and classes. Before the release of Y Tu Mamá
in the U.S. last April, Mexican director Alfonso
Cuarón (who's taking the third Harry Potter epic into production later
this year) failed to win his battle with the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA) to secure an R rating for the
film. Fortunately, the movie's distributor, IFC Films,
agreed to send Y Tu Mamá to theaters unrated and uncensored.

Late in 2002, however, a home-video edition appeared on Blockbuster's
shelves with an R rating, and with five minutes
missing from the 105-minute theatrical version. Among the edited sex
scenes was the climax--running about 15 seconds--in
which two teenage male friends tenderly kiss during a ménage à trois
with an older Spanish woman. In interviews, Cuarón
acknowledged that he had originally used MPAA guidelines to edit a
100-minute version for an R rating--and, indeed, the
current R-rated version on DVD and VHS happens to be exactly 100
minutes. Would Cuarón butcher the most precious
moment of his film just to receive the MPAA's blessing and thus greater
video distribution with retailers such as Blockbuster?

Alongside the curious politics of the MPAA, Blockbuster's ratings policy
has long caused controversy (even film centrist
Roger Ebert has regularly expressed his ire) for further isolating
independent filmmakers, who don't always receive MPAA
ratings, and for favoring gratuitous violence over mild sexual content.

"It is not our position to edit or dictate the content of the film,"
says Blockbuster spokesperson Liz Green. "We rely on the
MPAA to determine what we want to sell, and we will not carry anything
above a R rating, such as NC-17. With unrated
films [like Y Tu Mamá], we make decisions based on our customers'

To the company's credit, Blockbuster carries both the R-rated and
unrated versions of Y Tu También in many of its stores.
Green explains that Blockbuster anticipated customer demand for the
film's unrated version given the popularity of its
theatrical run. But if customer tastes in certain areas were deemed
otherwise, the stores in those areas were required to carry
only the R-rated version.

When asked about the reasoning behind the cut scenes, Green defers to
the MPAA and the film's distributors. IFC Films also
refuses to comment on the cuts, and defers to the film's home-video
distributor, MGM/UA Home Entertainment.

To be fair, some of the edited content, such as a few revealing sex
scenes with thrusts included, is of the sort that has regularly
fallen under the MPAA's knife. Yet given that the R-rated version still
features frontal male nudity and masturbation, the
removal of a single kiss appears at once absurd and homophobic.

An MGM/UA spokesperson who wished to go unnamed explains that if a film
is unrated before release on home video, major
distributors must first submit an edited version to the MPAA. After MPAA
board members vote on a rating, they may also
make suggestions as to how the film can receive a lower rating if
resubmitted. The spokesperson goes on to say that
MGM/UA will sometimes seek a director's collaboration or approval to
edit certain scenes, though it's not essential. "And
even if I could find out whether we received director approval for Y Tu
Mamá También, and who made the cuts," says the
spokesperson, "I don't think I could tell you." The spokesperson also
suggests that the cutting of the kiss may have had less to
do with concerns over homoeroticism than those having to do with the
young ages of the two actors involved.

Regardless of who made the decision and why, the kiss that dare not show
itself reflects another Hollywood trend: Lesbian
sex scenes between buxom beauties, à la Frida or Mulholland Drive, are
acceptable, even fashionable, while a smooch
between male buddies is forced to hit the road.

Film · Vol 24 · Issue 1159 · PUBLISHED 2/19/03
URL: www.citypages.com/databank/24/1159/article11070.asp
HOME: www.citypages.com

City Pages is the Online News and Arts Weekly of the Twin Cities

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