Hollywood’s Downtown Double Standard

Blue Valentine is this winter’s buzzy new film, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. It’s been attracting tons of Oscar speculation and it debuted to almost universally positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

But those high praises haven’t stopped the Motion Picture Association of America from stamping it with an NC-17 rating, which threatens the film’s wide-release potential (and its shot at the Academy Awards).

Most critics who have seen the film say the offending scene shows Gosling’s character giving his on-screen wife oral sex. The MPAA has a history of censuring movies with female oral sex.

It makes you think—would Blue Valentine face the same rating if the situation was reversed and it was just a little BJ? It seems like the problem isn’t that it’s a graphic orgasm, but that it’s a graphic female orgasm.

When the team for 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry shortened a shot that panned across Chloe Sevigny’s O-face, the MPAA reduced the previously-threatened NC-17 to an R rating. The Cooler’s rating was bumped down when frames showing Maria Bello’s pubic hair were trimmed.

Oddly, the just-released Black Swan, which includes a girl-on-girl oral sex scene, earned an R rating. Reviewers say there’s not much difference between the two scenes, aside from the obvious gender combo.

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchick wrote about the Black Swan–Blue Valentine double standard:

Some have a theory about the disparity, but none are really convincing, and no one is really convinced.

“Maybe it’s a case of selfish love?” Gosling quipped to us, jokingly (?) wondering if a male-dominated group might go easier on a movie with girl-on-girl activity than it would if a man performed the oral sex, thereby reminding them that it’s something they could be called upon to do.

“I don’t have an answer for why that movie would be OK and ours wouldn’t,” Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance told us in what may be the most lucid description of all. (He wonders if it indeed is a matter of the authenticity, but in that case wonders if his film is being punished because its actors are too persuasive?

The Blue Valentine team said it won’t be axing the oral sex scene. Williams says she’s OK with that:

I’m happy for it to stay just like it is. Genuinely, I am. Movies get to have long lives and it’ll be judged and rejudged in 10 or 20 or 30 years, and I’ll be curious to see how it stands. It seems like such a condemnation. It feels like such a slap on the hand, like you’ve been a bad kid or something.

But how could an honest depiction of female pleasure (in a consensual, adult relationship) earn an acclaimed film team the “bad kid” title?

More interestingly, why would a lesbian oral exchange be deemed less naughty than a hetero scene? What are your thoughts?


About Adam Polaski

Adam Polaski is a writer, designer and organizer for Freedom to Marry, where he works with an amazing team to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. He also enjoys the New York Public Library, love stories overall, and the perpetual quest to go vegetarian. Follow him at @AdamPolaski


  1. The thing is every movie studio knows a R rating really means all 13 and over will want to see this movie. So as a father I understand the concern. At the end of the day it is up to the parent to guide their children. But as we know that seems to be lacking.

  2. Great ‘O-face’ reference. Love how you got the clip in there too.

  3. Woops. That was meant to say “shot from” not shit. Apologies.

  4. Having seen both movies and scenes, I would say that BS ‘s is much more graphic than BV. The latter is shot from the side so we see Gosling’s head disappearing between Williams’ legs while she happily orgasms. The other scene ( true to Aronevsky’s neurosis) is shit mostly as a POV from Portman who dies not appear to be sure exactly whether she’s liking this or not. There’s wiping after and a general come- hither titillating aspect to it that I imagine is there to service the heteros in the audience…

    The board is saying: Selling sex is fine. Enjoying it is not.

  5. ChopperPapa, I think I agree with you, but I would even argue that you don’t see many movies at all featuring married characters who aren’t just about to get married. There’s this great article by Mark Harris about The Kids Are Alright (http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20402032,00.html), and how it’s one of the few movies in the past few years that focused on the complicated aspects of marriage, and it had a few scenes of healthy, married-people sex itself. It’s refreshing, and I think that more movies should explore those sorts of stories. But I also think that when those sorts of stories are released, we should be able to get a chance to actually see them.

  6. I’m going to go TOTALLY in a different direction here. I argue that if the couple in the scene wasn’t married it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Maybe that’s totally all “you’re an idiot, dudet”. But riddle me this? How often do you see sex scenes where the characters ARE married? Seriously?

  7. The word is “censoring.”

    One really has to see the scene to make a judgement. There have been numerous scenes of female oral sex (including lesbians); it all depends on how it’s done.


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