Move over diamonds; it seems ratings are a girl’s best friend. No stranger to controversy since the film’s announcement in 2019, Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde,” starring Ana de Armas as the infamous actress-socialite Marylin Monroe, continues to make waves in the industry for a myriad of reasons, but none more so than its controversial NC-17 rating. As more trailers invoke hype and behind-the-scenes photos showcase an impressively high-quality production value for a Netflix joint, combined with the impeccable talents of “Knives Out” and “No Time To Die” star de Armas, it’s clear that “Blonde” has all the makings of an Oscar contender.
But will its nuanced NC-17 rating prevent it from even entering the ceremony?
The Motion Picture Association dropped the NC-17 bombshell on “Blonde,” according to Dominik, due to a graphic sexual assault scene ripped straight from the Joyce Carol Oates novel on which the movie is based. But that type of content doesn’t make it an outlier as much as its incredibly rare rating does.
In the past decade, only a small number of films have been designated with the NC-17 label. Some recent examples would be “Sausage Party,” “Midsommar,” and “The King’s Man,” all of which were re-edited and resubmitted to the MPA for the more audience-friendly R rating. In the nine-decade history of the Oscars, 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy” is the only X-rated (a precursor to the modern NC-17 rating) film to win the golden statue for Best Picture. The film also won the Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. And in addition to that, only four films hit with that label—without any re-editing for a different rating—have ever been Oscar-nominated: 1972’s “Last Tango in Paris” (Best Actor and Best Director), 1990’s “Henry & June” (Best Cinematography), and 2000’s “Requiem for a Dream” (Best Actress), which is a particular case in which the film received an NC-17 rating and a subsequent non-rating due to Darren Aronofsky’s noted refusal to re-edit anything for the ratings board (You can read more history about R-rated Oscar-nominated and winning films that were then re-edited because of their original NC-17 ratings here).
While it’s clear that for both general moviegoing audiences and the awards circuit, an R rating is a more digestible choice, the NC-17 rating doesn’t necessarily take a film out of the running for accolades. Think of the non-stop awards conversation surrounding Steve McQueen’s 2011 erotic drama “Shame” starring Michael Fassbender. Fassbender received Best Actor nominations from the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTA but not the Oscars. Could a similar trajectory be in store for Ana de Armas?
Obtaining an R rating is a common ploy for major studios to help mitigate the harsher rating. Still, it’s important to note that streaming platforms, such as Netflix, which produces original content, do not have to adhere to this societal rule for approval. That’s what makes “Blonde” even more mystifying and special as it continues to make its way to Netflix on September 23rd.
Will Netflix feel the pressure to change the rating so that “Blonde” can be an awards darling contender? Who’s to say? For now, there’s no need to lose hope as there’s high certainty that if “Blonde” opens to rave reviews in its competing category at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, (still the only film festival it’s scheduled to screen at) it could change the conservative Academy tide or at least provide months of interesting ratings discourse leading up to the Academy Awards, given Netflix’s knack at awards campaigning which at the very least, results in nominations.
After all, some members of the Academy might prefer blondes.
[Originally published on Next Best Picture]