Hollywood’s double standard – motion pictures and television programs have antigay ratings bias – Brief Article

The success of In & Out proves that America is ready to see gay characters on-screen — but not if they do anything sexual. At least that’s the message gays are getting as media firestorms ignite around a truly odd show-business couple, MGM’s dramatic film Bent and ABC’s sitcom Ellen.

What could possibly link these two vastly different entertainments? In both cases gays engage in sexual behavior on-screen. And in both cases, say critics, this activity was punished by censors who don’t blink at similarly explicit scenes between a man and a woman.

The fireworks started when the Motion Picture Association of America slapped an NC-17 rating on Bent, a searing drama of gays in the Holocaust based on gay playwright Martin Sherman’s acclaimed 1979 play. Not surprisingly, the film has moments of disturbing violence, but that’s not what worried the MPAA.

The organization’s concerns centered on a short pansexual orgy scene near the film’s beginning. With heterosexual as well as girl-girl and boy-boy couplings, the scene is undoubtedly explicit. Still, gay observers question whether it’s more graphic than similar sequences in, say, The People vs. Larry Flynt or Boogie Nights, two heterosexual fleshfests that skated by the MPAA with an R rating.

Chastity Bono, entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, points to a ratings double standard. “Many films have shown heterosexual characters in mature, offbeat sexual situations without being rated NC-17,” Bono told The Buzz. “We’ve come a long way, but we still can’t have sex on-screen. “

MPAA president Jack Valenti denied any antigay ratings bias. “A sex scene, whether opposite gender or same gender is a sex scene,” he told USA Today. (Valenti was unavailable for comment to The Advocate.)

MGM chose not to contest the NC-17 rating, though snipping the orgy scene would likely have put the movie back in R territory. “The scene really epitomizes the decadence and free-spirited nature of Berlin just before the war,” explains Gerry Rich, MGM’s president of worldwide marketing. “Particularly for the film’s main character. Sex is purely sex for this man prior to his capture and his journey to a concentration camp. Once he’s stripped of sexual freedom — of all freedom — he evolves as an individual and learns the true essence of love.”

In view of these somber goings-on, the brouhaha that began with October 8’s on-screen joke kiss between Ellen Morgan and straight best friend Paige (played by Joely Fisher) seems, well, funny. But not to Ellen DeGeneres, who was infuriated that ABC aired a “special parental discretion advisory” in addition to the regular TV-14 rating over the episode’s opening credits. After the network directed her to change the sexy ending of a second episode, DeGeneres charged ABC with blatant discrimination and threatened to leave the show.

ABC gave in, perhaps because the kiss episode got excellent ratings. For the moment, however, the parental advisory stayed — although Bono points out that it hardly seems necessary. “There’s been so much press on Ellen,” says an amused Bono, “you’d have to be living inside a box for the past six months not to know it deals with gay content.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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