Passages director slams ‘censorship’ of LGBTQ+ sex scenes

Directors have questioned the treatment of queer sex on screen after two LGBTQ+ films – Passages and Red, White & Royal Blue – were slapped with high ratings.

Ira Sachs, director of the French romantic drama Passages, has spoken out about the “censorship of queer images” after his film received a harsh rating, calling the classification “anti-gay”.

Passages, which features a male bisexual lead, received an NC-17 rating, which would restrict people under 18 from seeing the film at all, and also see it banned from certain movie theatres.

“The censorship of queer images exists from top to bottom,” Sachs said, as reported by CBC News.

“It’s not just the MPA [Motion Picture Association]. It’s also what films are financed, what films are supported by festivals, what films get bought, what films get shown,” he continued. “I feel grateful that I was able to make a film outside of those limits.” 

MUBI, the distributor of Passages, rejected the MPA’s NC-17 rating, instead releasing it unrated. 

Director Matthew Lopez was similarly confused by the R rating for his film adaptation of LGBTQ+ romance novel Red, White & Royal Blue. The film has a handful of sex scenes that show bare buttocks and chests, but stop short of full-frontal nudity.

Still, it received an R rating, meaning people under 17 would need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to see it. Red, White & Royal Blue features a male bisexual lead, just like Passages.  

One of the takeaways from the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated is that the portrayal of heterosexual sex in movies gets a lower MPA rating than queer sex, just as missionary position does vs. woman on top & male pleasure vs. female pleasure. Dangerous, puritanical bullshit.

— Michael Avolio (@MichaelAvolio) January 30, 2023

Lopez said he was surprised by the rating of a film that tells the story of a British Prince and son of a US president falling in love. 

“I did question whether or not, if it had been a straight couple, we would still have gotten an R-rating,” Lopez told GamesRadar+

Passages does have full nudity, but the sex scenes are more intimate and passionate than graphic. 

Claims of discrimination 

Critics have long criticised the Motion Picture Association – an American self-regulated film classification body whose partners include Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal and Warner Bros – for what they claim is discrimination against LGBTQ+ films by giving them higher ratings.

A 2020 study found that MPA’s classification system marginalises LGBTQ stories, finding evidence that it restricted access by queer teens to “potentially helpful film content.”

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