Kangaroo courts: Panahi and the MPAA


Persecuted filmmaker Jafar Panahi finally got his day in court a couple of weeks ago, whatever that might mean in the Iranian justice system, and released a statement defending his right to create such amoral, treasonous films as "Offside" (2007)  and "Crimson Gold." (2003). In it he said in part, "[Y]ou are putting not only us on trial but the socially conscious, humanistic, and artistic Iranian cinema as well, a cinema which tries to stay beyond good and evil, a cinema that does not judge nor surrender to power or money but tries to honestly reflect a realistic image of the society."

Well, good luck with that, Jafar.

More recently the Berlinale invited Panahi to participate in a jury that is, unlike the enpaneled fanatics in Iran, composed of his peers. One hopes that they have more success than the people of Venice festival, who unsuccessfully tried to get Panahi on their jury a couple of months ago. But I'm not holding my breath.

Nonetheless, before we get all snooty about how open our society is and about the glories of our constitutional right to free speech, consider the fate of Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine," which was given the lethal NC-17 rating by the MPAA. True, the abject villainy of the Iranians eclipses the mere hypocrisy, cowardice, ignorance and stupidity of Hollywood's existing rating system, but at the end of the day it all comes down to censorship.

And what is the MPAA trying to protect us from? Cunnilingus, apparently  - at least as practiced by male on female. For some reason, however,  the girl on girl application  in "Black Swan" gets a pass. Because the guys calling the shots don't mind seeing girls get it on? Or perhaps because "Black Swan" is being distributed by Fox Searchlight, part of 20th Century Fox, and "Blue Valentine" by the independent Weinsteins?

Not that I am suggesting that either get  an NC-17 rating. (For the record, I have not yet seen "Blue Valentine" and I gave "Black Swan" four stars in my review). Nor do I think films like "Piranha 3-D" or the "Saw" series or any of the other films whose idea of a good time is butchering sexy bodies in graphic detail should be banned or restricted. None of these should be judged and blacklisted by the self-appointed pooh-bahs of the major studios.

Their motivations, unlike in Iran, are not moral or political . They're in it just protect their own bottom line by short circuiting attempts by outsiders to impose their own ideas of righteousness. And they are also in it to defuse the competition of independent filmmakers. Movie censorship in America these days is ultimately no more than obeisance to the forces of intolerance. And, when you come right down to it, an unfair business practice imposed by a monopoly on competitors.

It is both anti-American and anti-capitalistic.

Meanwhile, if you want to protest either or both of these injustices, here's a link for a petition supporting Panahi and here's one for "Blue Valentine."

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