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Spike Lee's 'Red Hook Summer' to be rated R, not NC-17

July 20, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • A scene from Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer."
A scene from Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer." (Variance Films )

Spike Lee's provocative Sundance movie, "Red Hook Summer," will be assigned an R rating by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, with the film avoiding the more severe NC-17.

A person familiar with the MPAA's ruling who was not authorized to speak about it publicly said the group's raters had in recent days formally decided to allow moviegoers under the age of 17 to see the film if accompanied by an adult. An NC-17, of course, would have precluded any teenagers from seeing it no matter who they were with (and restricted potential play dates and marketing).

An MPAA spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

"Red Hook" addresses a difficult adult subject -- to explain further would be to offer a major spoiler -- that conceivably could have warranted an NC-17 rating. Though it's impossible to make comparisons between the explicitness of two films, there was precedent: In the past few months, the MPAA has handed NC-17s to several movies with adult subject matter, including the serial-killer picture "Chained" and the upcoming revenge thriller "Killer Joe" (the latter primarily for a lone provocative scene).

"Red Hook" tells of a precocious boy who is sent to live with his preacher grandfather in a housing project for the summer, and the complicated relationship the pair have with each other and others in the community. Starring Clarke Peters ("Treme") as the preacher and several first-time child actors, it continues Lee's preoccupation with, and chronicles of, race and class in his native Brooklyn, this time adding a dose of religion as well. 

Though not a sequel to Lee's landmark "Do The Right Thing," "Red Hook" does contains several thematic and comedic callbacks to it.

A revelation late in "Red Hook" polarized audiences at Sundance, particularly a suggestive scene that, while not graphic, explosively mixed religion and sex. Lee previously told 24 Frames that the provocative moment in the film "was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever done."

In addition to brief violence and language, the MPAA will cite a "disturbing situation" in its warning to parents about the film, said the person familiar with the conversations concerning the movie.

But after some back-and-forth among the MPAA and those associated with the film, the warning will avoid further explication of what the disturbing scene contains. That's a win for Lee and executives at distributor Variance Films, who have been trying to avoid giving away exactly what the disturbing element is so as not to undermine the film's impact.

"Red Hook Summer" is set to opens in New York on Aug. 10, coming to Los Angeles two weeks later.


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