What Blonde‘s NC-17 Rating Means For the Netflix Movie

4 minute read

After starring roles in multiple blockbuster hits like Knives Out, No Time to Die, and The Gray Man, Ana de Armas will next take on the role of Marilyn Monroe in Blonde, a dramatized look at the famed actor’s life. Blonde, based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, is an adaptation of a fictionalized version of the beloved star’s life, and joins a large collection of films and documentaries that have been made about Monroe.

Out Sept. 23 on Netflix, following a limited theatrical release, Blonde will be the first Netflix original movie to be rated NC-17 due to “some sexual content.” De Armas has said the rating is unwarranted. Here’s everything to know about what Blonde’s NC-17 rating means for the movie.

What an NC-17 rating means

Movie ratings come from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPA), which was established as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in 1922 by the major studios producing films. Then MPPDA president Will Hays and the rest of the organization put together a set of strict yet vague rules that came to be known as the “Hays Code,” which set the precedent for the rating system we use today. Movies produced under the “Hays Code” “lower the moral standards of those who see it,” and placed a specific emphasis on “crime, wrong-doing, evil, or sin.”

The ratings system was introduced in 1968, classifying movies as G, M, R, or X. Over time, M became PG, and in 1984, director Steven Spielberg suggested the PG-13 rating depending on how the MPA classified what was appropriate for different audiences. Until 1990, movies that didn’t allow children under age 17 were rated “X.” But in the 1980s, the pornography industry also began using the rating “X,” because the MPA did not copyright the symbol, leading to X-rated movies being harder to market. Because theaters wouldn’t book them, and video stores would not stock X-rated movies, the rating was later changed to NC-17.

NC-17 movies are rare in comparison to titles with the more digestible R rating. They allow fewer people in the theater to watch the movie, therefore making it more difficult for NC-17 rated films to earn a profit—meaning the rating has earned the nickname the “kiss of death.” The most popular movie with an NC-17 rating was 1995’s Showgirls, which made $20.4 million of its $45 million budget back. The last film to receive the rating was 2013’s Blue Is the Warmest Color.

Why Blonde received an NC-17 rating

Blonde’s NC-17 rating generated a lot of buzz—especially about what it means for the film. The MPA cited “some sexual content” in giving the rating.

In February, Blonde director Andrew Dominik told ScreenDaily that the movie will include a “graphic rape scene.” It is also said to feature a vaginal point-of-view shot. Speaking with ScreenDaily, Dominik called the rating “a bunch of horsesh-t.” He said, “It’s a demanding movie. “If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the f-cking audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office.”

His tune changed in May when he spoke to Vulture, telling the publication that he was “surprised” about the rating. “I thought we’d colored inside the lines,” Dominik said, adding, “It’s just a weird time. It’s not like depictions of happy sexuality. It’s depictions of situations that are ambiguous. And Americans are really strange when it comes to sexual behavior, don’t you think? I don’t know why.”

How did Ana de Armas respond to the rating?

De Armas has objected to the NC-17 rating given to Blonde. “I didn’t understand why that happened,” she told L’Officiel magazine. “I can tell you a number of shows or movies that are way more explicit with a lot more sexual content than Blonde.”

She noted that the moments shown in the film are important for the story that unfolds in Blonde, and to understand Monroe as a cultural figure. “It needed to be explained,” she said. “Everyone [in the cast] knew we had to go to uncomfortable places. I wasn’t the only one.”

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com