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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Naked Ambition': The MPAA's still scared of sex

April 3, 2009 | 10:56 am

For some reason, I've been knee deep in red-band trailers this week. First it was the new "Borat" trailer, which the MPAA labeled red-band (meaning that it is restricted from being shown in front of youth-oriented films). Now it's a trailer for "Naked Ambition: An R-rated Look at an X-rated Industry," a new documentary about the adult film business by Michael Grecco, a prominent celebrity photographer. The film, which opens in L.A. on May 1 at the Laemmle Sunset 5, offers a behind-the-scenes portrait of adult film stars, talking about their work and how they ended up in the business.

NakedAmbition_CoverJacketSM300wThe news here is the MPAA, which has always been astoundingly phobic about sex, has given the film's trailer a restricted red-band rating despite the fact that it has zero -- and I mean zero -- sex or nudity. 

As you can see for yourself -- the trailer is here -- it has no nudity, no bad language, not even anything especially suggestive. Some of the women have large breasts, but they're all carefully covered by bikinis or tank tops. They're not even "working," if you know what I mean. Much of the footage in the film -- and the trailer -- is from backstage access to the Adult Video News Awards, as well as other appearances and photo shoots with the likes of Jenna Jameson, Ron Jeremy and Tera Patrick.

So what is the MPAA's problem? According to Grecco, the ratings board had no objections to any specific scenes. They were simply uncomfortable with the entire subject of adult film. "I felt like I was on trial, by people who think their job is to protect America from sex," he told me. "They're not just prejudiced against sexual content. They're prejudiced against an industry that deals with sex."

He said that ratings board chief Joan Graves, whom he spoke to several times, was especially unhappy about the film's subtitle, which is also the title of a companion Grecco photo book on the same subject. According to Grecco, Graves wouldn't give the trailer a green-band rating, but offered up the possibility of what he called a "discretionary band" trailer where the ratings board would give exhibitors the right to show the trailer in front of certain selected films, on a case-by-case basis. 

"What Joan really wanted to do was rate the film itself, because she was concerned about my use of the R-rating subtitle as a cultural reference," explained Grecco, whose photographs have appeared in such magazines as Esquire, Time and Entertainment Weekly. "The rub is that I used her own terminology. She doesn't seem to want me making the claim that it's an R-rated film before they can actually rate it themselves. But 'R' isn't their emblem or anything -- it long ago become a cultural reference."

Because the ratings board was unwilling to give Grecco any leeway on his trailer, he pulled the film itself from the ratings process, which means it will go out in its limited theater run as an unrated picture. "After what happened with the ratings board on the trailer, I felt I'd be opening up a Pandora's box. I could tell from our phone conversations that I was dealing with a generation of people that really didn't understand today's MySpace culture at all."

As is often the case, the ratings board has far fewer problems about giving a green-band to trailers with violence and gunplay. Asked if he thought the ratings board had a wildly different attitude toward sex than violence, Grecco said, "I don't just believe there's a double standard. I'm witnessing it myself."