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Talking Movies

Can a film be banned in the US?

About the author

Christian Blauvelt is deputy editor of BBC Culture.

Americans pride themselves on freedom of speech, but there are limits to what can be expressed on screen.

In the past year, several films have received attention far beyond their intended arthouse audiences, challenging moviegoers’ – and censors’ - sensibilities. Notable among these were Blue is the Warmest Colour and Nymphomaniac, both sexually explicit movies intended for limited distribution. Video on demand and digital downloads have allowed such movies to reach more viewers – especially in more conservative parts of the US, where they were not distributed. Cinema owners ultimately decide what will appear on their screens, but films labelled NC-17 (Blue is the Warmest Colour) – the most restrictive film rating in the US – or released without a rating at all (Nymphomaniac) often receive marginal public exhibition.

So do some films receive a de facto ban, if not an official one? For Talking Movies, Christian Blauvelt explores the complicated question of film censorship in the US.

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