Watching an R-rated film in theaters may be an easy matter for Western audiences, but watching one in the Arab world means watching an R-rated movie that has been modified a number of times to almost become a PG-13 one.
That is not the case in every R-rated movie, of course, as it mainly applies to movies showing any form of nudity.
One of these movies that have been causing a hype both in the West and the East is Martin Scorcese’s most recent film, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The movie, from what I’ve heard, apparently shows several scenes of nudity or crude sexual conduct, the aesthetic importance of which many Western viewers began to question.
My sisters in Jordan and Dubai have all been to see the movie and said they liked it – they recommended it to my father, too, but he didn’t share their enthusiasm for it. None of them mentioned anything about crude scenes.
A few days later one of my friends posted a picture he took of a sign hung in a movie theater in Dubai. The sign read, “Kindly be informed that the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ contains muted words, and some scenes have been removed as they were not considered suitable. Reel Cinemas has no control on the censorship…”
Which explained the good, yet mild, feedback my sisters have given me about the movie. They haven’t seen “all” of the movie, just what the government there deemed acceptable.
This led me to question how well any form of art, regardless of my or anybody else’s opinion of it, translates across cultures. What “ethical code” one country adheres to may not necessarily apply to another country, and therefore, what is considered aesthetic in one country may be considered “shameful” in another.
Despite the controversy, the movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, has been nominated for five Academy Awards – two of which are for Best Picture and Best Actor. So despite what people thought of the “modesty” of the movie, there must have been a reason for it to be held in such high esteem in the Hollywood community – five reasons, actually.
Were my sisters and father presented with an Oscar-worthy version of the movie, one that merits its nominations, or were they exposed to a tamer version of it? Does the removal of curse words or nudity in movies detract from their theme and plot and does their inclusion add to them?
I am not the first to ask these questions, and I do not know of a clear-cut answer to them. I do know, however, that a person needs to step outside his or her comfort zone to evaluate and attempt to understand something – or even someone – from a culture foreign to them.
One of my professors said in class that it’s sometimes best to “suspend our moral position” in order to clearly see a work of art. While the act itself may be “uncomfortable,” I believe at the end, we get a fuller experience – whether we end up liking the work or not.