The First Omen Director Explains 'Controversial' Scene That Almost Caused An NC-17, And It Includes Full-Frontal Nudity

 Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in 'The First Omen.'.
Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in 'The First Omen.'.

If you've been watching the lineup of upcoming horror movies set to release in 2024, you're likely aware it's brimming with sequels, prequels, and remakes. Among these, The First Omen has particularly grabbed my attention. It has already been screened for critics, and the consensus has been overwhelmingly positive, with one going so far as to say that the flick “f*cks harder than” they were anticipating. Interestingly, the film faced some challenges in obtaining an R-rating, according to the movie’s director, Arkasha Stevenson. The MPAA's (Motion Picture Association of America) issues with the picture centered on a specific scene – not one involving a demon, but rather one depicting the female body.

In a recent interview with Collider, Stevenson disclosed that the root of the controversy with the MPAA’s rating was a depiction of female anatomy. She emphasized that the team aimed to present this aspect of body horror in a way that was respectful and humanizing rather than objectifying. However, this approach did not align with the MPAA's standards. The filmmaker explained:

I have trepidations about trying to understand their [MPAA] process. Initially, it was just this frontal shot of this hand coming out of the vagina. And the shot started before we started to be able to see this demon hand. And the compromise was to only go to the frontal image once you started to see this supernatural element infiltrating the image. So what that told me is that it wasn’t what was happening to the body that was offensive, it was the body, the image of the vagina, that was offensive. Which, you know, it’s 2024. There’s a lot of male frontal nudity, there’s a lot of female nudity, but the female nudity is in a sexual light. And it was interesting that this was what was going to push the boundary. But once we realized that that was going to be the battleground, I think everybody was in full force on our side, including the studio, to really get this image through.

The Channel Zero veteran director shared that it took several revisions before securing an R-rating. What she found particularly interesting is that, in her mind, the final cut of the film ended up being "strangely more graphic" than earlier versions, and it was only the full frontal female nudity that caused the MPAA pause. She continued:

We have a pretty gory movie, we have a lot of violence, we have a lot of body horror. And we also have a demon phallus, and none of that triggered an NC-17 rating.

Stevenson commented on the situation, suggesting it reflects current societal attitudes and highlights the progress that still needs to be made. This experience prompted her to stress the need for a new approach in horror cinema, particularly in the portrayal of the female body:

There was a little bit of a wall between me and the horror because I felt like a lot of the time the violence depicted was fetishized when it came to women. And so this was a real exercise in trying to just make the lens purely through fear. And when you’re talking about such, I think, intense topics such as birth and forced reproduction and sexual assault, I think it’s really important to also not shy away from the imagery and to humanize the imagery.

Arkasha Stevenson brings up compelling arguments about the frequent fetishization and portrayal of women's bodies in horror films. Her dedication to the content she produces shows that she is the ideal individual to helm the prequel to one of the most iconic horror films of the 1970s.

This prequel to the OG Omen tells the story of an American woman who relocates to Rome to dedicate her life to the church, only to be confronted with evil forces that make her doubt her beliefs. She stumbles upon a chilling plot aiming to usher in the embodiment of pure evil. Based on the dread-inducing The First Omen trailer, which thankfully lacks any jump scares like we have come to expect in modern horror movies, it's clear the film promises a horrifying time, pulling no punches.

The First Omen hits the 2024 movie schedule on April 5th.