'Bully' Finally Gets PG-13 Rating: Why Didn't They Cut the 3 F-Bombs Sooner?

In what's being hailed as a major win for the Harvey Weinstein-backed documentary about high-school bullying, Bully has been given a PG-13 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. The original cut of the film earned an R rating for language, in a controversial MPAA decision that stirred up protests from a number of high-profile celebrities and was met with a 500,000-strong petition from students.

The new, milder rating will allow 13-year-olds to see the movie in cinemas without being accompanied by an adult. It's great news for a powerful, important film, and I'm really glad more kids are going to have a chance to see it.

However, I also don't understand why the filmmakers waited this long to edit out three cuss words to get that PG-13 rating


When the MPAA initially gave the film an R rating, The Weinstein Co. first appealed the decision, then did a limited unrated release of the film on March 30. Meanwhile, publicity over the restricted rating grew, with students signing petitions, celebrities calling for action, members of Congress voicing their opinion, and innumerable news articles circulating about the film.

Now The Weinstein Co. is set to release a PG-13 version of the film across the U.S. on April 13 ... and all they had to do was remove three uses of an expletive.

The director, Lee Hirsch, says he originally refused to edit the documentary's offensive language because he felt it would diminish the painful reality of bullying—and I can see that point of view. You could argue that kids are exposed to far more coarse language on a daily basis in the halls of their school than a few F words in a movie. You could also argue that the MPAA comes across as hypocritical in its R rating for this film, given their tolerance for violence and, to a certain degree, sexual content.

Still, in all the uproar over Bully's R rating, it seemed to me that what people were asking for was for the MPAA to agree that the movie was special enough to warrant the rules being bent. But the MPAA's job isn't to decide which movies are important or meaningful enough to skirt the language restrictions. They're supposed to take an objective look at a film and rate its content regardless of how amazing or daring or downright shitty it might be.

Meanwhile, we're talking about three cuss words. I just don't buy that the entire impact of the movie would be diminished by cutting out a few F-bombs. In fact, it wasn't that they were asked to remove the offensive word altogether, it was that the word was used too frequently: six times in the movie.

So, they've now removed 50 percent of the troublesome cussing. Three instances have been kept, in a scene where a bullied child is beaten up on a school bus. According to Hirsch:

We retained the central scene and all three (words) are intact. The whole scene is intact and that ... was a great victory for me.

Again, it's great that they have the new rating and all, but why didn't they do this to begin with? Unless, of course, this whole thing was less about maintaining the integrity of the film, and more about generating publicity.

What do you think about the ratings controversy around Bully? Should the film have been given a PG-13 rating without the edits?

Image via IMDB

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