Bully sounds like an amazing and heartbreaking film. The documentary follows five kids and their families over the course of a school year, examining the epidemic of adolescent bullying in America and the dire consequences that can happen as a result. Like the nearly incomprehensibly tragic death of Ty Smalley, who was just 11 years old when he committed suicide.
The intention was for Bully to reach young kids who would hopefully benefit the most from seeing the movie -- the studio was even planning to screen it at a variety of middle and high schools. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of at least one big-name Hollywood producer, Bully's MPAA rating prevents it from being seen by the very audience it was intended for.
While the movie’s website currently describes the film as not yet rated, the MPAA recently gave Bully an R rating for "some language." It's unclear how much strong language is included, or which specific words tipped the rating from PG-13 to R, but the restrictive rating clearly limits who can see the movie.
Producer Harvey Weinstein called for an appeal on the R rating -- going so far as to argue his case before the ratings board on Thursday, and even bringing along one of the bullied kids from the film to deliver a personal plea. In a statement he made a few days ago, Weinstein said:
I want every child, parent, and educator in America to see Bully, so it is imperative for us to gain a PG-13 rating. It's better that children see bad language than bad behavior, so my wish is that the MPAA considers the importance of this matter as we make this appeal.
Apparently the final vote was one short of the number needed to reverse the decision, so the R rating stuck. The MPAA responded:
Bullying is a serious issue and is a subject that parents should discuss with their children. The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that Bully can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions. The MPAA also has the responsibility, however, to acknowledge and represent the strong feedback from parents throughout the country who want to be informed about content in movies, including language.
Weinstein is so upset about the decision he's threatening to take a leave of absence from the MPAA, which is interesting, since his company isn't actually a member. What that would actually mean is that he'd stop submitting movies from The Weinstein Co. to be rated, thus releasing films as unrated, thus cutting off his profits. I CALL BULLSHIT.
At any rate, I think it's too bad the film earned the restrictive rating, especially considering the language in the film is likely to be epithets used against victims. Verbal abuse is part of what makes bullying so intolerable, and it's important to understand the cruel nature of what's being said to these kids.
That said, if the way for this film to reach a broader audience is to use less cuss words, well, the film's creators should go back to the editing room. Because I actually agree with the MPAA here, they can't bend the rules based on a film's supposed merit.
Whatever happens with Bully, I'm actually glad this controversy over the rating came to light, because I think it gives the film more publicity. Here's the trailer, which is pretty powerful on its own:
Do you think the MPAA should have changed the rating for Bully?
Image via YouTube