After a long battle with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) The Weinstein Co. removed three uses of an expletive from the documentary, Bully to obtain a PG-13 rating. The film documents five families affected by middle school and high school bullying, featuring a wide representation of direct victims of bullies and families who lost children from suicides stemming from bullying. The MPAA gave the film an initial rating of R so that those under the age of 17 were restricted from seeing it without an accompanying adult.
Katy Butler, a 17-year old high school student from Plymouth, Michigan (just 15 minutes from very liberal city of Ann Arbor) started an online petition for a lower rating. Butler is a lesbian who was victimized by bullying and eventually switched schools to a private Ann Arbor high school. The rating was lessened to an unrated rating, which was a minor step in the right direction but the film still faced a challenge getting its target demographic to see it and thus a recent clash between The Weinstein Co. and the MPAA ensued. Actors and sports stars such as Meryl Streep and Drew Brees got involved as supporters of the film and now with the edits, the film will (hopefully) get a much wider release.
The director of the film, Lee Hirsch was satisfied with the resolution and released this statement, “While I retain my belief that PG-13 has always been the appropriate rating for this film, as reinforced by Canada’s rating of a PG, we have today scored a victory from the MPAA.” Hirsch did not want to make the edits initially because he did not want the reality of the bullying softened. Part of bullying is verbal.
Having just screened this doc last night, without the edits, I can say that this is a major win by Hisch and Weinstein because this film can now be brought in by schools to show to educators, school boards and students, all of whom are part of the target audience. It would have been counterproductive to ultimately have an R rating or an unrated rating. This is a film that did not need the expletives, but it certainly added to seeing the harsh life these children endure on a regular basis.
It’s shocking to see, based on how so many major studio films rated PG-13 have an abundant amount of violence and swearing freely with adult actors, yet Bully got the initial R rating because children were involved. The MPAA used this defense and stood by their decision and would not budge. Now, considering that this was a real representation of these kids’ experiences, the MPAA’s real intent to “protect” the youths should be heavily questioned when in fact, Bully is a film intended to spread the awareness and actions to prevent bullying.
Kids would not have been protected by limiting Bully’s audience. Hopefully, this brings Bully closer to being mandated to be seen by educators, students, and parents at the very least. It’s a powerful and effective film, but only if the audience is maximized. Thankfully the drama over the rating has been resolved; now please go see Bully when it’s released nationwide on April 13. Kids around the country will be thankful you did.