This post has been updated
Last week, the MPAA upheld a ruling that “Bully,” a documentary that followed kids dealing with bullying for one school year, as well the aftermaths of children’s suicides, should have an R rating due to language. Namely, a word that begins with the letter “f.”
Now, a Michigan high school student has started a petition on Change.org asking the trade association to once again consider the ruling and give “Bully” a PG-13 rating. While over tens of thousands of signatures have been garnered, this request may be impossible due to current MPAA rules.
Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company is distributing the film, appealed the MPAA's original ruling, arguing that it would keep the film away from its target audience and would prevent it from being shown in schools.
Director Lee Hirsch said in a statement (via Entertainment Weekly):
I made ‘Bully’ for kids to see — the bullies as well as the bullied. ... To capture the stark reality of bullying, we had to capture the way kids act and speak in their everyday lives — and the fact is that kids use profanity. It is heartbreaking that the MPAA, in adhering to a strict limit on certain words, would end up keeping this film from those who need to see it most. No one could make this case more powerfully than Alex Libby, and I am so proud and honored that he is stepping forward to make a personal appeal.
Indeed, Libby, a boy with Asperger's syndrome whose struggles with bullying are documented in the film, asked the appeals board in person to consider changing the rating. (Read more about the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) here and here.)
But the appeal did not receive the two-thirds vote needed to overturn the ruling, according to a news release for the Weinstein Company. It failed by one vote.
The MPAA released a statement saying in part, “The R rating is not a judgment on the value of any movie. The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration before allowing their children to view it. Once advised, many parents may take their kids to see an R-rated film.”
Katy Butler disagrees that teenagers should be blocked from seeing the film without a parent.
In a letter posted to Change.org, Butler wrote about her own experiences with being bullied in 7th grade. “I can’t believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers from seeing a movie that could change — and, in some cases, save — their lives,” Butler wrote. “Think of how many of these kids could benefit from seeing this film, especially if it is shown in schools?”
The petition has been signed over 58,000 times, with the number rapidly rising.
Here’s the problem: “Only one appeal may be taken of the rating of each version of a motion picture and only two appeals total may be taken of the ratings of different versions of a motion picture,” according to FilmRatings.com. That means, without changes, the film is out of appeals.
Of possibly altering the film, Hirsch told Wired.com, “I’m fighting to have the film released as it was honestly shot.”
A spokesman for the MPAA told Celebritology it will have comment on the issue sometime Tuesday afternoon.
A spokesman for the MPAA responded to Celebritology’s request for comment by sending a blog post written by Joan Graves, the head of CARA.
“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. Unfortunately, there is a misconception about the R rating of this film limiting the audience to adults,” Graves said. “This is not true. In fact, many other R-rated movies on important topics, such as ‘Schindler’s List,’ have been screened in schools and viewed by children accompanied by their parents.”
She continued, “The voluntary ratings system enables parents to make an informed decision about what content they allow their children to see in movies. ... As with any movie, parents will decide if they want their children to see “Bully.” School districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval.”
Harvey Weinstein has expressed his deep displeasure with the ruling, saying in a statement his company may take a “leave of absence from the MPAA.”
He told Entertainment Weekly at the Oscars, “It’s really an injustice to a bunch of kids who’ve been beaten up and suffered a little bit too much at the hands of a crazy society that allows that kind of stuff, and I think [the MPAA has] made a gigantic mistake.” Weinstein added that he won’t take the ruling lying down, but it’s unclear exactly what exactly that will entail.
Watch the trailer, which may be upsetting and disturbing to some viewers, below.