Katy started an online petition in late February to change the rating of “Bully” — and over three weeks, her own world changed, too. More than 300,000 people signed on. She met the producer and director in New York, then leaders of the Motion Picture Association of America in Los Angeles.
This week, Katy’s whirlwind took her to Washington, where she visited lawmakers’ offices Friday.
Wearing blue jeans and undaunted by a relentless spotlight, she did 12 press interviews the day before, retelling her own story of torment as she insisted that students everywhere need to hear the personal stories featured in the film. The film’s R rating comes from a scene on a school bus, when a bullied boy is cursed out.
“These are real people, telling their real stories,” Katy said in an interview. “I think it could create a big change, and it could potentially save lives if kids are allowed to see it.”
Her rising profile comes as bullying gets increasing attention nationally. On Wednesday, Cartoon Network unveiled a 30-minute documentary on bullying at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in the District. The film, which will air Sunday evening, opens with a message from President Obama, who held an anti-bullying summit at the White House last year.
The MPAA hosted a small audience Thursday for an early showing and discussion of “Bully.” Panelists included D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who announced a new advisory committee to address bullying and pledged to show the film to D.C. students.
“For parents who want to opt out, that’s fine,” she said. “But we will show the movie in our schools.”
Asked to speak, Katy made another plea for changing the rating to PG-13. Seated beside her mother, Anne, a Michigan pediatrician, she said that with an R rating, “the kids can’t go to see the movie by themselves — and, honestly, how many 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds want to go to the movies with their parents?” she said. “That’s just not cool.”
The MPAA says its rating is not punitive or a reflection of the value of the film, but reflects language used in the film so that parents can make informed decisions. The movie, which has an initial release date of March 30, is set to come to the Washington area April 13.
Joseph L. Wright, who has worked on bullying issues for a decade and leads the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children’s National Medical Center, was part of both D.C. events and said he has never seen a stronger interest in change — and believes students themselves are the best hope.
“I think Katy represents how this movement is really going to be galvanized by young people,” he said. “The adult community, in my opinion, has a very steep learning curve.”
“Bully” examines the devastating experiences of five students, including two boys who commit suicide. It ends with the idea of change. “Everything starts with one and builds up,” says one father in the movie.