It’s not only the rating of public school teachers that we are getting so wrong these days. A documentary called “Bully,” which follows a handful of students who were bullied at school by their classmates over the course of a year, is at the center of a ridiculous battle over under what conditions teens can see it. There is, in fact, precedent for a change in rating that makes this especially aggravating — along with the fact that a lot of young people who should see “Bully” now probably won’t.
The Motion Picture Association of America slapped an “R” rating on “Bully,” meaning that anyone under the age of 17 has to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to see it. The rating is intended to send a message to parents that the film has strong content that they should review, but, as it turns out, it’s not really the violent and painful themes that are at issue. It’s “bad” language — you know, a word that we can’t publish but that kids and their parents say every day.
Folks in British Columbia who rate films seemed to understand that the language in context was important: They gave the film a PG rating, along with a warning of coarse language, according to the CBC.
A Michigan teen started a petition on Change.org to get the rating changed, and nearly half a million peopled signed it. The Weinstein Company, which produced the film, formally appealed the rating to the association. Some of the teens and their parents who appear in the film asked the head of the association, former senator Chris Dodd, to help. Nothing worked.
And now producer Harvey Weinstein said he would release the film without a rating. That could further limit who sees the film. Theater owners can decide whether or not they want to run a film without a rating. Such movies usually are treated as if they have an NC-17 rating, meaning nobody under 17 can see it.
The film director, Lee Hirsch, could have edited the film to win a rating that would have allowed teens to see it without an adult, but he declined, telling my colleague Jen Chaney that language “is what makes the film powerful because it’s what makes bullying real.”
As it turns out, another documentary faced the same language issue but won a different resolution when it appealed to the MPAA.
Jamie Shor, co-owner of the West End Cinema in Washington D.C., said:
“In documentary film, the language is what it is. There is no script to change or tone down. The rating system does not reflect that.
“I worked on a film several years ago “Gunner Palace,” which was one, if not the first documentary, on the Iraq war. We ran into the same issue with language and there the MPAA relented and allowed us to have a PG-13. The argument here is the same, the language represents real life, that was an important film to see as is ‘Bully.’ ”
“Gunner Palace” documented American soldiers of the 2/3 Field Artillery, a group known as the "Gunners," as they related what happened to them in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Initially it was given an “R” rating but after it was appealed, the association took the rating down to PG.
The teen who started Change.org, petition wrote: “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. Think of how many of these kids could benefit from seeing this film, especially if it is shown in schools?”
Think of how many kids now won’t see it. What a serious shame.
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