'Bully' Documentary Will Be Released Unrated

After being given an R rating by the MPAA, 'Bully' will be released unrated. It's not an ideal solution, but it's a start.

‘Bully’ Documentary Will Be Released Unrated

After being given an R rating by the MPAA, ‘Bully’ will be released unrated. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s a start.

-Lucia Peters

Bully poster

Have you been following the Bully controversy? Just in case you haven’t, here’s what’s been going on: A documentary by director Lee Hirsch, Bully follows the lives of five students in the United States who face bullying on a daily basis. The film followed the victims’ families as well; it also had a particular focus on the deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, who both took their own lives after suffering through unendurable bullying. The film premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, after which it was acquired by The Weinstein Company, and it will see its U.S. theatrical release open this Friday, March 30. Bullying has always been a problem, but in recent decades, it’s become something of an epidemic, especially with the advent of social media and subsequent rise of cyber bullying. Naturally, you can see the importance of a documentary like this, yes? Especially to kids and teens who might be victims of bullying, or to kids and teens who are bullies, or even to kids and teens to whom bullying is simply a concept? Us too.

Here’s the thing: Because of the use of swear words during parts of the film, Bully was given an R rating by the MPAA. This means that most kids wouldn’t be able to see the film. No one under 17 would be allowed to see the movie, and it wouldn’t be allowed to be screened in schools.

This? This is problematic for what I hope are obvious reasons.

The world accordingly got up in arms against the rating. The Weinstein Company and Hirsch of course appealed it immediately; a former victim of bullying in Ann Arbor, Michigan created a Change.org online petition to the CEO of the MPAA to reduce the rating to PG-13, which hundreds of thousands signed; and politicians, celebrities, and all manner of public figures got behind the cause. Still, though, Harvey Weinstein and Hirsch lost the appeal by one vote.

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So what’s their solution? Just hours before Bully’s premiere, The Weinstein Company announced that it would release the film unrated, rather than use the MPAA’s R rating; it will be up to cinema owners themselves to decide whether or not to allow younger moviegoers to see it.

It may not be an ideal solution, but at least it leaves the door of possibility open, right?

Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter after the premiere, Lee Hirsch described the outcry about the rating as follows: “People are frustrated,” he said. “They feel like this rating was unjust. They’re tired of the double standard of gratuitous violence getting through and a film that could actually do some good that’s not about just exploitation getting slammed with this rating.” Hirsch went on to say that the whole film is “an intervention,” and that when it came to the overall message of Bully, it’s that “everybody can make a difference”: “You don’t have to change the world to stop bullying,” he said. “You just have to make a decision. And every single person that sees this has access to that movement.”

I was never a victim of bullying, and I don’t have kids (or even regularly interact with kids) for whom bullying is a reality. But I read about it all the time in the news, and I’ve watched with growing horror as the problem has continued to get worse, rather than better. This is one of the things that scares me the most about the possibility of actually becoming a parent later one: I am terrified that if my child grows up in a world where the bullying epidemic is so great, I will be utterly unequipped to help him or her deal with and navigate it. There are too many parents and kids who are already in this position, and it needs to stop. For that reason, I think Bully might just be one of the most important films of the year. It’s why I’m going to see it. And it’s why I think you should go see it. And it’s why you should take your kids to go see it, too.

Find out more about Bully online at http://www.thebullyproject.com.

Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s associate editor.

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