MPAA Rates Documentary About Anti-Childhood-Bullying Movement Too Severely For Children To Actually See It
And That's Terrible
The MPAA is in our thoughts not infrequently here, what with their role in the war on piracy, their part in the history of censorship in Hollywood, their extremely conservative views on what constitutes explicit material, and rigid, bordering on draconian, rules about what rating the language used in a film will garner.
But you’d think that even they’d have looked past the facts to the context in the case of Bully, a documentary about the modern anti-bullying movement that could be life saving viewing for kids everywhere. Because the film features unedited interviews with kids and footage of bullying, there’s understandably a lot of language being used that isn’t “network television safe,” and the film garnered an R rating, which would prevent anyone under seventeen from seeing this movie without the presence of an adult. In other words, the MPAA is trying to protect kids from the words that they’re already using every day, by making it difficult for kids to see a movie designed to give a lot of them hope.
It’s commonly known in the industry that any more than one use of the word “fuck” as a euphemism for a sexual act (and not as an exclamation) will earn your film a default R rating regardless of the rest of its content. It’s so much common knowledge that the use of that single chance at the word can be a choice given considerable weight. I remember reading somewhere that when Hugh Jackman was approached to do a cameo in X-Men: First Class, his response was that he’d do it if he got say their one “fuck.” So, it’s likely that the makers of Bully saw this coming, and as Pajiba says: “Is the move a self-aggrandizing, publicity-hounding stunt? Perhaps. The Weinsteins have done the same in the past for other films.” But as they also say: “That hardly makes the issue any less infuriating.”
Director Lee Hirsch released this statement begging for an exception to the MPAA’s rules:
I made BULLY for kids to see – the bullies as well as the bullied. We have to change hearts and minds in order to stop this epidemic, which has scarred countless lives and driven many children to suicide. 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 [one of the subjects of the film, who will appear alongside Hirsch and producers at their official MPAA appeal], and I am so proud and honored that he is stepping forward to make a personal appeal.
It’s easy to say “Well, those kids can just have their parents take them to the movie,” but sidesteps an important issue. Boys and girls aren’t just bullied for being overweight, introverted, bookish, awkward, poor, in the wrong clothes or skin color or a myriad of other stupid reasons. Kids are also bullied for being, or seeming in the eyes of their persecutors to be, gay, lesbian, trans, or otherwise for bucking established gender roles. And the sad facts are that in the case of many of those latter situations (and, indeed, at least some of the former ones) those kids may not actually have adults in their communities to turn to for any kind of support, even a sympathetic ear, much less a movie ticket and a few hours of their time. And it’s those kids who need movies like Bully most of all.