I was lucky enough to avoid being bullied in my formative years by attending a K-8 Magnet School that many would say was run by “Hippies,” or less specifically “Liberals.” Regardless of political affiliation, those Hippies took bullying very seriously. Whenever something would come up we would have community meetings, parents would be contacted and both the bully and the bullied would be included in the discussion from the beginning. Ever since I came to college, I’ve been grateful for that treatment every single day. The stories from my peers here, as well as friends from other schools back home and abroad, remind me of just how lucky I was, and how many others don’t get that chance.
This is why films like Lee Hirsch’s Bully not only need to be made, but need to be seen by as many people as possible. Hirsch’s documentary, which is part of a greater project in itself, was inspired by a series of recent suicides among elementary and middle school students as a result of bullying. Bully, which has yet to be released, attempts to portray those affected by these problems in a respectful, yet jarringly realistic fashion. He wanted to authentically represent the act of bullying, with all the swearing and unpleasantness children are capable of shown on screen.
This apparently was a bit too much for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who recently gave the film an R rating. Hirsch, along with Producer Harvey Weinstein and one of the subjects of the film, Alex Libby, recently appealed to drop the rating to PG-13, and lost by one vote.
This is not the first public appeal to the board Weinstein has spearheaded recently. Both Blue Valentine and The King’s Speech were appealed by Weinstein, the former successfully taken down to an R, the latter simply re-edited for a PG-13 re-release. While his actions here and in the past do indicate he has a taste for sensationalism and for butting heads with the MPAA, I think the fault lies in the other camp almost entirely.
The specific reasoning for the rating is simple: the MPAA is very strict about the “F word” as well as other high profile profanities, and rarely allows more than one instance in a PG-13 movie. In real life kids swear, therefore, in Bully kids swear a little too much for the MPAA. The movie was originally intended to be screened at elementary and middle schools across the country, something an R rating would obviously prevent from happening, and much of the film’s philosophy hinges on its availability to the ones bullying and being bullied in the first place.
The MPAA is hardly an African terrorist organization, nor is it a scheming Wall Street banker or any of the other recent ne’er-do-wells brought to recent media attention either. That said, I feel that the MPAA has become a bloated, oppressive, immature regulator that pushes ridiculously out of touch standards of morality on a public that doesn’t need them or want them.
The ratings dished out showcase a disproportionate aversion towards foul language and sex and a starkly hypocritical tolerance of violence not just in the case of Bully but almost unilaterally throughout the Association’s recent history. The MPAA ostensibly exists to protect children from being exposed to offensive content, if that is actually true, then what possible justification could they have for denying them of an opportunity to see a film like this? The case of Bully is one of the more specific instances in recent memory where the agenda of the MPAA is not only laughable, but is hurting the very people it’s meant to protect.