Anti-bullying documentary “Bully” gets an R-rating; Thousands rally against MPAA

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It all started when a lowly 17-year-old high school student Katy Butler started a petition using the advocacy website Her petition urged the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to soften the current R-rating of “Bully,” an anti-bullying documentary, to a PG-13 rating prior to its wide release on March 30, as an effort to spread its positive message to a broader audience, particularly to include the teenage demographic. announced that Butler’s petition has now earned over 275,000 signatures, 20 of which includes members of Congress. Big names who have also rallied to the cause include New Orleans NFL Quarterback Drew Brees, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Katy Butler onto her daytime talk show.

The documentary is directed by Lee Hirsch and was picked up at the Tribeca Film Festival by The Weinstein Company, the major motion picture powerhouse that was the big winner at this year’s Oscars after their “Best Picture” award for “The Artist.” The film follows several students from different parts of the country during the 2009-2010 school year, who are all victims of bullying. According to the movie’s trailer, 13 million students suffer from this cruel act every year. “Bully” also covers the stories of two students, Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, who ultimately committed suicide.

“Having an R-rating makes it difficult for anyone under 17 to see [the movie], also you can’t show R-rated movies in schools and that’s exactly where it needs to be shown,” said Ellen DeGeneres on her show, “After seeing it, I can tell you that the lessons that the kids learn from this movie are more important than the words they might hear and they’re words that they already know anyway.”

The words that Ellen is referring to are six instances of the f-word, which was the sole reason for the MPAA to stamp the documentary with the R-rating. This infuriates supporters of the film, especially considering the PG-13 rating given to “Gunner Palace,” a 2005 war documentary that dropped the same f-bomb a total of 42 times.

As a result of the MPAA’s firm decision to give the film an R-rating, a bit of back-and-forth bullying ensued between Hollywood bigwigs. Oscar-winning executive producer Harvey Weinstein threatened to withdraw his support for the MPAA. In retaliation, the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners John Fithian warns that in so doing, the organization will be forced to slap an NC-17 rating to any future release from the Weinstein Company.

For the time being, the opposing sides of the heated debate are forced to put their differences aside, as Harvey Weinstein and Chairman Senator of the MPAA Chris Dodd are both scheduled to host a special screening of “Bully” to an audience of principals and teachers in Washington D.C., alongside filmmaker Lee Hirsch.

Katy Butler, who was a victim of child bullying herself, has touched the lives of 275,000 others in a rally to spread awareness over this serious and prevalent issue. If a bump from an R-rating to a PG-13 rating could indeed expand the audience to include and empower more and more teenagers like Butler, who knows what this film could do.

Teenagers in Canada who want to see the film need not worry. In Canada, “Bully” is rated PG.

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