Do you remember what it was like to buy your first PG-13 movie ticket on your own? What did it feel like when you started getting carded for R-rated movies? And how many films were you not allowed to see because of a silly ratings system that has now prevented a crucial documentary from being screened to the audience who needs it most?
Last month, the highly anticipated documentary Bully was given an R-rating, meaning that a film about America’s bullying crisis in schools wouldn’t be watched by anyone in of school age (unless a parent gets dragged along, or the kid is dragged in by a parent). At first, I assumed that the rating was fair — a movie about bullying must have a ton of violence that’s traumatic to watch on screen, and could possibly even incite more bullying activity after watching it. If I were a parent, I wouldn’t want my kid to see that.
Then I found out that the real reason for the harsh rating is because of one little four-letter word that’s sprinkled a few times too often in ONE scene. A film can only drop an F-bomb once in a movie that’s rated PG-13; while the rules around violence and sex are more subjective. Naturally, a documentary about reality shouldn’t have to bleep out the words that the rating is preventing teens from hearing when they’re the ones saying them. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch commented:
“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.”
Katy Butler, a bullied teen who appears in the movie, started a petition to change the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating. The hopeful overturn has gained over 200,000 signatures and is backed by Bully producer Harvey Weinstein, twenty congressmen and celebrities including Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Justin Bieber, Tommy Hilfiger and Drew Brees.
Even AMC Entertainment CEO Gerry Lopez joined in the protest, because it’s completely outrageous that a scripted blockbuster like The Hunger Games can air footage of teens hurting each other for sport, as long as they keep their vocabulary clean. “I saw The Hunger Games this weekend, and I loved it,” said television host Aisha Tyler. “But it’s a movie about kids killing each other and that movie got PG-13. The fact that this is getting an R rating is just utter bulls—t.”
Unfortunately, the filmmakers lost their appeal to overturn the rating by one vote — ONE VOTE — during at a recent hearing of the Classification and Ratings Administration.
So how does a small documentary stand up to the scary MPAA? Simple: Bully hits theaters tomorrow. Without a rating. Meaning that the film has no iron-clad age restrictions, and the decision on who will be allowed to buy tickets now fall in the hands of individual theater managers. It’ll be up to them to decide if the teens of their communities should see the movie that features a favorite swear word a few too many times, in one scene.
Watch the trailer below:
Is the MPAA correct in protecting teen ears from a few extra F-bombs? Or is the harsh documentary rating completely outrageous?
Ashley is a UC San Diego grad who is holding on way too tightly to a potential career in magazines and goes to Vegas all too often. She’s fascinated with celebrities and strawberry beer and doubles as a pathological texter/emailer/blogger. Feed the addiction with tweets @cashleelee. Thanks in advance.