Days after the Motion Picture Association of America denied an appeal to downgrade "Bully's" R-rating, parents, educators and other activists are petitioning the MPAA to overturn its ruling.
The documentary, which highlights the effects of school bullying, received the rating because of strong language. Now, the film's supporters are upset that a film intended to educate audiences about an important issue will be barred from schools and won't be accessible to those who are most affected by it -- children under 17.
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We have a responsibility to the more than 13 million youth who are bullied every year in the US to make available this transformative, relevant piece of work.
The link was posted on "Bully's" Facebook page, and has been flying around the web in online comments and on local listservs for parents. As of Feb. 26, the petition had more than 2,400 signatures as well as comments like Allison Nasson's:
This movie needs to be seen by everyone. It is crucial for parents to see it so that they can understand the true manifestation of bullying in schools today, but kids are the ones bullying and the ones being bullied. This can do great things; it can provide hope to the victims, and create empathy in the perpetrators. But this will not happen if kids can't even get into the theaters.
Still, the MPAA defends its decision. The Los Angeles Times obtained a statement by the MPAA in response to to the film's R-rating:
The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that ‘Bully’ can serve as a vehicle for...important discussions...The MPAA also has the responsibility, however, to acknowledge and represent the strong feedback from parents throughout the country who want to be informed about content in movies, including language.
But in a commentary for NPR, Linda Holmes defends the film and writes that the rating does little to inform parents about the contents of movie. Additionally, Holmes points out that vulgar language is often part of bullying:
There's a grotesque irony in declaring that what is portrayed in Bully should be softened, or bleeped -- should be hidden, really, because it's too much for kids to see. Of course it's too much for kids to see. It's also too much for kids to live through, walk through, ride the bus with, and go to school with. That's why they made the movie. The entire point of this film is that kids do not live with the protection we often believe they do -- many of them live in a terrifying, isolating war zone, and if you hide what it's like, if you lie about what they're experiencing, you destroy what is there to be learned.
Concurrently, Jacki Libby, the mother of one of the bullied students featured in the film, says the rating doesn't do much to protect children either.
"If they really want to protect children, they would protect them from what is now the danger of going to school, not some swear words they hear every day," Jacki Libby told the Sioux City Journal.
Shortly after the MPAA denied producer Harvey Weinstein's appeal on Feb. 23, the Weinstein Company released a statement saying it is considering withdrawal from the MPAA rating system.
The system is voluntary, but as Good explains, "filmmakers fear that releasing an unrated film spells box office failure, as many movie theaters won't show films that don't undergo the regulatory process."
In a statement, The Weinstein Company cites that it "respect[s] the MPAA and their process but feel this time it has just been a bridge too far."
In addition, it says the film's rating will impact several schools' plans to educate students about bullying:
The Cincinnati school district signed on to bus 40,000 of their students to the movie -- but because the appeals board retained the R rating, the school district will have to cancel those plans.
"Bully" is scheduled to open in select cities on March 30.
If you'd like to sign the petition, go to The Petition Site to learn more.