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Everyone Should Be Able to See Bully

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"I learned that we all are capable of being a bully, but more importantly we're all capable of changing that too." -- Iris SanGiovanni, teenage producer for Blunt Youth Radio on the making of her piece, "The Psychology of a Bully," part of "Bullied: Teen Stories from Generation PRX."

As the project director for Generation PRX, I don't usually advocate for particular causes. But I feel so strongly about the MPAA's decision to issue Lee Hirsch's new film Bully an "R" rating that I'm taking a stand.

Much has been written and voiced about the controversy surrounding this decision. Celebrities, members of congress and others have rallied around the cause, and a petition to overturn the ruling -- with over 445,000 signatures -- is circulating widely.

It seems painfully ironic that the population at the forefront of bullying -- teens and pre-teens -- would be the precise group banned from seeing a film that's core to their experience. But let's return to the real matter at hand: How to create a safer culture for teens and communities.

At Generation PRX, we know something about listening to teens, and wanted to add our voice.

This month, public radio stations in Seattle and Alaska to Washington DC and Georgia have been airing Bullied: Teen Stories about Generation PRX, which was presented by Public Radio Exchange (PRX) and produced by WNPR -- Connecticut Public Radio. The hour-long radio special was produced, reported and hosted by teenagers who have experienced bullying firsthand or have been bullies themselves.

In making "Bullied," several things struck me:

  1. There is something deeply wrong about the way we approach bullying when we don't listen first to the young people who live it.
  1. Adults and teens have widely divergent notions of what bullying is.
  1. If we truly want to impact change, we need to be willing to rethink what we've done to stop bullying in the past; it clearly isn't working.

I was able to attend a screening of Bully at the Harvard Graduate School of Education last month. I confess that I cried nearly the entire time -- for the brutality that kids suffered, for the parents who lost children, for the administrators without a clue. I came away with the strong conviction that many viewers share: People need to see this film. We are not doing enough to stop bullying.

With an "R" rating, the MPAA has essentially decreed that what young people do is not appropriate for young people to see. It is a decision that asks us to pretend young people aren't seeing bullying every day.

An "R" rating doesn't protect young people from profanity. But it also misses the mark on something bigger: If we want bullying to change, we have to listen to what young people are saying and be willing to witness these difficult stories. Only then can we, in the language of Bully, be "upstanders": people who take action in some way.

So many films that glorify violence receive PG-13 ratings. Bully does just the opposite; it humanizes the pain of bullying so that audiences feel its impact. And for this, unglossed portrait, it receives an "R."

I'll end with a quote from Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) who told the Los Angeles Times, "The hypocrisy is that the very movies that contribute to violence can be seen by teenagers because they get a PG-13, and the one film that actually teaches them to respect others is given an R."

To sign the petition to overturn Bully's rating, visit Change.org