April 10th, 2012

Documentary ‘Bully’ finally wins PG-13 rating

We touched on the topic before in an earlier post. As reported this week in the New York Daily News:

The filmmakers behind “Bully” — the lauded documentary about the national bullying epidemic — stood up to the system and won.

The Weinstein Co. said Thursday that after cutting a few F-bombs from the piece, they got its R rating reduced to a PG-13.

The Motion Picture Association of America’s ruling means the flick’s target audience can now get in without dragging mom and dad to it. The original R-rating met anyone under 17 couldn’t get in solo.

The one crucial scene on a bus where a 12-year-old is tormented is left in, F-bombs and all. A few curses in other scenes were cut.

“This was the scene that carried all of the emotional weight of the movie, the language was so representative of the experience of bullying and I would not budge,” director Lee Hirsch told the Daily News.

Despite the appearance of a compromise, the MPAA did not actually relent in its arbitrary decision – Lee Hirsch still had to alter the contents of his documentary. Ultimately, the ratings change will mean that students can now see the film on school campuses, which is where it is most needed.

But in many ways this incident paints the MPAA in a bad light. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips asks a great question, “How can ‘Bully’s’ profanity equal ‘Saw’-type violence?” For those who are not familiar, the ‘Saw’ movie series depicts graphic scenes of violence and torture. It has lead to a string of copycat films of varying grotesquery, each trying to out-shock the next. Yet all of ‘Saw’s’ six installments (and the copycat films that followed) were given an ‘R’ rating by the MPAA.

‘Bully’ is a perfect film to contrast with the ‘Saw’ series. The violence which Alex Libby faces every day is real, not an act, and the dialogue isn’t scripted. The swearing actually means something because it’s not fiction. But worst of all: the subjects are children.

The MPAA has said, effectively, that depictions of real violence and bad language by children is worse for American audiences to see than are fake scenes of violent, torturous murders involving young men and women. Shouldn’t they at least be judged equally? This is a problem that has everything to do with an arbitrary ratings system – where only a small minority of powerful individuals – get to define morality for everyone else. The end result is truly warped by their narrow, ideologically driven, personal points of view. But maybe now, especially after ‘Bully,’ people are finally beginning to take notice and ask questions.

Do you believe that the controversy over ‘Bully’ will change the way films are rated in America?


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  1. momatend says:

    I’m all for honesty and truth and if it involves some “naughty” language, so be it. I’m not saying it’s the best type of language to use but is it worse than anything that might be heard walking down the street these days? It figures the rating system works that way though, we’re talking about a society that freaks out over sex and nudity, yet is filled with graphic violence in films and video games.

    • J. R. Dritz says:

      Here’s what I wrote to Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Film Critic, about the stupidity of the movie rating systm,

      “I could not agree more – have always wondered why violence has been more accepted than profanity!

      Please make sure to see “Murder By Proxy” about workplace cruelty and harassment. It’s thought-provoking and illuminating about a type of bullying most people never consider.”

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