The MPAA Won’t Back Down to ‘Bully,’ Sticks to Its R-Rating

A couple of days ago we reported that Harvey Weinstein intended to once again heroically take on the MPAA. This time it was because they had seemingly ridiculously stuck the upcoming documentary Bully with an R-rating due to some nasty language. The kerfuffle with that comes from the fact that director Lee Hirsch’s work is an important look at a terrible behavioral plague that has the American school system in its grip, and has already lead to an unacceptable amount of violence and death. This movie deals with the lives of bullies and those that are bullied; it’s theoretically an eye-opening experience meant to preach an anti-bullying message to a generation of people who are growing increasingly more callous in the way they treat one another.

But, you know, that doesn’t work if the movie gets an R-rating and none of the kids who are supposed to go see it are able to buy a ticket. Just a few days ago this didn’t seem like such a big deal. Weinstein had successfully argued down the rating of one of his films before, so there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be able to do it again; especially in such a cut and dry situation where a movie was made for didactic purposes, and a little bit of language could probably be excused under the grounds of the film needing an air of realness in order to reach the younger generation who most need to hear the message. The MPAA isn’t buying it though.

The appeals process happened today, and according to a report from Deadline Hubbardton, the MPAA is sticking to their guns. The pleas of a prominent producer, and even of one of the film’s young subjects, weren’t enough to warm their cold hearts. The R-rating will stand, and any teen who wants to go see this one in the theater will have to be accompanied by an adult.

Let’s be honest here, I don’t think being rated R is going to hurt Bully that much logistically. I don’t think there are very many teenage kids heading down to the local movie theater to catch a new documentary, under any set of circumstances. And if this movie tells its story effectively enough, I don’t think an R-rating will keep teachers from bringing it into classrooms and using it to start a dialogue in places where bullying might be a problem. But on an idealistic level, and on a practical level, I don’t see how this could be viewed as anything other than more evidence that the system the MPAA works under is broken and needs serious change.

It gets to the point where you have to ask what the point of this organization existing even is. Is it to protect our children from seeing explicit material that they might not be ready to process? If so that’s a valid goal, but one that clearly isn’t being accomplished. Who are they protecting here, really? What does this R-rating do other than protect 14-16 year olds from hearing some bad language (language that they hear every day in their regular lives, and language that is being spoken by 14-16 year olds in this film)? Do we really want to remove young people from the lesson that it’s not right to hate, just because they might have to hear a couple F-bombs in the process?

The fact is, there is no transparency to the process of how the MPAA chooses its ratings, but there’s clearly too little humanity involved. There isn’t any consideration for artistry, for intent, for importance of message. Seemingly, these useless ratings could be spit out by a computer that watches movies, counts up all the instances of bare breasts and foul language in them, and then uses an algorithm to decide where they fall in the guidelines. And if that’s the case, then what’s the point of having a board of people handling these decisions at all? I don’t necessarily want a Terminator telling me what my kids can and can’t watch, but that seems to be what’s happening already, so I say we just automate the whole system. Let’s give these MPAA members something worthwhile to do with their time. Maybe they can put together a charity car wash or something.

Weaned on the genre films of the 80s. Reared by the independent movement of the 90s. Earned a BA for writing stuff in the 00s. Reviews current releases at

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