Hot on the heels of winning a slew of awards at the Oscars, Harvey Weinstein has decided to go to war with the MPAA over the new documentary Bully, which was “slapped” with an R rating for language and lost an appeal to have it changed to PG-13.
I’m not going to spend all my time pointing out the irony that Harvey Weinstein is a big bully himself, leveraging the tragic events in this new film to orchestrate a publicity stunt. Suffice it to say, if he were interested in actually having as many students as possible watch this film instead of making money, he could easily distribute censored screeners to schools with any offending language bleeped out. And why is he doing a little song-and-dance about releasing it “unrated” when he knows full well that the National Association of Theatre Owners will have to treat it like an NC-17 film (under the yoke and obligation of the MPAA)? Make no mistake… Weinstein’s in it for the money and not the cause.
But let’s leave his personal bullying out of the argument and consider the possibility that an R rating might, in fact, be the right thing for Bully.
Responsibility Lies With the Parents
The big argument for a PG-13 rated Bully is so schools can show the movie to the students en masse. An R rating simply means that most schools won’t actually show it in class or bus kids to the theater to see it. Though, considering one of the subjects of the film was only 11, it would be unlikely that any elementary school would show a PG-13 movie to kids that age. Most elementary schools only exhibit G rated movies because some parents find farts as offensive as f-bombs and side-boobs. Additionally, some middle schools pass on PG-13 movies too because some of the younger students haven’t yet turned 13.
Like most people, I was bullied a bit in school, and no amount of movie showing or classroom discussions would have changed these bullies’ actions. At least today, the anti-bullying infrastructure is well known to parents and easy to utilize. My oldest son, who is only a year younger than one of the subjects of the film, has witnessed bullying in the playground and reported as appropriately, and the school has been extremely diligent with this effort. Bringing this documentary in the classroom, or busing kids to the theater to see it, won’t have much of an impact. And it certainly won’t have an impact on the actual bullies in school who already ignore the rules.
But showing the movie to groups of school children is important to more than just Harvey Weinstein. Katy Butler of Ann Arbor, Michigan, even went so far as to create an online petition on Change.org, demanding the rating be reduced to PG-13. Unfortunately, in her petition, she claims that “No one under 17 will be allowed to see the movie.” Sorry, Katy. This is flat-out untrue. Theaters around the country will be happy to admit anyone under the age of 17 to see the film if they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
And that’s a good thing.
After all, bullying starts in the home, and most children would get more out of the film if they actually saw it with their parents so they can have a frank family discussion about this behavior. Let it be the parent’s responsibility to show this movie to their kids, rather than the school’s. And let the parent deal with the existence of the offending language as well as opening a dialogue with their children about bullying. If the parent isn’t going to bother to show their kid the movie, or worse yet if they fully endorse bullying behavior, even the best documentary ever made isn’t going to fix that problem.
Rare Consistency from the MPAA
The other big reason why an R rating for Bully might be right is that it shows some consistency from the MPAA. Anyone who pays attention to movie ratings knows that more than one f-bomb will get you an R rating, regardless of the subject matter (with rare exceptions, like Gunner Palace, and that only received a PG-13 ratings after an appeal).
Contrast the appeal for Bully to the Weinstein Company’s appeal for the NC-17 rating bestowed upon Blue Valentine. All it took was some growling and gnashing of Weinstein teeth to get the latter changed with no cuts whatsoever. Similarly (and famously), Clerks won a Weinstein-driven appeal for an R rating instead of NC-17 back in 1994 without being forced to cut anything. It’s great that these films were left untouched for the artist’s integrity, but all this process does is reveal the arbitrary nature of the R/NC-17 delineation in the hands of the MPAA.
On the other hand, the rejected appeal for Bully is entirely in line with MPAA practice. Whether you agree with the fact that a few f-bombs garner an R rating, that’s the MPAA’s litmus test. You know that’ll get you an R rating, whether it be spoken by bullies on a school yard, a monarch with a speech impediment or Ryan Reynolds swearing up a storm in his latest box office comedy disaster. If the MPAA is actually making consistent and informed decisions for a change, that’s a good thing. (Though that doesn’t change the fact that the entire organization is a dinosaur that has serious problems in it, but that’s another discussion entirely, detailed so eloquently by Cole Abaius.)
In the end, isn’t Harvey Weinstein’s publicity-driven appeal exactly what we’re fighting against with the MPAA? To avoid arbitrarily changing its rules just because a Hollywood mogul asks them to? Because that’s exactly what Harvey Weinstein is, when you strip away all of his blustering fury… just another fat cat Hollywood mogul asking for preferential treatment from the MPAA and using a fake fight in the schoolyard to drum up more publicity.
What do you think?