Hollywood Fights Over An R RatingBully should be PG-13, because it could make a difference
The Weinstein Company’s new documentary Bully intends to shed light on an often neglected and increasingly serious issue: the dire effects of bullying on America’s schoolchildren. The film has been given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The R rating, which has been doled out because of six expletives heard throughout the film, prevents anyone under the age of seventeen from legally seeing Bully without an adult in most theaters. As a re- sult of the rating, a debate has broken out between Bully’s producers and the MPAA over how much subjectivity should be used when determining whether or not a film is suitable for children.
Harvey Weinstein, the famously outspoken producer of Bully, has called for the MPAA to lower the film’s rating to PG- 13 so that the very audience it was made for—the teenagers and pre-teens who may be participating in or falling victim to bul- lying at their schools—may actually see it. The MPAA, however, has made it clear that subjectivity has no place in their ratings system, and has argued that they must preserve their institutional integrity by holding each film, regardless of content, up to the same standards.
“The R rating and the description of ‘some language’ for Bully does not mean that children cannot see the film,” the MPAA posted recently on their official blog. “As with any movie, parents will decide if they want their children to see Bully.”
The debate between the two sides raises a difficult question: if a ratings orga- nization such as the MPAA has a chance to bring a film with educational content to a wider audience by softening its rating, is it morally obligated to do so?
In my opinion, yes it is.
Though I understand the MPAA’s position, bullying is an issue that children are exposed to everyday in this country. It’s something they are handling in many cases without adults. Painting the picture a prettier color—to eliminate the exple- tives from the film as has been suggested by some middle-ground parties around the debate—would be to insult the very children whose issues form the basis of this film.
Using the MPAA’s safe but brainless method of rating movies with an objective set of black-and-white criteria leaves no room for consideration of context. Bully has the same rating as Rambo: First Blood Part Two. We are not moronic moviegoers, just stumbling into the dark, and neither are our children. Kids are smart. The ones who are being bullied have to go to school everyday, alone, and face impending, inevitable doom that would make any of us sick. They can take far more than adults ever give them credit for.
There is no adult in this country, especially those from recent generations, who was not surrounded by hateful language like “faggot” and “homo” and any number of derogatory racial or sexist slurs while they were in school. Yet the MPAA thinks children shouldn’t be exposed to “some language” in a way that may actually raise awareness and initiate action. It doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t acceptable that we should turn our conscious brains off and do things the way they’re always done just because it’s the easy route, which seems to be the MPAA’s rationale for imposing the R rating on Bully.
I wish movies like Bully were around when I was a kid. I was mercilessly bullied from grade school to high school. I was called “faggot” again and again. Kids that were three or four years older than me used to threaten me and tell me not to show up to certain places at certain times unless I wanted “to get my faggot ass kicked.” One time an older kid told me he had a knife in his bag and he was going to cut me with it if I ever looked him in the face again. As an only child, not knowing what to do, I ended up moving all the way across the country—from my father’s house to my mother’s house—just in order to avoid the issue. I told my parents I was moving because California sounded bet- ter than Ohio, which anyone who’s spent time in the two states can understand as a totally believable excuse. But that’s all it was. An excuse. I didn’t move to change locations. I had friends in Ohio. I liked Ohio. But the bullying was too much. I was never given the tools to deal with it, and to be honest, since I was too embarrassed to talk about it to anyone, I don’t even know if the adults around me were aware of the problem. And what I went through was nothing compared to what a lot of other kids went through and continue to go through today.
Movies like Bully can create a national conversation and leave us with a set of tools we can use toward dealing with this issue. We owe it to the teachers and parents who are witnessing their students and children go through hell. We owe it to the children who have no one else to stand up and speak for them.
Just because bullying doesn’t feel like a pressing issue once we are into adulthood, it doesn’t mean it isn’t still dangerous for the kids going through it today. There are 11 year-old children in this country committing suicide because of unresolved issues around bullying, and the MPAA wants to keep them out of a movie, and keep the movie out of their classrooms because it has six bad words in it. The MPAA has a chance to break its own rules and do something profound. For the sake of our children, I hope they do it.