Whenever my non-cinephiliac friends ask me about a topic, such as the Bully ratings controversy, I know that's a discussion reaching out to the mainstream and is definitely worthy of a Conversation. And this one is starting to go beyond rationality, too. Though it's been a week now since we first brought up that Harvey Weinstein was outraged over the documentary receiving an R rating and only a little less time since reporting that he lost his appeal, the issue is now elevated to the point of national debate. Never mind the publicity generating battle between The Weinstein Co., the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners, which will be treating the film as any other unrated release if TWC decides to put it out that way, the debate has now spawned a "human rights" petition, and thousands of signatures with it, as well as a statement (via TWC) from Jesse Jackson.
Enough already. I like the film a lot. I named it one of the best films of the Tribeca Film Featival last year. I initially was behind the rating issue and updated my old plea for the MPAA not to bother with documentary. But it's just a movie. And honestly, it's not the best movie that could be made in response to today's bullying epidemic. It barely even touches on cyber-bullying, which I find to be the worst thing going on right now. It's obvious that Harvey Weinstein is just making a stink in order to get people talking about his movie, which for him will hopefully generate some cash, not change (unless it's a million silver dollars). At this point, I urge everyone not to bother with it. Just talk to your kids about bullying without paying for the cinematic evidence. Or watch the Frontline episode on "Growing Up Online" and participate in the discussions it generated.
Sorry, Bully, you fought for a good cause, but now you're a lost cause.
What are people saying about the Bullys ratings debate? Here's The Conversation heard around the Internet:
There is no fundamental "human right" dictating that Weinstein Company releases must be viewable by everybody. What's happening presently in Syria is a human-rights issue. This is a crass, cynical marketing ploy by a man who eats Oscars and shits Tonys. [...] this isn't the MPAA's problem, and anyone who attempts to persuade you that it is is either misinformed or a bald-faced liar. Or he's Harvey Weinstein, who can be both those things in equal measure but most often plays the showman middle with mastery beyond reproach. This, however, with Harvey himself publicly invoking his "school-age children of my own" and openly acknowledging in one statement how "the Cincinnati school district signed on to bus 40,000 of their students to the movie – but because the appeals board retained the R rating, the school district will have to cancel those plans"? This is just... gross. It's also socially counterintuitive. - S.T. VanAirsdale, Movieline
Bully is a movie that depicts the nightmare that some kids face every day in schools across America. This harsh reality must not be edited especially considering how bullying has become a horrible form of violence. It drives individuals to suicide and even retaliation. It creates violent reactions in our children and they must be allowed to see the movie as it was intended to help raise awareness, increase empathy and change minds. - Jesse Jackson, via The Weinstein Co., via The Hollywood Reporter
As a father of a 9-year-old child, I am personally grateful that TWC has addressed the important issue of bullying in such a powerful documentary. Yet were the MPAA and NATO to waive the ratings rules whenever we believed that a particular movie had merit, or was somehow more important than other movies, we would no longer be neutral parties applying consistent standards, but rather censors of content based on personal mores. - John Fithian, National Association of Theater Owners, via The Hollywood Reporter
I've got to say [Fithian's point is] very hard to argue against that point. People tend to argue that the MPAA is arbitrary now but imagine what it would be like if we went down this particular road. Imagine how this could be applied in reverse ... if a film like Bully can buck the rules because it is deemed to have merit then what happens to films that don't necessarily tick the specific boxes for sex, violence or language but which the MPAA considers distasteful for moral reasons? Do we want to go down that road? It's an interesting argument and one that opens up a potentially thorny but valuable discussion into the nature and role of ratings and how bodies such as the MPAA may or may not need to be overhauled and evaluated on a regular basis to keep up with the shifting times. - Todd Brown, Twitch
This whole controversy over Bully raises the issue of whether the MPAA’s ratings system, which is often criticized for being harsh toward profanity and sexual content but surprisingly lenient when it comes to violence, deserves to be revamped. It also brings up the tricky question of whether some movies, such as documentaries with a positive social message, deserve to be rated using the same rubric as more traditional Hollywood fare. - John Young, Inside Movies (Entertainment Weekly)
As a Casting Director, I work frequently with filmmakers so I especially understand when a director or writer wants to stay authentic to the story’s vision or committed to their craft and the art. In the case of Weinstein’s ‘Bully’ film, sure many teens have probably heard the profanity used in the documentary that garnered its R-rating, but the MPAA has an accountability not only to artists, but also to the general public (movie goers) in which they serve. MPAA board, don’t let’ em bully you! Stand firm by your long-standing rating system. - Angela M. Hutchinson, via ATG Publicity
The takeaway here should be, who cares what they’re doing to rum up publicity – it’s a cause worth fighting for – getting the doc out there. - Sasha Stone, Awards Daily
Because of the R rating, most kids won’t get to see this film. No one under 17 will be allowed to see the movie, and the film won’t be allowed to be screened in American middle schools or high schools. I can’t believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers from seeing a movie that could change -- and, in some cases, save -- their lives. - Katy Butler, Change.org
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. - Kevin Carr, Film School Rejects
It really seems like having kids see this is only half the battle. Parents need to see it too, understand the consequences of what's happening, and get involved in their kids' schools. Kids live through it and know this stuff - they need parents to take action for real change to take place. - anonymous reader, via The Dish (The Daily Beast)
What the R rating for Bully does mean is that teenagers (supposedly) can't see it with their friends, where they might decide to be assholes and cheer for the bullies throughout. This might be a good thing. - another anonymous reader, via The Dish (The Daily Beast)
Bully may indeed be must-see viewing for teenagers. It may shed light on a major problem, affect the national conversation, and save lives. But if Harvey Weinstein and director Lee Hirsch want that PG-13, they should just bleep out the offending f-words. Period. We may not like the rules, but those are the rules as they stand at the moment. [...] I may not agree with the MPAA's stance on profanity, but I'd rather a film like Bully be able to be used as a teaching tool than be a 'restricted' title based purely on an unwillingness to budge. It's not a fight worth having because it's not a fight worth losing. - Scott Mendelson, Moviefone
At this point the argument isn’t even about the film — it’s a different battle between Harvey and industry organizations. Bully could just be another casualty. I wonder if Lee Hirsch is regretting taking part in the original strategy to publicize and re-rate the film. - Russ Fischer, /Film
Conversation Twitter Poll: Has the controvery involving Bully, the MPAA and Harvey Weinstein gone overboard?
You know it has. - @timhorsburgh
Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.