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‘Bully’ documentary gets ‘R’ rating in the U.S., prompting online protests

Will Perkins
Wide Screen
March 5, 2012

In yet another example of mind-boggling stupidity and hypocrisy that runs rampant at the Motion Picture Association of America, the organization —- responsible for assigning ratings to all films released inside the United States —- recently handed down an "R" rating to the Lee Hirsch documentary "Bully."

The reason? Several children utter the F-word in the anti-bullying doc.

The film follows the lives of five students in the southern United States who are bullied on a regular basis. The sobering documentary also highlights the stories of two young boys who were eventually driven to suicide because of constant bullying. Hirsch wanted to show both parents and young people the real-life consequences of schoolyard bullying, but the MPAA's harsh rating now means that no one under 17 will be able to see the film without a parent.

The R-rating also means that many schools that had planned to take their students en masse to see the film will no longer be able to do that. The MPAA's outdated and seemingly arbitrary rating system is preventing the very people who need to see the documentary from seeing it.

Firebrand producer Harvey Weinstein, whose company is distributing the film, appealed the MPAA's rating in late February, but to no avail. The MPAA refused to give the current cut of the film anything less than an "R" rating. Weinstein has since threatened to leave the organization and release the film unrated in protest of the rating. However, a move like that would carry serious financial repercussions for the film and his company. "Bully" could not be marketed in the same way and would be limited in when and where it could be screened with no rating.

Luckily for Weinstein, the public have now intervened in the debate over the rating and may yet get their way. An online petition entitled "MPAA: Don't let the bullies win! Give 'Bully' a PG-13 instead of an R rating!" has already garnered over 200,000 signatures. The MPAA may not listen to Weinstein, but they definitely don't sit on their thumbs when the public is breathing down their neck. The organizers of the petition hope that the hundreds of thousands of signatures they've received will sway the film-rating group and allow kids to go see the film.

On the other end of the scale is the big-budget adaptation of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games," due out March 23. The film, which features teens and young children forced to hunt and kill one another as a form of mass entertainment, was recently given a "PG-13"  by the MPAA. This means that anyone over the age of 13 can see the film unaccompanied. The film received the rating due to "intense violent thematic material and disturbing images -- all involving teens."

The writing is on the wall for the MPAA on this one. There is really only one thing that can be taken away from this situation: Letting teens watch fictional kids murder one another for sport is acceptable, but letting teens hear real-life kids swear is unacceptable.

Whether or not parents like it or approve, this is the kind of language they already hear in the schoolyard, on the bus, or with their friends. The double standard involving language versus sex and violence would be unbelievable if it weren't such a common occurrence with the MPAA. Why educate kids when you can keep them entertained?

For more info on the confusing and often inconsistent practices of the MPAA in regards to ratings, be sure to check out the documentary "This Film is Not Yet Rated."

Also on Yahoo! Canada Movies:
Weinstein company loses "Bully" rating appeal
Teen gets 165,000 signatures protesting "Bully" rating

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