The MPAA backs down and grants the documentary a PG-13 -- but that doesn't mean the public has won
A strange détente to the kerfuffle featuring the Motion Picture Association of America and the Weinstein Co. emerged yesterday, when it was reported that a slightly recut version of the documentary “Bully” would be rated PG-13. This news came after more than a month of wrangling during which the film about teenage bullying was given a controversial R rating by the MPAA for its limited use of the f-word. The MPAA became the target of widespread derision, including on Salon, as critics pointed out that its decision made the film inaccessible to its intended audience. (The documentary had received a “PG” rating from the Canadian rating board.)
In the end, the debate has been hugely beneficial to the film (a fact that Harvey Weinstein, a famously shrewd marketer, was likely aware of). Following an initial appeal by the Weinstein Co. — which the MPAA ultimately rejected — the film was defiantly released without a rating, earning $115,000 in five locations, the strongest release for a documentary in 2012. “Bully” greatly benefited from a groundswell of public support, including an online petition that garnered 500,000 signatures and the plaudits of high-profile celebrities who held screenings and raised awareness for the film.
“I’m obviously overjoyed by our victory over the MPAA,” Lee Hirsch told Salon in an interview. “I’m excited about the national conversation we’re having and I’m ready to keep getting the message out about the film.”
The filmmakers weren’t entirely successful in keeping the film intact. The new cut of the film will drop the audio from three of the documentary’s six f-bombs, leaving in a scene on a school bus in which the word is used against one bullied student three times in rapid succession. “There’s the need to get beyond this conversation of rated or unrated.” Hirsch added. “I drew a line and said ‘this is the scene we cannot cut,’ it was the scene they [the MPAA] objected to the most. That’s where we held our line and I really feel that the MPAA really backed down here.”
As a result, “Bully” will now be screened for youth groups, Boy and Girl Scout groups and school districts, including the entire Cincinnati school district, which had to cancel its plans to screen the documentary after the film received its initial R rating back in February. Hirsch also mentioned that faith-based groups have signaled interest in the film, aided by the support of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Theater chains like Cinemark, America’s third-largest chain, which has a policy not to show unrated films, will now be able to show “Bully” when the documentary expands its release to 115 theaters next week.
Despite this, Kirby Dick, the director of “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” a 2006 documentary that examined the MPAA ratings system, considers the greater context of this victory for “Bully” to be Pyrrhic.
“I’m glad it’s going out PG-13, obviously,” Dick said in an interview with Salon. “I still think that the MPAA shouldn’t be exerting this kind of control over a film. Filmmakers shouldn’t have to subject themselves to this; I don’t think audiences and parents should be limited by this very biased ratings system.”
One of Dick’s main contentions, also explored in his film, is that the MPAA is closely aligned with the major film studios in Hollywood and unfairly rates smaller films, including independent and foreign films, to discourage audiences from seeing them.
“I keep going back to the fact that they have no right to rate the films of their competitors,” Dick added. “As a group of the six major studios controlling 90 percent of the film business, setting up the only rating system in the country that actually affects whether viewers see the film, they don’t have the right to have that kind of control over a competitor’s film. That’s clearly restraint of trade and what will really change this is a lawsuit.”
In the case of “Bully” and its new PG-13 rating, the seemingly arbitrary nature of the ratings system shines through. After all, what’s the difference between six instances versus the three instances of the f-word in the new version of “Bully” (one more utterance than normally allowed in PG-13 rated films)? It’s a question that Dick and many other critics of the MPAA are frustrated by.
“If we’re getting down to counting the number of f-bombs, we’re not really focusing on the much bigger picture here,” Dick said. “You have people rating competitors’ films for their own financial interest, there’s no transparency, there’s no training for these people. This is not a decision that was made by the ratings board or the appeals committee as far as I know. It was simply a decision that was made by some executive working with the ratings administration, which is paid for by the MPAA. I don’t think of this as very significant. They’ll bend for Steven Spielberg, they’ll bend if there is a two- or three- or four-week campaign against a very egregious rating. The reality is that it’s just a ridiculous system and the system itself has to be changed.”
Adam Chandler is a writer based in New York. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, Tablet Magazine, Haaretz, the Huffington Post, and the Jerusalem Post. Chandler tweets @allmychandler. More Adam Chandler.
More Related Stories
- Cannes: Ryan Gosling's new movie draws the boo-birds
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
- Amazon introduces fan fiction publishing platform
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
- The camp-free "Behind the Candelabra"
- Justin Bieber will destroy you if you live-tweet his parties
- Marc Maron on Twitter feud with Michael Ian Black: "We have an understanding"
- "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis to jury: "You should be euthanized"
- Ai Weiwei releases heavy metal music video
- Actually, Beyoncé is a feminist
- Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black's epic Twitter battle
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11