‘Bully’ rating prevents viewing by most important demographic

By Sarah Contreras

There are many movies you expect to receive an R rating: highbrow dramas about sex addiction, the latest installment of Hostel and… a documentary about bullying?

You read that right.

When filmmakers Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen set out to make a documentary about the horrors of childhood persecution, it’s hard to believe they ever really wanted to cause a big fuss. Their film, “Bully”, chronicles the daily lives of children who are victims of constant bullying by their peers in states including Iowa, Texas and Georgia. The children are taunted in hallways and on school buses, while they’re alone online and while they’re surrounded by people in busy classrooms.

The film, in short, explores the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, and asks why we, the peers of the bullied, allow this to happen. It’s raw and unflinchingly real; this is an important documentary that should be viewed by as many as possible. But it seems those in charge of ratings are bent on preventing Bully from being viewed by its most important demographic: kids.

“I think bullying is a huge problem. Actually, it’s one of the main reasons why I want to become a school counselor,” says senior psychology major Brittni Gasior. “I feel like parents need to take the time to talk to their children about bullying and the negative effects it could have on someone’s life. In my opinion, a documentary on bullying could be a great way to get through to kids and to show them why bullying is such a big problem, and why we need to stop it.”

It all sounds like such a simple idea. When Bully went before the ratings board, the MPAA initially dubbed it worthy of an “R – Restricted” rating. The MPAA’s website describes films with R ratings as containing “adult material” to which “it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children.” While these guidelines often make sense – children should not be taken into screenings of Saw XIV or American Pie: the Hospice Years – sometimes they are nothing short of baffling.

For example, Lionsgate’s newest blockbuster, The Hunger Games, is a movie based on a novel about children who fight each other to the death with knives, spears and their bare hands. No fewer than 20 children die in the span of an hour. The film’s rating? Why, kid-on-kid butchery only gets a PG-13. Yet Bully was slapped with the second highest rating the MPAA is packing because of the terrible language used by the pint-sized predators. It’s hard to trust the judgment of the MPAA when it seems they are handing out ratings willy-nilly.

But let’s say that the MPAA gets its act together and starts trying to use actual good judgment when it comes to their ratings. There would still be multitudes of problems.

Current rating criteria is the term “adult themes.” Dictating what a child can or cannot comprehend is pretty risky business. Where does the line between “adult themes” and “general human behavior” get drawn?

Documentaries such as The Cove and Food, Inc are violent, sure, but they are more disturbing than the average film because they give brutal depictions of just how terrible human beings can act. Countless children have access to these films because they received PG-13 and PG ratings. Shouldn’t Bully, a film that could inspire kids to stick up for their classmates, have the same luxury? This is the way people act – cruelty is unavoidable, and it is silly to think we can shield our children from the awful truth.

“You can talk to kids about bullying, but a lot of times when parents talk to their children the information goes in one ear out the other,” Gasior said. “Maybe seeing it first hand in that documentary and the effects it has could really open kids eyes. It shouldn’t have to take another bullied kid killing themselves start conversations If talking isn’t going to work, then showing this documentary should be the next stop.”

Due to heavy campaigning and resistance by producer Harvey Weinstein, Bully is now unrated. “Unrated” is usually reserved for extended DVD versions of the latest Judd Appatow film, not do-gooder documentaries; the fear is that managers who are not knowledgeable will simply dismiss the film based on prior encounters with other unrated films. And who’s to say what parents and teachers will do when given the choice to show an unrated documentary in their classrooms or homes? The MPAA needs to open its eyes and realize that they can help start a huge movement of change if they just unclenched a little.

Don’t agree with the limits set on this important film? Join the DeKalb County KEYS Initiative in trying to get Bully screened locally. Go to www.movies.eventful.com/competitions/bully2012 and vote to bring Bully to nearby theaters.