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ratings controversy

MPAA virtually forces new documentary Bully into limited theater release

Austin_Photo_Set: Bully Movie Alex
12-year-old Alex of Sioux City, is one of three kids featured in the documentary, Bully
Austin_Photo_Set: Bully Movie Still
A still from the documentary, Bully
Austin_Photo_Set: Bully Movie Poster

After a month of failed appeals and petitions, the controversy surrounding the Weinstein Company’s latest documentary, Bully, has come to a close.

The Weinstein Company has decided to release the film unrated, leaving it up to theater owners across America to decide who will and will not be allowed to see the film.

According to the film’s website, Bully is a “character-driven” documentary, filmed over the course of the 2009 - 2010 school year that highlights the “pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders.” 

With the topic of bullying being such an important national issue today, the Internet buzzed with outrage whenever news leaked that the Motion Picture Association of America slapped an R rating on the documentary for “strong language.”

"The small amount of language in the film that's responsible for the R rating is there because it's real. It's what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days." - Director Lee Hirsch

The Weinstein Company made the film in order to help “educate and help parents, teachers, school officials and children [on] what’s become an epidemic in schools around the country,” but an R rating would severely hamper those efforts, especially if teachers wanted to show the documentary in middle and high schools across the country – something the Weinstein Company is adamant about facilitating.

Celebrities like Justin Bieber, Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Streep, various members of congress and more have spoken up in support of the film. The documentary inspired a Michigan high school student to create a petition to get the film at a PG-13 rating, raking in nearly 500,000 online signatures.

Still, it may be a while until the masses can see the film. Because of the Weinstein’s decision to release the movie unrated, theater owners now have control over who can see the movie.

The National Association of Theatre Owners has already released a statement, encouraging all of their owners to treat unrated movies from the Weinstein Company like any other unrated movie. Which often means treating it as an NC-17 movie.

Bully director, Lee Hirsch has called the ratings system “broken,” which isn't that far from the truth: The Hunger Games got a PG-13 rating and depicts children killing each other for sport in a fictional world, while Bully gets an R rating for "strong language."

Hirsch also later said in a statement, “the small amount of language in the film that's responsible for the R rating is there because it's real. It's what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days. All of our supporters see that, and we're grateful for the support we've received across the board."

What do you think? Do you think the MPAA should have reduced the rating down to PG-13?  

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Bully is set to be released in theaters on Friday, March 30th. You can demand Bully be shown in a theater near you, here.

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