Harvey Weinstein’s battle with the Motion Picture Association of America over Bully has hit a snag.
The producer’s public fight to reduce the rating of Lee Hirsch’s controversial documentary from an R to a PG-13 lost its appeal by one vote, prompting The Weinstein Company to announce that the film will be released in theaters on March 30 as an unrated film.
Bully will open in limited release, playing five theaters including the Angelika Film Center and AMC Lincoln Square in New York and the Landmark, ArcLight Hollywood, and AMC Century City in Los Angeles. From there, TWC will monitor interest in the film and expand accordingly.
What does the “unrated” tag mean for you as a moviegoer? It could make it harder to see Bully -- or not. The rating often raises red flags, suggesting that a movie contains excessive levels of explicit content, and the filmmaker simply refuses to cut scenes to get down to where the MPAA would like a film to be before it reaches theaters (not the case here). Ultimately theater owners can choose to follow MPAA guidelines to the letter (which is usually how it goes), or make their own policy and allow anyone to see it. TWC is hoping the ratings controversy and subject matter will steer theaters toward the latter choice.
"The kids and families in this film are true heroes, and we believe theater owners everywhere will step up and do what's right for the benefit of all of the children out there who have been bullied or may have otherwise become bullies themselves. We're working to do everything we can to make this film available to as many parents, teachers and students across the country," said TWC President of Marketing Stephen Bruno.
The controversy stems from unsuitable language that the MPAA automatically associates with R-rated films (Bully has six f-bombs). Hirsch, however, explained 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.”
That support has poured in from all across the country. CNN reports that nearly half a million people signed an online petition started by Michigan high school student Katy Butler – a former bullying victim – on Change.org to urge the MPAA to lower the rating. Our own Chuck Walton wrote an impassioned plea for parents, students, teachers and more to support the anti-bullying message of Hirsch’s film, no matter the documentary’s eventual rating.
Personally, the R rating for Bully didn’t bother me. As you likely know, anyone under 17 can attend an R-rated movie so long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. And teenagers absolutely should see Bully with a parent, because the dialogue that a movie like this can open up between family members is critical. It’s my belief that the publicity generated by Weinstein in hopes of getting the MPAA’s rating reduced will inspire more people to check out Hirsch’s work, and hopefully share it with children who can benefit from these important life lesson.
What do you think? Are you more or less likely to see Bully now that it has traded the MPAA’s R rating for an unrated label? And do you think more theater chains should step up and carry the documentary so that as many interested patrons as possible can have the option of seeing Hirsch’s film?
For parents or teachers who are looking for more information, or who may have concerns about showing children a movie unrated by the MPAA, TWC encourages you to read Common Sense Media's rating details of the film, which can be found right here. And let us know your thoughts on the decision to release Bully unrated into theaters. Does it help? Hurt? Or have no influence on your decision whatsoever? We’d love for you to weigh in.