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Tyler

Bully

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There's a controversy going over Bully's rating--the MPAA rated it R because of "some language"--and the Weinstein Co. has filed an appeal. A high-school student in Michigan also started a petition that currently has over 130,000 signatures.

When I was in 7th grade, a few guys came up behind me while putting my books in my locker. They called me names and asked me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one liked me. I ignored them because I was scared of what else they might say and who else they might tell if I stood up to them. When I went to shut my locker, they pushed me against the wall. Then they slammed my locker shut on my hand, breaking my fourth finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid.I just heard that the Motion Picture Association of America has given an “R” rating to “Bully” -- a new film coming out soon that documents the epidemic of bullying in American schools. Because of the R rating, most kids won’t get to see this film. No one under 17 will be allowed to see the movie, and the film won’t be allowed to be screened in American middle schools or high schools.

I can’t believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers from seeing a movie that could change -- and, in some cases, save -- their lives. According to the film’s website, over 13 million kids will be bullied this year alone. Think of how many of these kids could benefit from seeing this film, especially if it is shown in schools?

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: I can’t believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers . . .

It isn't. An R rating is not an NC-17 rating. But, ironically, the Weinstein Company's threat to release the film unrated has resulted in a counter-threat from the National Association of Theatre Owners that they might treat the film as if it were NC-17, just like they treat most other "unrated" films.

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: I can’t believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers . . .

It isn't. An R rating is not an NC-17 rating.

Well, it depends. It's policy at certain U.S. chains to refuse to admit anyone under 17 to an R-rated movie unless their parent/guardian is there with them (hence "under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian"). At Carmike (the chain with which I have experience), it's policy to card anyone who looks under thirty. No exceptions--and failure to do so can result in getting written up. This results in a functional blocking of most kids, since parents (at least, around here) tend to drop them off at the door of the theater and leave them to fend for themselves for two hours.

That doesn't mean that there aren't ways around that. Sometimes you run into a ticket-seller that just doesn't care. But officially-stated policy is absolute: no-one under 17 unless their parent or guardian is accompanying them. And that does work to block millions of teenagers from seeing the movie.

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth wrote:

: But officially-stated policy is absolute: no-one under 17 unless their parent or guardian is accompanying them.

Does it have to be a parent or guardian, or can it be ANY adult?

Of course, theatre policies have no effect on schools. The petition quoted above actually says, based on the movie's publicity materials (always a dodgy basis for anything, but anyhoo), that the film could have a positive effect "especially if it is shown in schools". Are schools compelled to heed the MPAA ratings?

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NBooth wrote:

: But officially-stated policy is absolute: no-one under 17 unless their parent or guardian is accompanying them.

Does it have to be a parent or guardian, or can it be ANY adult?

Nope; has to be parent or guardian. And they're supposed to check I.D.

Now, like I say, ticket-sellers fudge the rules all the time. If there's a guardian for one of the kids, box-office might look the other way. But the rule itself is inflexible (I hasten to add that this is absolutely true of one chain--Carmike--and that I'm assuming that other chains, such as Rave, have similar policies).

Of course, theatre policies have no effect on schools. The petition quoted above actually says, based on the movie's publicity materials (always a dodgy basis for anything, but anyhoo), that the film could have a positive effect "especially if it is shown in schools". Are schools compelled to heed the MPAA ratings?

Apparently not, though the fact isn't exactly a popular one. It would be different based on the school system, of course, but I would imagine the policy is that parents are notified that an R-rated movie will be shown, and permission slips are sent home with the students. Some school systems may just decide not to bother, that it's too much trouble, etc etc etc. [Of course--if the movie is rated "PG" and features heavy swearing, I doubt its rating would keep parents from protesting and attempting to get the school board to block it]

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth wrote:

: It would be different based on the school system, of course, but I would imagine the policy is that parents are notified that an R-rated movie will be shown, and permission slips are sent home with the students.

So releasing the film WITHOUT a rating may have some merit, then. I mean, just about every film made before 1968 is unrated. And lots of straight-to-DVD for made-for-TV films produced since then are unrated, too.

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I live is a state where a politician got their political start by, among other things, opposing the showing of Disney's Aladdin to student for it's occult nature. A controversial 'R'/Unrated film? Might be a tough sell.

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Now whether we like ratings or not, for ratings to be effective they have to have some consistency. (Of course, I'm not claiming they do.) But if the panel who do the initial ratings (not the appeal board made up of industry biggies) figure the violence etc are at a level that deserves R, they really don't have a lot of leeway. There isn't a category R-but-nevermind. It was the same thing with The Passion of the Christ. We want R ratings to keep kids from seeing things, except when we want them to see it because we approve.

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NBooth wrote:

: But officially-stated policy is absolute: no-one under 17 unless their parent or guardian is accompanying them.

Does it have to be a parent or guardian, or can it be ANY adult?

Nope; has to be parent or guardian. And they're supposed to check I.D.

Now, like I say, ticket-sellers fudge the rules all the time. If there's a guardian for one of the kids, box-office might look the other way. But the rule itself is inflexible (I hasten to add that this is absolutely true of one chain--Carmike--and that I'm assuming that other chains, such as Rave, have similar policies.)

When I worked at REG, our official policy was that any 21+ adult could accompany someone under 17 to an R-rated picture. There is simply no good way to determine from an ID whether someone is a parent/guardian. This stymies 99% of kids anyway since they rarely come with adults of any stripe.

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Tyler wrote:

: Rated PG in British Columbia. (Is that the same level as a US PG?)

Pretty much, yeah. After that we have the 14A rating (similar to your PG-13, except that it's enforced here -- nobody under 14 gets in without adult accompaniment), the 18A rating (similar to your R), and the R rating (similar to your NC-17).

It's not THAT unusual for movies that get R ratings in the States to get PG ratings here in B.C. Back when I was in high school, I got to see movies like Stand By Me and Witness on the big screen because they were rated PG here (and other movies, like Aliens and Rambo: First Blood Part II, were rated 14A here), but when I tried to rent them on video a few months later, I sometimes ran into difficulty because the video clerks would look at the American R rating on the box and tell me I was too young for them. I imagine this wouldn't be quite as big a problem nowadays, since video packages generally have both the American and Canadian ratings printed on them.

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FWIW, the film has been rated PG in Alberta, now, too.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times asks whether Harvey Weinstein or the MPAA is being the bigger bully here in the ratings fight / publicity campaign. It's interesting to see the precedents cited here, with Weinstein himself releasing a PG-13 version of The King's Speech (with a dozen or so f-words cut out) whereas the MPAA once gave a PG-13 film to a documentary about the Iraq War that happened to have way more f-words than Bully does (but that was another time, another appeals board, says the MPAA). And apparently the controversy over The King's Speech prompted the MPAA to do a "survey" of parents across the country which led them to believe that they need to a toe a hard line on this sort of thing -- though the actual survey and its contents have never been made public.

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Bully is going to be released unrated.

“The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the R rating is there because it’s real,” said director Lee Hirsch. “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. I know the kids will come, so it’s up to the theaters to let them in.”

Do most theaters even screen unrated movies?

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Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times asks whether Harvey Weinstein or the MPAA is being the bigger bully here in the ratings fight / publicity campaign.

O'Hehir takes a similar line:

As I see it, the smatterings of profane language make a convenient stand-in for all the stuff in “Bully” that’s genuinely obscene, and that can and should make us all uncomfortable. Like the story of Kelby Johnson of Tuttle, Okla., a 16-year-old out lesbian who has been ostracized by her entire town, including her teachers, school officials and other authorities; or 17-year-old Tyler Long of rural Georgia, an awkward and introverted kid who hanged himself in his bedroom closet after years of taking abuse from classmates and being ignored by adults; or 14-year-old Ja’Meya Jackson of Yazoo County, Miss., who went to prison after confronting her school-bus tormentors with a loaded gun.

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Re-cut to get PG-13.

A cynical person might say they've been stringing out this process to keep the movie in the news.

Yup. I'm more than sympathetic to the original complaint, but I don't doubt that stringing out the process is exactly what they've been doing.

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A teacher/freelance movie critic reviews Bully for Grantland.

Documentaries about school, though, are a different matter, particularly documentaries that seek to change social policies and institutions. Bully clearly wants to play a leading role in eliminating the practice of bullying. As a human being who believes that the world could be more compassionate and tolerant, I support the film's agenda. As a teacher who sees kids every day, I'm somewhat alarmed by the information the filmmakers left out or just decided not to deal with. I liked Bully, but I wanted it to be both more expansive and more focused.

Edited by Tyler

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I watched Bully this past weekend, and am still processing what I experienced. As a pastor who works with teenagers, the film was deeply affecting and tragic, revealing a bit of the dark underside of youth culture and the systemic abandonment of young people in our society. It did a good job of being personal, but I did wonder if it was almost too personal, that there were other stories and factors in place that make the phenomenon of bullying a bit more complex than "the education system is broken." The focus was really on a few school districts in Iowa and Oklahoma, without looking at urban cultures or the history of teen violence. It was a good companion to Steve James' documentary The Interrupters, which I watched only a few days beforehand, and found a bit more compelling. There are simple answers to ongoing violence--forgiveness, grace, and love--but they certainly aren't easy ones.

I'm gonna have to keep chewing on this one. Highly recommended if you're a parent or pastor.

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I found this to be a good, not great, doc. A little long, I guess, with nothing really all that revealing about its subject matter. That given, what it does - that is, showing its subject matter - it does well.

The presence of cameras in these kinds of situations always makes me wonder about the authenticity of the daily life of - well, anyone who is ever in front of said camera.

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Here's my review for CaPC:

My heart broke for all of the victims depicted in Bully, but I’ll most remember 12-year-old Alex Libby, who, born both prematurely and with Asperger’s syndrome, has seemingly had to deal with adversity since before he can remember. By nature struggling with socialization while still desirous of friends, Alex’s awkward temperament makes him an easy target for his middle school peers. On the bus ride to school, Alex is stabbed with a pencil, punched, and choked. His head is shoved against the seat. He is called a “faggot.” One of Alex’s classmates refers to him as “his bitch.” Naturally reticent, Alex is probably ill-equipped to know how to handle the situation, and, like most kids, resigned to the idea that bullying is normative of adolescence—even of adolescent friendship.

Of the three living victims documented in the film, one has Asperger’s syndrome, one is a black girl, and one is openly homosexual. If there’s a clear underlying motivation (or at least a common factor) to the bullying to be found in Hirsch’s documentary, it’s an inherent hatred for the “other”. Early in the film, young Alex laments, “People think I’m different—not normal. I feel like I belong somewhere else.” He likens himself to an alien. I’ve no doubt that hatred of the “other”—of the minority or the least of these—is an aspect of humanity’s deep-seated fallenness that is multifaceted. But in the school setting among adolescents and teenagers, this kind of scorn seems inextricably related to popularity’s hierarchy. In a moment that is humorous and also rings true, one of the suicide victim’s young friends vows, “If I was king of the US, I’d make it so there was no popularity.”

Other than a few moments that feel manipulative to a degree, my one gripe with the documentary is that it does not concern itself with causes or solutions–at least not with any breadth or depth. The film could have been well-served if Hirsch had sought some perspective of or from the bullies. An attempt to humanize them in the sense of detecting motive or influence would have added another dimension to the documentary. Bully‘s limited focus is also problematized by the fact that it seems to place at least some blame on the schools’ discipline system in a way that feels over-reductive. The documentary’s hat-tip to school reform seems to overwhelm any other potential solution in a way that also makes the problem itself seem far less complicated.

Yet, Bully is effective in that it gives a significant voice to a problem that is often perpetuated by pressure to remain silent. If part of being bullied is related to not being accepted by one’s peers, then getting one’s peers in trouble for bullying hardly seems an effective means of closing that gap. Perhaps a pragmatic result of the film will be to make bullying “uncool” among young people. The film takes on an unfounded change-the-world kind of tone at certain points, but it’s true that when an ideal becomes fashionable, it catches on quickly and spreads among impressionable youth. Ultimately, though, a more permanent change can only come when individuals, and therefore communities, find self-worth in the willingness to sacrifice for, rather than triumph over, their neighbors–even the “different” ones.

Edited by Nicholas

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