Tech giant Microsoft Corp. is using its search engine Bing to promote "Bully" with a television and social media advertising campaign. It's also sponsoring the movie's premiere Monday night in Hollywood.
"Bully" has become a flash point for controversy over the Motion Picture Assn. of America's ratings system. The documentary, about the issue of teenage bullying, received an "R" rating because of the number of explicit curse words in the film. That means children under 17 can't see the movie without an adult.
Critics have accused the MPAA of being too rigid in its language restrictions, particularly compared with the amount of violence in PG-13 films such as "The Hunger Games."
Independent studio Weinstein Co. , which is distributing "Bully," had appealed the "R" rating but lost. The company announced Monday that it will release "Bully" without an MPAA rating when it begins playing in theaters this Friday.
By aligning itself with Weinstein Co., Microsoft is putting itself into the middle of a hot national debate, a rare position for a major corporation.
Lisa Gurry, senior director of Bing, said in an interview that Microsoft "is not taking an active role in the rating itself." But a press release from Weinstein Co. promoting the companies' partnership put it in the context of the " 'Bully' movement" that has seen more than 475,000 people sign an online petition and celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber publicly criticize the MPAA's rating decision.
"We're supportive of the cause of the film and would love for as many people as possible to be able to see it," said Gurry. "Stopping bullying is important to us and to the target audience that we speak to."
To help promote "Bully," Bing is running a national advertising campaign that will begin April 2. "It interweaves the movie and how Bing can be a good resource for people looking for information on how to stop bullying," explained Gurry. Microsoft is also hosting online videos and will sponsor other screenings.
In addition, Microsoft will promote "Bully" on social media. Already, the Bing Twitter account, which has nearly 191,000 followers, has given away tickets to the premiere.
The last movie that Bing helped to promote was far less controversial: The Hugh Jackman robot boxing film "Real Steel."
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: A scene from "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.