'Bully': MPAA to host screening, discussion of R-rated documentary
In an unusual twist in the escalating public relations battle over the R rating assigned the movie “Bully,” the Motion Picture Assn. of America said Friday it would host a screening and panel discussion for the documentary.
Meanwhile, a children's watchdog group commended the MPAA for giving “Bully” the restrictive rating but called on the group to open up the process to allow for more public input into ratings decisions.
The MPAA's screening Thursday is an invitation-only event for Washington D.C. educators, and the panelists will include MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd, distributor Harvey Weinstein, director Lee Hirsch, a local school chancellor and a children's health advocate.
The MPAA, whose ratings board gave “Bully” the R rating and affirmed its decision by one vote after a recent appeal from the Weinstein Co., said the panel will be focused on “the challenges educators face in dealing with bullying in the classroom,” but it's likely the rating itself will be a topic of conversation.
Howard Gantman, the MPAA's vice president for corporate communications, said the event was sparked by a recent conversation between Weinstein and Dodd that Dodd had initiated. “It was a mutual decision that this would be a good idea,” Gantman said of the screening and panel at the MPAA's headquarters.
“Bully,” a look at school-age bullying and its sometimes tragic consequences, has played at a number of film festivals over the last year and is set to be released theatrically March 30. The MPAA gave it the R mark primarily for a sequence in which one bully describes what he will do to a victim, using variations of the F-word. The MPAA almost always gives an automatic R rating to any film that uses the epithet twice or more, or only once if used to describe sexual intercourse.
A Michigan teenager started a petition in favor of a more lenient rating, gathering more than 220,000 signatures. Hirsch, who was bullied as a child, said the fact that the MPAA gives PG-13 ratings to movies with graphic violence and aggression toward women but an R to “Bully” proves that the system needs an overhaul.
Weinstein said in an email that he intended to invite Katy Butler, the 17-year-old who organized the petition, and several of the children featured in “Bully” to the screening in hopes the MPAA will revisit its rating decision. “With their testimony, anything including change is possible in my belief,” Weinstein said.
But one organization, the Parents Television Council, applauded the MPAA's rating, even as it called on the organization to reform the ratings appeal process.
The PTC, which previously has complained that several of today's PG-13 movies would have been rated R a decade ago, said the “Bully” rating was fitting because it tells parents what they should expect when they see the film and does not prohibit teens from attending, as long as a parent or another adult comes along. “There's nothing in an R rating that prevents a child from seeing a movie,” said Dan Isett, director of public policy at PTC, who has not yet seen the film. “We feel the MPAA has to be consistent in this regard if it's going to maintain any credibility.”
Isett downplayed an argument advanced by Weinstein that schools are unable to show R-rated films to their students, blocking “Bully” from educational screenings.
“It might play in schools eventually,” Isett said. “But now the purpose of the film is to make money.”
At the same time, the nonprofit PTC called for “an immediate reform” of the MPAA's ratings, specifically to allow moviegoers to appeal a film's rating if they believe it's improper.
“The way that it works now is that it's very secretive,” Isett said. “The general public has no mechanism at all to raise a complaint.”
Gantman said the MPAA did not have an immediate comment regarding the suggestion.
-- John Horn
Photo: A teen speaks at a town hall meeting in a scene from movie "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.