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Category: Bully

'Bully' rating: Some, but not all, profanity cut to get PG-13

April 5, 2012 |  5:22 pm

"Bully" documentary

In a turn that allows both sides to claim victory, the Weinstein Co. announced Thursday it had reached an agreement with the Motion Picture Assn. of America to re-cut its unrated documentary “Bully” to land a PG-13 rating. The movie will now go out with that rating when it opens in about 115 new theaters next weekend.

The Times initially reported Friday that the distributor was planning a new version of the movie -- which focuses on the issue of teen bullying through the lens of five families -- so it could nab the lower rating.

The new cut of the Lee Hirsch film makes some concessions to the MPAA: It removes an obscenity that begins with the prefix “mother” in an early scene, along with two other quickly uttered F-words. Audio will be dropped out in all three instances.

But the new cut leaves intact a controversial scene on a school bus in which three F-words are used against a bullied child. The case now represents an exception to the MPAA’s rules; the group typically will impose an R rating on any film with more than two F-words.  

Stephen Bruno, head of marketing for the Weinstein Co., told 24 Frames that “I can say with no stutter that we would have remained unrated if we had to change that scene.”

In an interview, Hirsch said that he felt satisfied by the results. “This was about drawing the line but not being utterly unreasonable,” he said. “What’s absolutely relevant is the scene that we retained. There was one [obscenity in another scene] I didn’t want to give up. But I didn’t want to hold back all the groups that wanted to see the movie, Boy and Girl Scout groups and school groups, that wouldn’t be able to go if we stayed unrated.”

The new rating means that children of any age can see the documentary without an adult. An R rating requires adults to accompany children under the age of 17; a PG-13 simply offers guidance without imposing an age minimum.

The new rating also means that all theater chains — including Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest, which has a policy against playing unrated films — can show the movie.

Weinstein Co. went out with the movie unrated after losing an appeals battle with the MPAA to knock the film down from an R; in the process, the company garnered buckets of free publicity as a grass-roots and celebrity-studded campaign to overturn the initial R rating gained momentum.

“Bully” opened last weekend in five theaters in L.A. and New York City as an unrated film. It did solid business, averaging $23,000 per screen.

The unexpurgated version of the movie will remain in those theaters this weekend, with the PG-13 print replacing all versions when the movie widens April 13. The MPAA bylaws require a 90-day waiting period between different cuts of a film but make an exception for movies that go from limited to wide release, as “Bully” is doing.

One person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to talk about it publicly said that Christopher Dodd, the former senator (D-Conn.) who runs the MPAA, was instrumental in making an exception on the three F-words, winning out over other personalities at the organization. Hirsch said that there was "an openness [at the MPAA] that had a lot to do with him.”

Asked about the exception via a spokesman, Joan Graves, head of the MPAA division that oversees ratings, released a statement that read, in part:

“Per the standard rating process available to all filmmakers, The Weinstein Company decided to resubmit a new, edited version of 'Bully' to be rated, and the ratings board gave this new version of the film a PG-13 rating for intense thematic material, disturbing content, and some strong language -- all involving kids.”

She continued, “In the case of 'Bully,' the ratings system has worked exactly as it is supposed to: Parents have been kept informed of the content of each version of the film, and they have been given the information they need to make movie-going decisions on behalf of their kids."

The issue has shined a light on the rules of the MPAA, which some critics have said are inconsistent and opaque, particularly when it comes to the issue of language. Hirsch said that he had no interest in turning this into a crusade — his main focus was attracting attention to the teen-bullying problem — but that he did believe this case could affect the practices of the MPAA.

“I think this has given fuel to a conversation that’s long overdue about the double standard when it comes to rating movies,” he said. “People say you can’t change the MPAA. But we’re not throwing something at a brick wall. It’s an organization made up of human beings, and like any other great institution it can be changed to better reflect what people want.”

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 -- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Alex Libby, one of the subjects of the documentary film "Bully," at the premiere March 26 in Los Angeles. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press


'Bully': Which town wants it more?

April 4, 2012 |  6:44 pm

Bully
What city in America can't live without “Bully”?

According to a poll commissioned by distributor Weinstein Co., Cleveland is hot for the documentary— hotter than any other locale.

We don’t know what that says about the best location in the nation, but more than 3,000 people in  the city’s metro area have registered their preference that the company bring the movie there. Close behind  is Indianapolis, followed by Paducah, Ky., and DeKalb, Ill., residents of which think it important that the expose of teen bullying be shown in their towns.  (And here we thought everyone in the Midwest was a sweetheart.)

The poll is being overseen by Eventful.com, a company that conducts national surveys on behalf of entertainment companies to gauge how much a given city wants a movie or performer. Then it reports back to the studio. (Paramount famously used it for its “Paranormal Activity,” then turned the results into a “you demanded it” ad campaign.)

It’s up to studios and promoters how to use the information; in some cases they’ll change their release or live-event strategy as a result, giving a town that might get overlooked in a traditional roll-out an opportunity to make the case that they deserve a stop. Fox used it for its found-footage superhero movie "Chronicle" this year, bringing pre-release screenings to towns that requested them.

In this case, Weinstein Co. will bring “Bully,” which performed will in limited release last weekend, for one-off screenings to the top 10 cities int he Eventful poll, and director Lee Hirsch to the top three. (If cities in the top 10 are already in the company's release pattern, Weinstein will jump to the next spot on the list; you can see the full poll results here.)

"Bully" will open in 50 markets on April 13, regardless of whether anyone in those places demanded it.

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Is "Bully" a tipping point for the MPAA ratings system?

'Bully' does well in limited debut?

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.

 


Is ‘Bully’ a tipping point for the MPAA movie ratings system?

April 4, 2012 | 11:31 am

Harvey Weinstein’s PR blitzkrieg for "Bully" may turn out to be a pivotal chapter in the battle to overhaul the Motion Picture Assn. of America's ratings system
Harvey Weinstein may have cannily orchestrated a firestorm-sized ratings debate over "Bully" simply to boost ticket sales for a documentary that would otherwise be a tough sell. But Weinstein’s nonstop PR blitzkrieg for the film, now being shown in theaters as unrated, may end up accomplishing something far more lasting. In fact, it may turn out to be a pivotal chapter in the battle to overhaul the Motion Picture Assn. of America's ratings system, which slapped "Bully" with an R simply because the film contained a few scattered F-bombs.

There have been dozens of high-profile brawls over the arbitrary decisions of the ratings board in the past, all of which have left the system largely unchanged. But this time, even if Weinstein ends up undercutting his own case by tweaking the film so that he can release a version with a PG-13 rating, there are some cracks in the MPAA's wall of resistance against revamping its decades-old system.

PatrickgoldsteinEven though “Bully” was released this past weekend as unrated, a number of large theater chains that traditionally have steered clear of unrated films are now willing to play the Lee Hirsch-directed documentary, which focuses on the victims of school bullying. Regal, AMC and Carmike Cinemas -- the country’s No. 1, 2 and 4 theater chains by size -- are booking the film.

When the controversy erupted, John Fithian, head of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, pointedly warned Weinstein that if "Bully" went out unrated, it would be treated as an NC-17 film -- meaning that no one under age 17 would be allowed, even with a guardian. But Weinstein's relentless media campaign, which enlisted support from scores of celebrities, political figures and educator groups, has prompted some exhibitors to break ranks. Most are treating "Bully" as an R-rated film, allowing minors to see the movie if accompanied by a parent or guardian or, in some cases, armed with a parental permission slip.

Moreover, there are now mutterings of discontent from top executives at the major studios that actually fund the MPAA. Although it seems unlikely that any of them will publicly criticize the ratings board, they are privately expressing concern that the board's rulings could cause widespread public disenchantment with the ratings system. Such discontent, they fear, could lead to the rise of alternate ratings systems or metastasize into a partisan political issue.

Is it possible that we're actually at a tipping point with the ratings system? To get some perspective, I've been studying the history of how Hollywood has policed the content of its films. From the early 1930s until 1968, when then-MPAA chief Jack Valenti unveiled the current ratings system, studios' film content was tightly controlled by a rigid production code designed to keep the Legion of Decency and a variety of conservative-minded community groups from enforcing their own bans on movies.

Thanks to the code, America always looked like Ozzie and Harriet-ville: Married couples slept in separate beds, crime never paid and it required a prolonged siege on the part of producer David Selznick before Clark Gable was able to say "damn" in "Gone With the Wind," a word that was routinely cut out of scripts submitted to code administration chief Joe Breen. Breen was a cultural dictator -- if anything in your film offended him, it had to go, because no major theater would play a film without the production code seal.

Nonetheless, in the wake of World War II, with American society struggling with new issues such as racial inequality, feminism and anti-communist hysteria, someone emerged who was willing to test Breen's authority, much as Weinstein has done with the current ratings board. Big-city audiences had begun flocking to foreign films, especially neo-realistic ones made by Italian filmmakers such as Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti. In 1949, an ex-publicist named Joe Burstyn acquired the U.S. distribution rights to Vittorio De Sica's “The Bicycle Thief,” which had won acclaim in Europe the year before.

The film broke records when it played at an art house in New York, but Burstyn knew that he would need a code seal to run "The Bicycle Thief" in other parts of the country. So Burstyn submitted the film to Breen for approval. It was rejected for two brief scenes, one in which a boy stops in front of a wall, apparently to relieve himself; the other where the thief's pursuers race through a bordello -- a production code no-no, even though the occupants were fully clothed and eating breakfast.

Breen wasn't going to budge -- he'd only recently cut a scene from a Hitchcock movie because it showed a commode in a jail cell. De Sica refused to cut a frame. So Burstyn, like Weinstein has done today, staged a publicity campaign, figuring that a film playing without a code seal would have the tantalizing air of forbidden fruit.

Soon the press was in a "Bully"-style uproar. The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the production code as a "violation of free thought and expression." The New York Times' chief critic, Bosley Crowther, ridiculed Breen's code administrators, saying they'd "put their minds in deep freeze." Life magazine smelled hypocrisy, because Breen had no problem with a "Bicycle Thief" shot showing a suggestive poster of Hollywood's favorite pin-up girl, Rita Hayworth, yet objected to a realistic depiction of contemporary life.

To make matters worse, five days before the picture had a code appeals hearing, it won the Oscar for best foreign film. Still, Breen refused to budge. Like Joan Graves, who heads today's ratings board, he argued that if he granted an exception for "The Bicycle Thief" simply because of its artistic merit, it would set a worrisome precedent.

However, even without a code seal, "The Bicycle Thief" played to large crowds in independent theaters, with Burstyn running ads featuring the boy in the film at the wall, captioned, "Please come and see me before they cut me out." In a move amazingly similar to today's "Bully" controversy, three of the five biggest studio-owned theater chains agreed to show the movie, the first time any film without a seal had played in major theaters since the code had been instituted.

The production code lasted for two more decades before it finally crumbled, unable to squelch public interest in such groundbreaking films as "The Moon Is Blue," "Lolita" and "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (For more details, read "The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship and the Production Code From the 1920s to the 1960s," perhaps the best book on the subject.) Much of the impetus for the code’s collapse came not just from changing social mores but from a string of filmmakers who, like Weinstein today, used the myopic rulings of the code enforcers as a way to drum up publicity for their movies.

In today's warp-speed media universe, change comes faster than ever. As the number of movies from the six studios that fund the MPAA continues to dwindle, more films are being independently produced and distributed, spawning a host of potential new Weinstein-style rebels.

Sixty years ago, it was "The Bicycle Thief" that started the ball rolling. Like "Bully," it was a humane, compassionate film that deserved to be seen by all. But today's ratings board isn't so different than the production code under Breen -- both entities believed that making any exception would cause the whole house of cards to collapse. Of course, the code collapsed anyway, crippled by a refusal to change with the times. Who says history isn't about to repeat itself?

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"Bully": Does going unrated solve anything?

"Bully" will get re-cut to land a PG-13, sources say

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Joel McHale, Victoria Justice and Giuliana Rancic pose at the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary "Bully" on March 26. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images


‘Bully’ will get re-cut to land a PG-13, sources say

March 30, 2012 |  3:03 pm

'Bully' may get a PG-13 version

As it rolls out “Bully” without a rating to five theaters this weekend, the Weinstein Co. is making plans to release a tweaked version of the documentary that will earn it a PG-13, said two people familiar with the company’s plans who were not authorized to speak about them publicly.

The new cut of the teen-bullying film, which would minimize in some manner the profanities featured in a controversial schoolbus scene, would hit theaters April 13, when the movie widens to 25 markets, and allow children of any age to see it without adult accompaniment. The film, which centers on five families affected by teen bullying, plays in limited release in Los Angeles and New York this weekend.

The Weinstein Co. denied that changes were being made now but allowed for the possibility in the coming weeks. “At this time, there are no plans to change the film for a PG-13,” Stephen Bruno, the company’s head of marketing, told 24 Frames on Friday. “We are in constant conversation with the MPAA and hope a compromise can be reached.” The MPAA has been steadfast that the existing cut wll not be given anything lower than an R.

How the tweaks would be made remains unclear. The scene that earned the film an R features one teen threatening another as the two sit side-by-side on the bus, with profanities interwoven throughout the scene. The Weinstein Co could cut the entire scene or try to trim around the obscenities. (Filmmakers cannot simply bleep obscenities for a lower rating; the MPAA typically treats even bleeped words as profanities.)

A new cut of “Bully” would cap the Weinstein Co’s long battle with the Motion Picture Assn. of America — and an extended ride in the press — over the R rating for the film. The MPAA initially handed down an R because of the profanities and then upheld the decision on appeal by one vote. The decision prompted howls from the Weinstein Co. that the group was not looking at the scene in context and kickstarted a grass-roots campaign that garnered nearly 500,000 petition signatures.

The ruling also allowed the Weinstein Co to embark on a publicity campaign that has shone a far brighter light than would normally land on an issue-oriented documentary.  The company ultimately decided to release the movie unrated, enabling the AMC theater chain to institute a policy that teens could see the movie unaccompanied if they turned up with adult permission. It also touched off another round of publicity.

Observers of the Weinstein Co. — as well as MPAA chief Christopher J. Dodd — have urged the studio to simply revise the scene if it believed that it was that important that teenagers see the film.

But Harvey Weinstein and filmmaker Lee Hirsch have been adamant that the scene remain in the film as is to show the full force of what bullied kids face. Weinstein told 24 Frames before a screening of "Bully" in Washington several weeks ago that he did not want to touch the cut.

“I did that on ‘The King’s Speech,’ and Colin and Tom killed me for it,” Weinstein said, referring to a new PG-13 cut for the 2011 Oscar winner, and to star Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper’s criticism of the move.

The MPAA generally does not allow differently rated films to be in theaters at the same time, requiring a “withdrawal period” of 90 days between cuts, according to its bylaws, so as not to create “public confusion.”

But it builds in an exception “in light of all the circumstances related to the motion picture.” Among the factors in making that exception, the group considers “the number of theaters in which the original version of the motion picture has been exhibited." That would allow "Bully," currently only in a limited-run release, to avoid the restriction.

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Photo: A scene from the documentary "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Carmike reverses course, will show ‘Bully’

March 29, 2012 | 11:45 am

Bully
The country’s fourth-largest theater chain has had a change of heart on "Bully."

After announcing it would not play the teen-oriented documentary because it had a policy against showing unrated films, Carmike Cinemas will indeed play the movie. It will treat the picture as an R-rated film and will not allow anyone under 17 to see it if not accompanied by an adult.

The move means that among the largest four theater chains, only Cinemark, the country’s third-largest exhibitor, will not show "Bully." Regal Cinemas said Wednesday it would show the film and treat it as an R; AMC will also show it, allowing minors who have written permission from an adult to see it on their own.

A person close to Carmike who was not authorized to talk about the matter publicly said that the company was moved to change its mind because of both the importance of the documentary about bullying and the decision by other chains to relax its policy against unrated movies in this case.

The Weinstein Co. decided to release the film without a rating after losing an appeal with the Motion Picture Assn. to overturn its R rating.

“Bully” opens in five theaters in Los Angeles and New York this weekend, including AMC outlets, in what will be a key test of how much the extensive ratings publicity has boosted its awareness among moviegoers. The documentary widens to two dozen markets on April 13, when it will screen at Carmike and Regal venues.

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Photo: "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Regal Cinemas, country’s largest theater chain, will play 'Bully'

March 28, 2012 |  2:17 pm

"Bully" to play at Regal theaters

The country’s largest theater chain will play the controversial documentary “Bully” — but will treat it as an R-rated film.

A spokesman for Regal Cinemas told 24 Frames that, unlike competitors Carmike and Cinemark, the company will play the documentary despite the fact that it is now being released without a rating after losing its appeal with the Motion Picture Assn.

But unlike AMC, Regal's biggest competitor and the country’s second-largest chain, Regal will not allow children under 17 to enter the theater by themselves under any circumstances. (AMC, which is playing the movie at its Century City and Manhattan locations this weekend, will admit minors with written permission from an adult.)

“Regal intends to play the film and respect the original R-rating decision of the MPAA,” said Regal’s Dick Westerling. “We will treat the film like it is rated R.

The film opens this weekend in limited release in Los Angeles and New York on a total of five screens, three of them art house theaters and the two AMC locations. It will play on Regal screens when it expands to 25 markets in two weeks.

Like the other chains, Regal’s decision reflects an attempt to strike a delicate balance. After the Harvey-Weinstein-distributed "Bully," a documentary about the dangers of teen bullying, saw its appeal for a PG-13 rejected, Weinstein said he would release the movie without a rating. He hoped the move would allow the theaters that did show it to let in teenagers without adults, which he said would encourage teens to see it.

Caught between a movie aimed at promoting a social good and the ruling of the MPAA, the four largest theater chains have adopted varying stances. Two of them won’t show it at all, and a third will now treat it like an R-rated film. Only AMC is relaxing its policy.

The National Assn. of Theatre Owners has advised members to treat the film as though it were rated R.

Even with the distribution issues, the ratings controversy has garnered a huge amount of attention for "Bully," with nearly 500,000 people signing a petition on behalf of a lower rating. If some of that interest translates into the box office, it could pay off in a big way for the film. The highest-grossing independent documentary last year, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” tallied just more than $5 million, and even a few million dollars is considered a win for most issue-oriented nonfiction films.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.


‘Bully': Does going unrated solve anything?

March 27, 2012 |  4:02 pm

Bully
Harvey Weinstein seemed to have come up with a clever solution to “Bully’s” R-rating problem when he decided to release the documentary unrated. Sure, some chains won’t play unrated movies, but those theaters that do will be able to show it without the restrictive tag around their necks. (An R prohibits children younger than 17 from being admitted unless accompanied by an adult.) Teenagers could see “Bully,” which is largely about and for them,  unfettered.

Except he may not have eliminated the problem.

Even without a rating, theater chains can decide on their own not to allow unaccompanied teenagers into a movie, effectively giving it the force of an R.  And the National Assn. of Theatre Owners is advising its members to do just that.

“If [theaters] choose to play the movie, we have recommended to them that they treat it as an R-rated movie, because it was rated R originally and the content hasn't changed,” NATO chief John Fithian told 24 Frames in an email.

Weinstein Co. acknowledged Tuesday that  it could face an issue with theaters choosing on their own not to allow teenagers to see the Lee Hirsch film, which centers on five families affected by teen bullying.  “We have chosen not to accept the R rating,” said Erik Lomis, the company’s head of distribution. “We cannot force the theaters to accept it as a PG-13. We can only suggest.”

The movie opens in a total of five theaters in Los Angeles and New York this weekend. The country's second-largest chain, AMC, has said it will screen the film (two of the chain’s theaters will be part of the movie’s limited opening this weekend) and suggested that it will allow teenagers to see the movie unaccompanied.

[Updated, 6:54 p.m.: An AMC spokesman said it will indeed allow that, but only if the child presents a signed permission slip from a parent, either via a form letter made available by the theater or an improvised note on a standard piece of paper. The move is an apparent attempt to support the film -- AMC executive Gerry Lopez has two teenagers and has been vocal about its importance -- while still paying deference to the Motion Picture Assn. of America and its ratings system.

But how it will work -- will box-office employees and ticket-takers be trained to scrutinize those letters for authenticity? -- remains to be seen. Also an open question is whether teenagers will be any more willing to ask for a permission slip than they were to ask the parent to accompany them to the film in the first place.]

However, a source at theater company Cinemark, the country’s third-largest chain, said the exhibitor has a policy against showing unrated movies and won’t make an exception for this one. A source at Carmike, the nation’s fourth-largest chain, who also wasn’t authorized to talk about the issue publicly, said that the company also will not show an unrated film and will not be screening "Bully."

Those policies could inhibit the documentary as it widens on April 13 to more than two dozen markets. (A representative for Regal Cinemas, the country’s largest chain, did not reply to a request for comment on whether it would show the film, or how it would treat the movie if it did. )

Still, even with the distribution hurdles, there is already a high degree of awareness for the documentary. On Tuesday, a Twitter campaign elicited support from the likes of Kim Kardashian, Anderson Cooper and Ryan Seacrest. Some distribution experts say that the movie could enjoy a nice run at the box office, surprising for any documentary these days, let alone one about a difficult subject  and which quietly premiered at a festival nearly a year ago.

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Weinstein Co to release Bully documentary without MPAA rating

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.


Weinstein Co. to release 'Bully' documentary without MPAA rating

March 26, 2012 |  2:27 pm

Weinstein bully chris dodd mpaa

This post has been corrected. Please see bottom for details.

After losing its battle to get the rating of the documentary "Bully" changed from an R to a PG-13, Harvey Weinstein said Monday his company will release the film unrated.

The move follows Weinstein's earlier vow to The Times that he would choose the unrated route so that teenagers could see the film, which centers on how teen bullying has affected a number of families throughout the country. "Bully" received an R rating from the Motion Picture Assn. of America because of profanities hurled by children at each other in the film.

An R rating  means no children younger than 17 in a theater without an adult. But some large theater chains have a practice, if not a policy, against showing unrated films, and "Bully" may not gain as wide a distribution footprint as it otherwise might have.

For his part, AMC theaters executive Gerry Lopez has said he will stand by the film, suggesting the chain will play it nationally even if it is unrated. Indeed, the movie opens in limited release this weekend at the AMC Century City as well as at the ArcLight Hollywood and the Landmark in Los Angeles, and the Angelika and Lincoln Square in New York.

The film is scheduled to widen its release to about two dozen markets on April 13; those theaters haven't  been disclosed yet. The MPAA and the National Assn. of Theatre Owners did not immediately reply to a request seeking comment.

The Weinstein Co. appealed the R rating but lost by one vote. A petition to change the rating to PG-13 was signed by more than 400,000 people, including celebrities such as Meryl Streep and Justin Bieber, but the MPAA declined to budge. As it is not a member of the MPAA, the Weinstein Co. has the option to release a film without a rating. (The MPAA is a trade group made up of the six large Hollywood studios.)

In a statement, Weinstein Co. President of Marketing Stephen Bruno suggested that he was not concerned about the distribution issue. “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."

Weinstein previously told The Times that he felt this was the only way to go. "We have to do it that way," he said. "It's too important to risk the R."

[For the Record: An earlier version of this post said the movie would play the Lincoln Plaza theater in New York. It will play the Lincoln Square theater.]

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'The Hunger Games,' 'Bully' prompt ratings fight

-- Steven Zeitchik 

Photo: "Bully" director Lee Hirsh, left, Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Chris Dodd and Harvey Weinstein pose for a photo before a panel discussion after a screening of the documentary "Bully" at MPAA on March 15 in Washington. Credit: Kris Connor/Getty Images  

 


How would you change the MPAA's movie ratings? [Poll]

March 23, 2012 | 11:48 am

Bully
The ratings board of the Motion Picture Assn. of America has had better months.

Following its assigning of an R rating for the documentary "Bully," the MPAA has been attacked from all quarters.

Harvey Weinstein, the film's distributor, and "Bully" director Lee Hirsch claim the MPAA's rating is not only hypocritical and inconsistent (the more expletive-laden documentary "Gunner Palace" was rated PG-13) but also keeps the film from its intended audience of middle school kids. (Their appeal of the R rating was defeated by a single vote.)

Katy Butler, a Michigan high school student, started an online petition aimed at overturning the R rating and has collected more than 400,000 signatures. A number of celebrities, including Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep, and members of Congress have joined the chorus asking that "Bully's" rating be revised to PG-13.

The Parents Television Council, which supports the MPAA's rating for "Bully," says movies such as the dystopian drama "The Hunger Games," in which a number of teenagers kill each other, should be rated R, not PG-13.

What do you think?

Take our poll, and give as many as three answers.

 

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— John Horn

Photo: A scene from "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Battle over ‘Bully’ rating heats up in nation’s capital

March 15, 2012 |  8:58 pm

Alex Libby, one of the bullied children in "Bully"
A battle over film ratings continued to escalate Thursday, as a chorus of filmmakers and lawmakers called on the Motion Picture Assn. of America to replace the “R” given to the teen-bullying documentary “Bully” with a less severe PG-13.

Hoping to defuse the controversy, the MPAA's chief, former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd,  held a screening and panel discussion at the group’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., that featured the movie's director, distributor and subject. But the event turned into a forum for further criticism, with panelists and audience members charging that the MPAA was failing in its mission to guide parents and protect children.
 
"[People] believe in the system, but the system is letting them down,” said director Lee Hirsch, addressing Dodd. “We need leadership and your faith … to overturn” this ruling.
 
“Bully,” which will be released by the Weinstein Co. in Los Angeles on March 30, centers on five families whose children have been victims of bullying. The fly-on-the-wall film does not contain an abundance of explicit content; however, in one scene,  one teen hurls harsh profanities at another child.

That prompted the R rating, which means that moviegoers under age 17 must be accompanied by an adult. The Weinstein Co. and subjects of the film say that the requirement to see the movie with an adult will deter many teens from going.

But the MPAA has held firm, saying that without a new edit of the film there is no provision for invalidating the rating.
 
In an interview, Dodd added that even if there was, he couldn’t ignore a perceptual issue. “I’m stuck,” he said. “If we change the ruling in this case, I’ll have 10 other filmmakers lined up saying they shouldn’t be given the R. And who are we to say why this film should be different than the others?”

The MPAA takes the position that it does not make qualitative judgments -- that is, it does not wade into the content of a film but merely uses a set of objective criteria to determine a rating. As long as the profanity-laden scene remains, Dodd said, the MPAA’s hands are tied.
 
The issue has turned into a hot-button issue for activists -- and a major publicity headache for the MPAA. After the group's ratings board denied a Weinstein Co. appeal, grass-roots organizers and the Weinstein Co. publicity machine went into overdrive. As Weinstein Co. issued statements about the unfairness of the ruling--they argue, among other things, that the scene comes in the context of a documentary and is there for authenticity's sake--a Michigan teenager who was a victim of bullying started an online petition to change the rating.
 
The petition soon came to the attention of Weinstein Co. chief Harvey Weinstein, who at this year’s Oscar ceremony alerted celebrities such as Meryl Streep. The actress signed the document, as have  Drew Brees, Ellen DeGenres and Justin Bieber. The number of signees now exceeds 300,000. (Many signatures also trigger personal emails to the MPAA; at least one official at the group has seen his in-box flooded with more than 200,000 such messages.)
 
The rating controversy has touched off a debate about the practices of an industry trade group that self-polices its content, prompting calls for more transparency and flexibility. “Why can’t [the movie] get a PG-13 with an ‘E’ for ‘Exception’ next to it?” Weinstein said in an interview at a D.C. hotel before he appeared on the panel Thursday. “There’s nothing stopping them from looking at this and doing something about it.”
 
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood), who is part of a group of more than two dozen lawmakers drafting a letter to Dodd asking for the decision to be overturned, told The Times that she saw an irony in the MPAA’s ruling.
 
“This is a movie that’s all about protecting kids, and the fact that they would offer a rating that won’t let kids see it seems really counterintuitive,” she said.
 
Meanwhile, Weinstein and Hirsch have said they won’t edit the scene. To do so, they said, would be to dilute its impact, a position echoed by the film’s subjects.
 
“Our reality is not censored,” Kelby Johnson, a teen who appears in the film, said as she stood up to speak from the audience at the panel. “Since when did curse words become more important than children’s lives?"
 
As panelists and victims pressed Dodd, he sought to steer the subject back to the issues raised by the film. “I don’t want [the ratings issue] to step all over what Lee crafted,” the MPAA chief said.
 
But Hirsch remained steadfast. “The R is stepping over it, and that’s the problem,” he said.
 
The discussion grew sufficiently intense that Weinstein, who has a longstanding relationship with Dodd, came to his defense. “I just want people to understand that the senator is a good man,” Weinstein said. If he had a vote on the appeals board, Weinstein added, “I have a feeling...he would have voted our way.”

Weinstein said that he wants to use the film as a lever to help pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, an anti-bullying bill that has been stalled on Capitol Hill for several years.

The issue may yet gain steam in Congress in other ways: a mock hearing about both bullying and the rating is in the early stages of development, according to a congressional source who asked not to be identified because plans for it were not yet firm.
 
Weinstein said in an interview that if the MPAA didn’t lower the film to a PG-13 he would choose to release the movie without a rating, a risky move because, while it means teens could go by themselves, many theater chains shy away from showing unrated films in the first place. (The head of AMC, one of the nation's largest chains, has suggested that he would show it even if it was unrated.)
 
Parents who appear in the film also have criticized the MPAA’s decision. David Long, whose son Tyler hanged himself as a result of bullying, said that he was at a loss to explain the MPAA’s policy that multiple four-letters word net an R, but a single instance rates only a PG-13.
 
“If it can be said once, what's the difference between one and six?” he said on the panel, as he implored Dodd to change the rating so that schools will be more willing to show it. “I mean, [the obscenity] is already out there.”
 
Lawmakers say they see another false distinction, particularly when it comes to violent movies such as the upcoming “Hunger Games,” which did not get an R.
 
“The hypocrisy is that the very movies that contribute to violence can be seen by teenagers because they get a PG-13,” Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich) told The Times. “And the one film that actually teaches them to respect others is given an R.”

RELATED:

A 'Bully' pulpit for Weinstein Co.

'Bully' seeks ratings change (and exposure)

With Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Brees, ‘Bully’ battle goes celeb

-- Steven Zeitchik in Washington, D.C.

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Alex Libby, one of the bullied children in "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.

 


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