The documentary by Lee Hirsch recounts the everyday torture and harassment in the lives of five teenagers from different parts of the country as they struggle through school—torture and harassment which led two of these teenagers to commit suicide.
“Bully,” then, is merely a glimpse into the real world struggle of millions of American all over the country.
Unfortunately, the Motion Picture of Association of America (MPAA) has given this documentary an “R” rating because of the extreme language present in the film. However, this “R” rating prevents anyone under the age of 18—which just so happens to be exactly who this film is about—from seeing it without direct parental consent.
Hirsch does not want to cut out the extreme language necessary to reduce the rating to a “PG-13.” The harsh language is exactly what makes this documentary powerful, and is what actually gives “Bully” the hope of provoking apathetic parents and administrations to make a difference in their schools.
In response, an online petition to change the film’s rating from “R” to “PG-13” has obtained over 300,000 signatures—including over 20 U.S. Congressional members—and has gained the support of many celebrities including Meryl Streep, Drew Brees, Justin Bieber, and Ellen DeGenres.
So why is the MPAA so adamant on giving the documentary an “R” rating?
The MPAA’s website clearly states that it was created to “provide parents with advance information about the content of films, so they can determine what movies are appropriate for their young children to see.”
In other words, they help parents decide which movies are in the best interest for their children to see.
In the case of “Bully,” I would understand why parents would not want their children to see other children using this extreme level of language. However, these are real people experiencing these exact confrontations in their everyday lives.
The reality is that a large number of students in our schools already hear this extreme language being used every day. Putting an “R” rating on this film, then, does nothing to keep teenagers from hearing this language.
On the other hand, if teenagers are forced to watch “Bully,” it throws reality right in their faces. It shows a few teenagers being bullied and how that experience affects them.
Hopefully, this would create the empathy necessary to encourage bullies to stop bullying others, or at least encourage administrators and teachers to take care of their students.
Either way, I think it is imperative for everyone—students, parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, etc.—to see “Bully.”
As it stands, schools would be required to obtain permission slips from every single parent of every student before they could show this film. But if “Bully” was rated “PG-13,” schools could show it to its students much easier.
So that is the issue: MPAA does not want to reduce their rating so they can remain consistent, and the makers do not want to censor “Bully” to preserve the potential power it contains.
And who are the real losers in this battle? The teenagers who are restricted from watching it.