The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has upheld its decision to give an R rating to Lee Hirsch’s Bully documentary – a decision that has prompted distributor The Weinstein Company (TWC) to consider “a leave of absence” from the MPAA.
The hearing, held on February 23, saw the appeal fall one vote short of the number needed to reverse the decision, although more than half of the appeals board felt the movie should be rated PG-13. The original R rating for Hirsch’s documentary on the bullying epidemic was attributed to language.
The decision impacts the potential for Bully to screen in U.S. middle and high schools, where the film would be used as a tool to stop an epidemic of physical, psychological and emotional violence.
TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein led the appeal and was joined by one of the bullied children in the doc, Alex Libby.
Following the decision, Weinstein released the following statement: “As of today, The Weinstein Company is considering a leave of absence from the MPAA for the foreseeable future. We respect the MPAA and their process but feel this time it has just been a bridge too far.
I have been through many of these appeals, but this one vote loss is a huge blow to me personally. Alex Libby gave an impassioned plea and eloquently defended the need for kids to be able to see this movie on their own, not with their parents, because that is the only way to truly make a change.”
TWC is not a member of the MPAA but can choose to have its films not rated by the association.
Weinstein says he also plans on asking pop star Lady Gaga and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, both of whom have foundations that focus on eradicating bullying, as well as the Duchess of Cambridge, also a victim of bullying, to take a stand and help youth to see Bully without restrictions.
He went on to say that the school district in Cincinnati was planning on bussing 40,000 students to see the film, but because of the R rating they will have to cancel the plans.
“To say that I am disappointed and distressed would be a grave understatement,” added Hirsch. “It is my great hope that Bully reaches the audience for whom it was made: kids, the bullied and the bullies and the 80% of kids who can make the most impact by becoming upstanders rather than bystanders. I am gratified that Harvey Weinstein and TWC share my commitment to getting Bully into America’s schools, where it most needs to be seen.”
The MPAA responded to TWC’s statement with its own, from Joan Graves, chair of the organization’s classification and rating administration branch.
“Bullying is a serious issue and is a subject that parents should discuss with their children,” it read. “The MPAA agrees with The Weinstein Company that Bully can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions. The MPAA also has the responsibility, however, to acknowledge and represent the strong feedback from parents throughout the country who want to be informed about content in movies, including language.
“The R rating is not a judgment on the value of any movie,” Graves added. “The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration before allowing their children to view it.”
(With files from Barry Walsh)