“Bully,” a documentary movie that follows five kids who are brutalized by classmates over the course of the year, is set to hit theatres by the end of the month, but not as many teens may be seeing the movie as the producers had hoped.
When the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) stamped the movie with an “R” rating back in February, a number of people raised concerns that it may not reach many in the demographic the film aimed to impact -- those under 17 and still dealing with aspects of bullying in their daily lives.
What do you think of when you hear about bullying?
Hitting, slapping, harassment, name-calling and profanity are but a few of the adjectives that come to mind. All are present in the movie -- and why wouldn’t they be? This is a documentary, after all, and kids can be rather brutal and vulgar at times.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the violence or harassment the MPAA objected to when coming up with the adult rating. It wasn’t the suicide of a boy following a torrent of bullying from students. Instead, it was the profanity –- specifically the use of the “f-bomb” – producer Harvey Weinstein told CBS.
For their part, “Bully” producers have been pushing a petition with the hopes of changing the MPAA’s stance and landing a PG-13 rating ahead of the film’s debut. Weinstein even went as far as to threaten "a leave of absence from the MPAA for the foreseeable future" for The Weinstein Company, distributor of the flick, if the rating wasn't changed.
The official website for the movie contains a link to sign the petition under the caption “Don’t let the MPAA bullies win!” and a stamp that “this movie is not yet rated.” So far, the efforts have garnered more than 300,000 signatures.
“Unfortunately, there is a misconception about the R rating of this film limiting the audience to adults,” Chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration at MPAA Joan Graves said in a release. She went on to compare the "Bully" rating to films such as Schindler’s List that have been used for educational purposes and shown to minors despite the R-rated status. “The R rating and description of ‘some language’ for Bully does not mean that children cannot see the film.”
“As with any movie,” Graves continued, “parents will decide if they want their children to see Bully.”
Parents will have to decide for themselves if the movie is appropriate for their kinds, but an R rating certainly does make it harder for teens to gain access to the film in theatres – even with their parents consent.
A number of theatre chains require parents to attend R-rated films with those under 17, not just buy tickets. Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Theatres, the two larger movie chains in the country, both enforce this rule. Even if a parent buys a ticket for their kid(s), many theatres check IDs once inside for anyone appearing underage.
“No one who is 13 wants to go see a movie with their mom or dad,” Katy Butler, the 17-year-old that launched the online petition to change the rating, told CBS.
If 16-year-old Kelby from Tuttle, Okla. -- one of the teens chronicled in the documentary -– wanted to see the movie at the closest theatre in nearby Yukon, a parent or guardian would have to be present throughout the screening.
Censoring teens from the realities of their own lives may seem a bit… unusual or pointless. The teen may not be exposed to the content in the theatres, but the next day on a bus back to school is a different story.
“Over 13 million American youths will be bullied over the course of this year alone, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in our nation,” representative Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said in a letter to colleagues. “I believe an R-rating excludes the very audience for whom this film is most important, and ask you to join us in calling upon the MPAA to reconsider their rating and allow access to those who need to see this film most -– today’s youth and our future leaders.”
The movie puts an emphasis on raising awareness among teenage social groups under the tag of “STOP BULLYING. SPEAK UP!” The filmmakers have teamed with Creative Visions Foundation, a non-profit, to raise funds for the cause.
Still, it’s unlikely the MPAA will change the rating. The film already went through the appeals process and the rating stood. There is no process for a second appeal, according to the MPAA.
The second season of “Beyond Scared Straight” begins Thursday night and with it come renewed questions about its effectiveness. The reality program follows at-risk teens as they are threatened, screamed at, and harassed by prison inmates in an attempt to get them to change their ways. The show was A&E Network’s most watched debut in its history with 3.7 million viewers.
As JJIE reported at the time of the show’s debut in January, juvenile justice experts are concerned the show may be sending the wrong message. They point to studies that say scared straight-style programs are not only ineffective, but also counter-productive.
Joe Vignati is the head of justice programs at the Governor’s Office for Children and Families in Georgia. In January, he wrote in an op-ed on JJIE.org that “the research is clear, once the trauma of Scared Straight has worn off, meta-analysis shows that this intervention actually INCREASES the odds of offending compared to a no-treatment control group.”
“Academic studies don’t work,” Shapiro told JJIE in January. “It’s all about follow-up. I’ve done more follow-up than anyone. Scared Straight: 20 Years Later is the longest study ever done.”
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges issued a statement in January claiming, “’Beyond Scared Straight’ misrepresents the effectivenesss of such interventions with youthful offenders . . . It is clear these types of interventions as portrayed are neither developmentally appropriate nor trauma-informed.”