Bully director Lee Hirsch said today that the media frenzy over the MPAA giving his school-bullying film an R rating has helped the Weinstein Co documentary gain exposure and made the movie more important. “It’s given youth a sense of ownership over it and raised our profile,” Hirsch told Deadline today. It’s been another busy news cycle for the doc: A petition started by Michigan student Katy Butler featuring 200,000 signatures demanding the MPAA change its rating to PG-13 was delivered to the LA offices of the organization, which responded by defending its original decision to rate the film R on the basis of excessive foul language. “The R rating and description of ‘some language’ for Bully does not mean that children cannot see the film,” Classification and Rating Administration chair Joan Graves said. “As with any movie, parents will decide if they want their children to see Bully.”
Hirsch said the filmmakers had started their own petition, which received several thousand signatures, but were shocked by Butler’s much bigger success. “It really is a miracle and a dream come true,” the director said of Butler’s efforts. “It’s much bigger than the ratings battle. I can tell you straight up though, we couldn’t have dreamed this up.”
The push for a PG-13 rating for the doc would allows teens, the film’s target audience, to see the film unaccompanied by a guardian. More importantly for filmmakers — and apparently the Weinstein Co — it would allow the film to be shown in schools. (The MPAA said today an R does not prohibit the film from being seen in classrooms, saying school districts “handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval.”) Meanwhile, British Columbia today awarded the film a PG, and Hirsch said he sees a double standard when it comes to assigning ratings in the U.S. “Stepping outside the personal situation with my film, I think it’s unfortunate that the value judgements by the MPAA allow for graphic violence, homophobia, aggression against women,” he said. “All the things we see in a PG-13 film and is acceptable. This just typifies how our rating system is broken.”
Bully‘s fight to amend its rating started with a well-publicized appeals hearing that saw Harvey Weinstein lead a failed pitch himself. A well-oiled Weinstein publicity machine has landed the issue on network TV and talk shows, making the MPAA the bad guy — and even threatening to pull out of the voluntary ratings system. Hirsch said he is grateful the company has gone to bat for the film and even surprised by Weinstein’s personal efforts. “I have a distributor that’s standing behind me and that feels very good,” the director said. “I was with Harvey at the appeal sitting outside the room. He was with (Bully subject) Alex Libby and he did amazingly well. Harvey walked out and was pushing back tears. That was surreal.”
Hirsch was adamant the film should not be changed to justify a ratings switch, arguing that eliminating the expletives would be a disservice to the attention he feels should be focused on bullying among school-age youth. “I was bullied and the collective response is to minimize that experience.” he said. “Those scenes have meaning and that power conveys the intensity of bullying and that’s what this film is about. I don’t want this to be sanitized, it’s a critical piece of what makes this film powerful from my perspective.”
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