Yesterday Harvey Weinstein announced that he’s rejecting the “R” rating the MPAA assigned to The Weinstein Company’s unflinching look at peer abuse in the documentary film Bully despite the fact that the film is intended for the under-17-year-old demographic it documents.  Here’s a quick clip:


As the film’s director Lee Hirsch and Weinstein marketing president Stephen Bruno explain in The Guardian:

“The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the R rating is there because it’s real,” Hirsch said. “It’s what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days. All of our supporters see that, and we’re grateful for the support we’ve received across the board. I know the kids will come, so it’s up to the theatres to let them in.”

“The kids and families in this film are true heroes, and we believe theatre 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 been bullies themselves,” the Weinstein Company’s president of marketing, Stephen Bruno, said. “We’re working to do everything we can to make this film available to as many parents, teachers and students across the country.”

The film, then, remains unrated, which leaves it up to theaters to decide whether or not they’ll show it without the MPAA’s blessing.

Having waited months in San Antonio for a chance to take my ten-year-old daughter to see the G-rated Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which finally made its sole theatrical appearance for two weeks at an art theater that doesn’t allow children under seventeen, I have my doubts that Bully will reach its target audience on a broad scale even under Weinstein’s best-case scenario.  It’s a documentary without Justin Bieber or penguins, after all, which means that, outside of New York and Los Angeles, its odds of finding a decent run at the Cineplex were most likely slim to begin with.

While Weinstein ponders Bully’s eventual level of accessibility, Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey, inspired by the whopping box-office profits of The Hunger Games (which, by the way, had little trouble finagling a PG-13 despite its gritty kid-on-kid violence) parses how and when the majority of us see our films – in theaters, on demand, online, etc.  Big-budget “event movies” such as The Hunger Games, Bailey points out, are pretty much the only sort of movies we’ll go see en masse in theaters anymore.

So why not side-step the ratings issue altogether and make Bully, with its potential to enlighten and empower parents, teachers, and students, “available to as many parents, teachers and students across the country” as possible and focus its distribution online?

*** Update from Indiewire on April 5: ***

After weeks of controversy surrounding its initial decision, the MPAA has lowered the rating for Lee Hirsch’s doc “Bully” from an “R” to a “PG-13,” The Weinstein Company has announced.

The decision came after three uses of the “f-word” were removed from the film. However, the scene that has been at the forefront of the battle with the MPAA — the one that shows teen Alex Libby being bullied and harassed on a bus — has been left fully intact and unedited.

The MPAA is also allowing the film to be released with the new rating before 90 days, which is the length of time their policy states a film must wait to be in theaters after a rating change “to avoid confusion or inconvenience for moviegoers.” Thus, “Bully” will expand to 55 markets on April 13th with its new rating. It had opened this past weekend in New York and Los Angeles without a MPAA rating attached to it.

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at

9 responses to “On Bully, Weinstein, and Why Ratings Might Not Matter”

  1. Gloria says:

    I agree – online distribution is the way to go. Thanks for highlighting this.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Bully for you, Gloria. I’m behind you here.
    (But, aren’t you getting cold yet wearing that slip all the time?)

  3. Irene Zion says:

    You and I have a lot more in common than it would appear. We live for movies here. The worst part of this hideous downsized move is that Victor claims we cannot take time out to go to the movies but instead need to continue to unpack the four quazillion boxes of goddam hoarded shit we don’t need.

  4. Rachel Pollon says:

    I wonder if the “R rated” language in the film is uttered by kids or adults. And it’s a sad state of affairs that violence (fictional or otherwise) gets a pass but language is considered more dangerous. I hope this film gets out there and available to those who need to see it most. It could be transformative for so many people, on both side of the situation. Ugh, I teared up at the trailer. Bullying obviously doesn’t stop at childhood and we all could use to open our hearts and be kind to each other. What the hell is wrong with everyone, anyway, with all the hate and fear. Okay, I’ve probably lost the plot, but, you know, it’s a vast subject.

  5. Rachel Pollon says:

    Just saw this mentioned on the morning news and googled it. Cool. (See link.)

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