Yes. Yes they are. The MPAA is wrong to give the documentary Bully an R rating. Of course they’re wrong. It’s absolutely stupid to think that this apparently unflinching look at school bullying is being given that rating for no other reason than language. Quite frankly, even if it was for thematic content that would be stupid. Why keep kids sheltered from what actually happens to real kids. And sure, I can see how the MPAA might simply be reflecting the reserved nature of parents across America, but then I’d have to say that the MPAA and parents both need to stop being so ignorantly uptight.
However, I think in this case we need to cut the MPAA some slack. Or, at the very least, we should acknowledge the realities of this case specifically. This isn’t just a case of the MPAA being stupidly dogmatic about swearing in film. This is a case of the Weinsteins drumming up controversy where they didn’t need to to get people talking about a documentary that was barely getting any buzz until now. Not only that, but the way a lot of writers have approached the rating of this film as some sort of censorship is off base.
First of all, let’s look at the Weinsteins. There have been a few fights between them and the MPAA recently, but I think the most important one to look at is The King’s Speech. The MPAA very stupidly gave that film an R, and though everyone knows their dogmatic rules about using the F-word, a lot of people expected that an appeal would win them over and secure a PG-13. But they didn’t, and that was stupid. But more telling was the fact that as boldly as the Weinsteins claimed they were fighting for justice, in the end they decided to release a second, edited version of the film that got a PG-13, and for no other reason than to boost box-office receipts.
The lesson? The Weinsteins will do anything, including cutting a movie—one that’s already been released and won Best Picture—against the director’s wishes, just to make some more money. And they’re pulling similar crap all over again. Cooking up controversy where they didn’t need to just to get media attention—and clearly they’ve got it.
The fact is, they must have known after their experience with The King’s Speech that the MPAA wouldn’t budge on Bully. It was obvious from the start. The MPAA is too stupid. Furthermore, the reason they wanted the PG-13 rating was not so they could have kids go see it in the cinemas without their parents.
Linda Holmes at NPR says, “There are intelligent, hurting kids out there who (1) will want to see this film, alone or perhaps with a treasured and trusted friend, and (2) will not want to tell their parents that they want to go see it.”
That’s bullshit. No kid is going to seek out a limited release documentary of any kind, let alone one about bullying. Maybe there are a few, but it’s a negligible number. So if the Weinsteins aren’t after kids going to see the film on their own at the theatre, why do they want a PG-13 rating so badly?
Schools. The Weinsteins want to able to show Bully in schools to middle-school kids. They planned on holding special screenings, and they also wanted teachers to use the film in classrooms. Now, before you start saying that the Weinsteins are clearly being noble about this, there are some things you need to keep in mind. The first thing is that though most school boards in America will allow PG-13 films to screen without parent permission, the simple fact is, the amount of swearing in the film will likely draw the ire of idiot parents no matter the rating. A PG-13 doesn’t suddenly mean that schools will show the film even though they’re technically able. The other thing to keep in mind is that the Weinsteins make money from schools showing the film!
You know those messages before a movie starts about piracy and shit like that? Yeah, read those things carefully and you’ll see that a DVD of a movie is not automatically granted license for public exhibition. You can watch a movie in your home and invite some friends over, but you can’t show it in a public setting, you know, like a school. For schools to show these films and avoid the MPAA coming after them they often do the legal thing and pay special fees to copyright holders. Do you think Bully will be any different? Hell no! The Weinsteins have the opportunity to make extra money from teachers using the film as tool, so of course they want the film to have a PG-13. And if they can start some controversy so that teachers will actually hear about the film then this is their way of doing it.
The thing is, from the beginning they could have just created two versions of the film. A R-rated version for theatrical exhibition and a PG-13 version with the swears bleeped out for school and TV use. Sheesh, that’s what they’re going to do anyway. They would have at least had to do it for TV, might as well give that version to schools. We can sit and argue over whether the MPAA is wrong in being so sensitive about swearing until the cows come home, but the fact is the Weinsteins didn’t need to have a controversy here. But they wanted one anyway.
Furthermore, it needs to be said that this isn’t a case of censorship either. The MPAA is not technically a censorship body. I have argued in the past that they are one in effect, but that is simply when you take their long-term effect on the way studios and directors choose to make films. The censorship becomes de facto. But on a case by case basis they do not censor. If the Weinsteins want to release an uncut version with an R-rating they have every right to do so. If they refuse to compromise artistically then sure, they’re stuck with the R, but at least they have that option. The fact is, though, that the Weinsteins are nothing if not compromisers of artistic integrity. They just don’t give a shit. They’re in the business to make money in their own particular way, whether that be making headlines by fighting with the MPAA or unnecessarily caving to the MPAA by releasing a cut version of The King’s Speech.
The Weinsteins need get off their high horse and just admit that they’re going to release a PG-13 version with the swearing bleeped out anyway. They need to stop pretending like they’re going to leave the MPAA. They’re being hypocrites. Not only is it the MPAA that allows them to make money from school presentations of their film, but they use these fights with the MPAA for nothing else than to fill their wallets. Say what you want about the stupidity and irresponsibility of the MPAA, but the Weinsteins aren’t deserving of any sympathy here either.