New PG-13 for ’Bully’ Documentary Challenges Rating System

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday April 9, 2012

The Classification and Rating Administration has decided to change the rating of the anti-bullying documentary, "Bully," from R to PG-13 after an abundance of public and online outcry, the New York Times reported.

Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, which is distributing the film, has been pushing for a PG-13 release for several weeks. But it wasn't until late last week that the film organization finally decided to bring down the rating of an edited version of "Bully."

Weinstein, however, was still in dispute with the National Association of Theaters Owners -- a group that helps set the rules and ratings for movies. The group's president, John Fithain, claims that Weinstein "jeopardized a good system to generate publicity for his movie," the Time notes. But Weinstein fired back at Fithian and said he harbors "Cro-Magnon" attitudes toward ratings.

Initially, the board rated the documentary R due to intense language. The movie's appeal for a lower rating generated a massive audience and a large online support.

"Bully" was released in a few theaters with no rating, which meant that no one under 17 could see the film without an adult or written permission from a parent or guardian. The movie performed well despite the restrictions.

The Weinstein Company and the movie's director and producer Lee Hirsch agreed to edit parts of the movie and removed some of the offensive language. Unlike normal practice where a re-rated movie has to typically go through a 90-day waiting period, the board quickly decided to give the movie a PG-13 rating.

Fithian told the Times that he believed Weinstein has damaged the rating system. He said Weinstein "believes the ends always justify the means, and his ends here were to promote an important movie." But added, "the type of attacks Harvey does, and he does them repeatedly, on 'Blue Valentine,' on 'The King's Speech,' in the end, they could bring down the voluntary rating system."

"When controversy is manufactured to the extent that it has been, it is not healthy," Fithian said.

But Weinstein didn't take Fithian's comments lightly.

"When controversy is manufactured to the extent that it has been, it is not healthy," he said. "I am not using the ratings system for publicity. Yes, I've done it in the past. Mea culpa for that." He said that his fight for "Bully" is "completely out of passion."

Weinstein said he was aware of the massive amount of support for "Bully." Celebrities and members of Congress have endorsed the film and an online petition that urged officials to lower the documentary's rating had 600,000 signatures. He added that his company did not create the support but that "the groundswell came to us."

He also said that even though some of the harsh language was removed, the scene still "remained intact." Christopher J. Dodd, the former senator of Connecticut who is now the chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the organization that oversees the ratings board, helped negotiate the settlement.

"Senator Dodd stepped up and ended this," Weinstein said. "It was a wonderful compromise. They saved face, and we won."

Dodd, a longtime friend of Weinstein, said that he doubts Weinstein's many challenges to the rating system have hurt the board.

"Harvey's a producer, a filmmaker and a film promoter," he said. "Our job at the MPAA. is to provide guidance to parents."

EDGE talked to Hirsch about the rating controversy earlier this month and the director said, "I think that the MPAA...I do think that they're out of touch with what really matters to families and America. I think the bigger conversation for them as an organization is about how they approach these ratings and I took a lot of heart from every Province in Canada giving the movie a PG... I think we'll see a difference in the MPAA after all this is said and done."

The 2006 independent documentary, "This Film is Not Yet Rated," (directed by Kirby Dick) exposed the MPAA's rating system and the way it impacted American culture.

The A.V. Club, which gave the film a B+, said, "It thoroughly eviscerates the MPAA and makes a solid case that the culture has paid the price for its censorious practices. His (Dick's) attacks are the equivalent of shooting ducks in a barrel, but these ducks had it coming."