“Bully” isn’t set to hit theaters until March 30, but already there is a significant debate surrounding Lee Hirsch’s latest documentary, and—specifically—the “R” rating it received from the MPAA as a result of the film’s “language.” What is frustrating in the MPAA’s decision is that this is not an issue of some fictional account glorifying bad behavior, but is instead a reflection of things as they are for many students already. Essentially, the MPAA is attempting to “protect” children from something they already experience on a daily basis just within their own school hallways and lunch tables.
In addition to the sheer illogicality of seeking to curb a student’s access to a film discussing an issue most of them must deal with in some way or another every day, there is the issue of weighing which of these aims will provide more benefit to our youth. Better yet, which of these issues would provide more damage if ignored?
While it may seem honorable to attempt to shield children from profanity, it is a misguided endeavor, especially considering how prevalent profanity is within our media—including cable television. Instead, what suffers is the message that Hirsch is seeking to deliver, as children who may want to better understand the emotional toll bullying has or who may be bullied themselves and are simply looking for a way to know they’re neither alone nor powerless. Linda Holmes says it best in her review of the MPAA’s decision:
“There’s a grotesque irony in declaring that what is portrayed in Bully should be softened, or bleeped — should be hidden, really, because it’s too much for kids to see. Of course it’s too much for kids to see. It’s also too much for kids to live through, walk through, ride the bus with, and go to school with. That’s why they made the movie. The entire point of this film is that kids do not live with the protection we often believe they do — many of them live in a terrifying, isolating war zone, and if you hide what it’s like, if you lie about what they’re experiencing, you destroy what is there to be learned.”
Many of us who have safely made our way out of the middle- and high-school battles zones already have some idea of what it feels like to be picked on by our peers. Even more of us can—at the very least—empathize with feeling insecure and awkward during those years. While this film highlights just how much more brutal youth culture can be today in comparison to our own experiences, “Bully” is not necessarily for us. It is to give the children navigating a hostile school environment a voice that they are all too often robbed of. To silence them further by rating their stories “R” or watering these stories down by censoring the language continues to bully them. If we don’t respect these children enough to give them a voice at the institutional level, how can we expect them to have any hope of successfully overcoming what they face from their peers?
It may be a small gesture, but please consider signing the petition. At the very least, give our students a chance to be heard.
UPDATE 4/6/2012: We won! The MPAA has changed Bully’s rating from R to PG-13 as a direct result of public pressure. Thank you so much for your help, and please make sure you (and all of your adolescent acquaintances!) see this documentary.