There's been a lot of interesting things going on between ever-controversial super-producer Harvey Weinstein and the Motion Picture Association Of America over the past year. After winning the fight against the MPAA's extremely controversial NC-17 rating of Blue Valentine and losing the fight against The King's Speech R-rating (eventually releasing an edited version of the film), Weinstein is challenging the anonymous rating board's suggestion that Bully, a documentary that follows the lives of five bullied teenager over a year of high school, be rated R for language.
At issue is that an R rating will likely prevent the film from being screened in schools and will prevent many teenagers who might be interested in seeing it from doing so without having to bring a parent along with them to the theater. At issue was the use of language in the film, presumably of the curse-word variety: understandably enough, considering that this is a film about bullying. The MPAA has some pretty arcane and specific rules regarding the use of curse words, e.g. you can say the word "fuck" in a PG-13 movie, but only once, and only if it's not used in a sexual context. Any more than that, and you're going to get that R, as Bully apparently did.
"As of today, The Weinstein Company is considering a leave of absence from the MPAA for the foreseeable future. We respect the MPAA and their process but feel this time it has just been a bridge too far."
Weinstein, never one to shy away from an impassioned statement or a moment that might gain a film some publicity, last week threatened to take a "leave of absence" from the MPAA in protest, which would presumably mean that he wouldn't submit films from his company to be rated by the MPAA, instead releasing them as "unrated." That's almost certainly just bravado on his part, as adherence to the rating system is required by many advertisers, such as newspapers, who will refuse to advertise unrated or NC-17 films, and pretty much all major theater chains, who likewise are unlikely to give theater space to NC-17 or unrated films.
That last point was hammered home today by the president of the National Association of Theater Owners, who sent a letter to Weinstein informing him that he would "have no choice but to encourage my theater owner members to treat unrated movies from The Weinstein Company in the same manner as they treat unrated movies from anyone else. In most cases, that means enforcement as though the movies were rated NC-17 – where no one under the age of 18 can be admitted even with accompanying parents or guardians.”
Weinstein certainly seems like he'll be on the losing side of this battle; he has already appealed the R-rating and had his appeal overturned, the MPAA being more concerned with adhering to its strict set of nonsensical laws that admitting that a film might have some purpose as to correcting a social ill, and that thus it might be worth allowing children to see it even if (gasp!) it contains language they hear every single fucking day. This is the same organization that rated Whale Rider, a heartbreakingly wonderful children's movie, a PG-13 film for a single scene of a young man smoking a cigarette. There are too many other instances of MPAA idiocy to recount here (check out This Film Is Not Yet Rated if you're interested in a little exposé).
In the meantime, Weinstein can spin his wheels, but ultimately he'll either accept the R-rating, release a bleeped-out version of the film (which would likely cripple any of its probably cringe-inducing scenes of actual bullying), or attempt to cut it down to a point where the MPAA would accept it. It's ridiculous, of course, that a film that might shed some light on a problem which causes many kids to accept suicide rather than face another day of school should be held to the same standards as Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star, but when you're dealing with a rigid bureaucracy, you can't expend them to bend instantly. Unfortunately for most of us, the MPAA shows no signs of even wishing to allow for exceptions to its rigid rules, even in cases where the social good might be served.
In the meantime, a Michigan student has started a change.org petition targeted at the MPAA, asking that they allow the film to be rated PG-13. If Weinstein's appeal didn't make a difference, it's unlikely that her petition will do anything, but if you'd like to sign it, it already has over 100,000 signatures.