EdMedia Commons Archive

‘Bully’: Is ‘Unrated’ Better Than ‘R’?

The continuing saga of Bully’s MPAA rating reached a sort of non-resolution Monday, when Harvey Weinstein announced that the Weinstein Co. will release the film, which follows the lives of a group of students coping with bullying at school, without its R rating. The MPAA recently upheld that rating in the face of a vocal protest from supporters of the documentary.

While a move like Weinstein’s might typically be disastrous for a film’s box-office prospects (in general, theater owners are positively allergic to anything outside the standard ‘G to R’ scale), Bully might be a special case. The film has had strong support online thanks to a savvy social media campaign, and traditional media commentators seem largely sympathetic to the filmmakers and critical of the MPAA.

The AMC theater chain has announced that it will show Bully, though it will require children under 17 to either be accompanied by a parent or guardian or present a permission slip, which is provided by the company on its website. 

Though getting AMC’s blessing for this unusual move is no small victory, the documentary’s path to its audience is still going to be more difficult without a rating attached. As of this writing, there has been no word yet from Regal Cinemas (the nation’s largest chain) about its plans. It’s a shame the film might get less screen time because of this controversy, says Valerie Strauss on the WaPo’s Answer Sheet blog:

The [R] rating is intended to send a message to parents that the film has strong content that they should review, but, as it turns out, it’s not really the violent and painful themes that are at issue. It’s ‘bad’ language — you know, a word that we can’t publish but that kids and their parents say every day.

That view doesn’t persuade the Parents Television Council, which issued its own statement in support of the MPAA’s ruling, and the overall practice of rating films:

“Either ratings mean something, or they don’t. The MPAA’s job is not to make subjective judgments about the merit of a film or the importance of the film’s message. The MPAA’s sole task is to take an objective measure of the adult content in a film, and apply the appropriate rating.”

Is that a reasonable summary of the MPAA’s charge? Should these ratings take more into account than the number of curse words and instances of violence and sexual content?

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.