PG-13 Versus R – Bully Edition

I HATE the PG-13 rating so I wanted to talk about it. It did not take long before I realized that this would encompass more than a single post.

Bully (listed as The Bully Project on Netflix) (2011)

Exploring the subject of school bullying from a personal angle, this eye-opening documentary tracks the stories of five different families whose children are struggling to defend themselves on a near-daily basis.

Bully is due to be released in theaters at the end of March. I have not seen this film but the MPAA has rated it R for “some language”. I imagine it is quite a bit of language (word is that it is for six expletives) as the academy appears to have dropped their unwritten rule of ‘only one F-bomb per PG-13 film’ quite some time ago. As far back as 1989, the movie Tremors was absolutely chock full of profanity and managed a PG-13 rating (though it did avoid sexual profanity).

This is very much a message movie, though how important I’m not sure, not having seen it. I will admit that I was bullied in high school and I imagine almost everyone has been a bully, bullied or has at the very least witnessed bullying. With a number of recent suicides from bullying making the news, this is certainly a timely documentary.

Bully was well-received by Anderson Cooper who featured it on his eponymous program Anderson Cooper 360 last October. The Weinsteins received an R rating from the MPAA. They appealed and I guess not surprisingly, their appeal was denied. Ostensibly Harvey Weinstein wants this rated PG-13 so that schools will be able to show it as a public service and that teens will be able to see it on their own in theaters.

Harvey Weinstein has taken his fight to the press and has even threatened, toothlessly, to no longer submit his films to the ratings board. Of course that would mean that mainstream theaters would no longer carry his films as the National Association of Theater Owners works hand in glove with the MPAA.

Harvey Weinstein went around and around with the MPAA over their decision to slap last year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech with an ‘R” rating (for ‘some language’). After it won, Harvey capitulated and had the film re-cut for a PG-13 rating (for ‘language’). I have seen the R-rated version and while there is plenty of language, I did not find any of it objectionable with the context. Besides, prior to its win, were teens likely to go see this?

The 2004 Iraq War documentary, Gunner Palace, dropped the F-bomb a record 42 times. In addition to that and other strong language, the film also contains violent situations and some drug references. In spite of that, the MPAA reversed its original ‘R’ rating and gave Gunner Palace a PG-13 on appeal. So does this mean in eight years, we have actually become a more restrictive society? That language is somehow naughtier now?

Note: While Gunner Palace set the record for F-bombs in a PG-13 movie, I believe South Park – Bigger, Longer, Uncut still holds the R rated record of 146 F-bombs. If you want to know what a film is rated and why, there is a nice site here, Reasons for Movie Ratings.