March 30, 2012

"Bully" Controversy

A documentary about bullying is dealing with an MPAA rating that could keep teens from seeing it.

Jessica: There is a new movie in theaters today; a documentary about a topic you probably already know something about. The film Bully takes a very hard look at the pain and cruelty some students inflict on others.

Meet Alex Libby.

Alex Libby: People think I’m different, not normal. Most kids don’t want to be around me.

Jessica: He is one of the people featured in the new documentary Bully.

The film’s cameras captured Alex’s typical bus ride to school.

“I’d show forty seconds because it’s very powerful.”

Alex: Every day could be different. You never know. But it was all in same pattern. They always put hands on me. But punching, kicking stomping, sitting, strangling me, calling me names, stabbing me.

Jessica: I sat down with Alex and the filmmaker Lee Hirsch.

When you first saw it, what did you think of it?

“It was sad. I don’t let my feelings show but inside was thinking how horrifying.”

Jessica: Were you shocked by some of the things you saw when you were making this documentary?

Lee Hirsch: I was shocked by indifference, struggles of families and kids to be heard. That was the thing that kept surprising and so disturbing. The bullying was disturbing but that I understood the level of failure on parts of teachers, administrators and communities to be willing to be accountable from the documentary, Alex’s principal talking to Alex’s parents.”

“Buses are notoriously bad places for lots of kids. I wish I could make it stop but I’m not going to lie, I can’t. But we can put him on another bus.”

Lee: That’s the thing that has to be stopped. This film is one giant active intervention. You can’t deny the violence, terror and cruelty so you’re not going to say ‘kids are kids.’ You say I can do better, I can step in, step up. And that’s the message of the film.

Jessica: But it is a message you may miss. The documentary has been rated R because it contains strong language. That means anyone under the age of 17 must be accompanied by an adult to see the movie.

“By having the rating R, it’s really missing target audience — middle school and high school students who are being bullied and doing the bullying.”

Jessica: Seventeen-year-old Katy Butler started an online petition asking the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, to change its rating to PG 13.

Katy Butler: I connected to things that Alex was going through and I know many other kids do too.

Jessica: What is wrong with letting people know it has an R-rating, that there is strong language in this movie?

Katy: This is language kids use to bully other kids. It’s language kids hear every day. We hear worse. This is these kids reality.

Jessica: The MPAA actually praises Katy for launching this discussion. But the organizatoin defends its R-rating saying:

“The R-rating and description of some language for Bully does not mean that children cannot see the film. The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration before allowing their children to view it.”

Jessica: With this whole controversy about this rating, the easiest thing to do would be to take out the strong language. Why haven’t you done that?

“There’s nothing wrong with advising kids and adults there’s strong language, but this different. The R restricts youth from seeing film.”

Alex: Basically, telling me I can’t see my own life.

Jessica: And Alex wants other young people to see his life so they can see that eventually things can get better.

Alex: I was very shy. Being on camera wasn’t my kind of thing, and I got used to it. Still a dorky person but I realized that after the film I have a lot of talents and I’m not such a dork and I should be myself all the time and that’s kind of worked out for me.

Jessica: The MPAA still has not changed its R-rating. So the company that produced the film is releasing it today unrated. That means it is up to theaters to decide if they will allow minors to see it without adults.

But the National Association of Theater Owners is advising its members to treat the film as R rated.


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