Just a few F-words stand between the documentary Bully and its desired PG-13 rating. The Weinstein Company has been actively fighting to overturn the MPAA's R rating of the movie. It has already lost an appeal, and now the company is threatening to withdraw from the MPAA altogether.
I saw Bully last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, which was attended by the director and some of the people featured in the documentary. It was a moving experience. I left chock-full of empathy and outrage, especially after seeing the school administrators, teachers, and bus drivers who failed to recognize the severity of the situation. Verbal abuse (including those F-words) is more prevalent than physical abuse. I can't say I counted how many F-bombs were dropped. What I was more bothered by was seeing this language and abuse directed at a student.
I think most middle school and high school students have the maturity to handle the language in the film. But I also think that parents and teachers are the ones who will err on the side of caution. Parents will probably think they're showing children something they've never seen before. Administrators and teachers will be afraid of offending parents or getting in trouble with higher-ups. It's mainly about saving face, not the actual content. If this movie were PG-13, everyone would have the excuse "but it's PG-13" to use in order to signal the movie's appropriateness. If it's hit with an R rating, parents and teachers will have to evaluate the movie's appropriateness on a case-by-case basis and risk ire from those who look at the movie's rating, not its content.
If I correctly recall from my own experience in high school, we could see R-rated movies in class with a permission slip. Of course, this high school was in a comparatively liberal area compared to the rest of the nation. Bully follows students from Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Iowa. The Oklahoma student is the target of unbelievably hateful bullying solely because she is a lesbian. Her tormentors try to run her over with their car. Ha-ha.
Bully should be shown to students, parents, teachers, and administrators. If that means bleeping out a few F-words, I honestly feel that The Weinstein Company should capitulate. How else will students in conservative, Bible Belt districts see the movie? However, The Weinstein Company is right to challenge the MPAA for its stance on the "F" word. Currently, the MPAA allows one F-word in a PG-13-rated film, as long as it's not in a sexual context. Last year Weinstein Co. release The King's Speech was rated R because a character swearing was a freeing act that helped with his stuttering. Here it's used to illustrate hate speech. Shouldn't context matter? There are far more racy things in PG-13 movies than a few F-words. Exhibiting the movie with an R rating will exclude the audiences who need to see the movie most. I hope the MPAA caves. Failing that, I hope Weinstein Co. adds the few bleeps that will make this movie acceptable to wide audiences.