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by Leslie Gornstein | Thu., Mar. 15, 2012 5:10 AM
Oleg Nikishin/Epsilon/Getty Images
Are the Bully filmmakers and their celebrity fans still whining about the film's R-rating? Doesn't that make them the bullies?
—Shelley, via the inbox
You speak of a film showing children being intimidated, beaten and threatened with death by their bullies. You then compare those thugs to a group of filmmakers protesting the film's assignment of an R rating.
Filing appeals and passing around a petition is not bullying, so, no, I'm calling B.S. on that false equivalency.
That said, the real-life drama surrounding this film could be far from over:
You've probably heard of this documentary already:
Bully, in which Lee Hirsch follows children from the Midwest and South who are, well, being bullied. In one incredible scene, a school official scolds a boy who hesitates to accept an apology from a kid who has threatened to kill him.
Citing concerns over "some language" (bullies don't exactly speak the King's English) the Motion Picture Association of America assigned the film an R rating. Rated-R movies, of course, indicate a restricted audience; the MPAA suggests that parents accompany viewers under 17, the very people who most need to see this film, according to its supporters.
The Weinstein Co. appealed the decision but failed. Friends of the film, including Justin Bieber, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Ellen DeGeneres and Demi Lovato, are pushing a petition to reverse the MPAA decision.
And critics of the MPAA are still, at this very hour, raising their voices against the action. After all, the MPAA may get lots of love from parents, but it's also a group whose raters are hand-picked by big studios and who share very little detail on how their decisions are made.
"The MPAA has a long history of really outrageous censorship, but this case, in many ways, is one of the most egregious," says Kirby Dick, who blew open the secrets of the MPAA in the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated. "It's the MPAA who is really one of the biggest bullies in the business."
Because the MPAA is controlled by big companies, Dick notes, "They've been bullying small independent films for decades."
So what happens next?
Well, I just got off the phone with the MPAA, and it doesn't appear to be budging, not even in the wake of 300,000 petition signatures. A spokesman tells me the MPAA has no process for a second appeal.
No surprise there, Dick tells me.
"They are masters of spin," Dick says of the MPAA. "Even if the pressure against them gets really strong, they'll just come out and say they are making changes. But those changes they say they're making will be insignificant, and they won't even follow through with them."
Now: Hirsch can recut the film in hopes of getting a more approachable rating, but in an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel Tuesday, he said he'd rather not.
"At the end of the day, if we had to do that, I would probably be open to it," Hirsch said, "but...it has to be seen in a way that's honest. And if we whitewash these experiences again, we're sort of back into that landscape of minimizing the experience of bullying, making it more palatable. That would be a great disappointment to me."
If Hirsch and Weinstein do resubmit a recut version, there's a good chance that a new rating could be assigned by the time the film opens at the end of the month.
"We try to work with filmmakers" in such cases, the MPAA spokesman tells me.
However, don't expect any such changes anytime soon.
Instead the Weinstein Co. is taking its uncut show on the road, trying get as many people to see this movie despite the rating. Tomorrow, the movie is being screened in Washington D.C. for area principals.
The Weinstein Co. is also sponsoring a contest to bring the film to 10 cities nationwide. And Harvey himself plans to present an honor to the petition's creator, Katy Butler, duing the upcoming GLAAD Media Awards.
And finally, this:
Weinstein also is threatening to cease relations with the MPAA. That's right: He just might take his balls and go home. I asked the Weinstein folks about whether there was anything new on this front. Their response? Nothing yet, but, tantalizingly enough: "Check back tomorrow."