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"Bully"—Documentary's Rating Creates Dilemma for Filmmakers, Parents, and Students

UPDATE: 03/12/12

Have you heard about “Bully”?

If you haven’t, you will. And then you can decide if you'll take your kids to see it. "Bully" is a documentary film produced by the Weinstein Co., which tells the stories of what really happens to children—and their families—as a result of relentless bullying.

Filmmakers followed three students who are bullying victims—Alex, 12, from Iowa; Kelby, 16, from Oklahoma; Ja’meya, 14, from Mississippi—over the course of the 2009/2010 school year. They also followed David and Tina Long from Georgia, parents of 17-year-old Tyler Long who ended his life after years of being bullied; and Kirk and Laura Smalley of Oklahoma, whose 11-year old son Ty took his own life after years of bullying abuse. The film follows Kirk as he starts Stand for the Silent, an anti-bullying program comprised of a series of silent vigils, which he hopes will draw attention to the bullying crisis in the U.S. and lead to anti-nationwide bullying legislation.

The film won’t be released until Friday, March 30, but it’s been in the news lately because of the “R” rating it was given by the Motion Picture Association of America—a rating that has infuriated producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein appealed the rating to the MPAA three weeks ago, but the organization refused to lower the rating to PG-13 due to the film’s harsh language—language that reportedly consists of 6 uses of the “F” word used during a bullying incident caught on film. What do these rating actually mean? According to the MPAA’s ratings site, an “R” rating means: “Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.”A PG-13 rating means: “Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.”



 SchoolFamily.com wants to hear from you!

Do you feel the film's rating should be changed? If the rating was PG-13 would you let your middle school and/or high school child see it? If the R rating stands, will you take your child to see the film?

Please share your thoughts with us by commenting below!


Numerous teen groups, non-profits organizations, and individual teens are lobbying the MPAA on Weinstein’s behalf, by collecting signatures, launching Facebook pages, releasing statements, and Tweeting about the film’s rating and why they want it changed to PG-13. Why? So that middle school and high school kids can go see the film. As any parent of a ‘tween or teen knows, attending a movie with Mom and Dad just isn’t cool. Perhaps more importantly, a PG-13 rating would mean the movie could be shown in schools. One high school student collected thousands of signatures and was invited to appear on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” this week, where DeGeneres pledged her support to the ratings appeal and signed the petition herself. “I think it’s an important movie and I think it can save lives,” DeGeneres said.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has also supported the film, featuring it on a recent episode on his show. Cooper is a longtime advocate of anti-bullying programs.   

In the meantime, Weinstein has announced that his company may consider releasing the film without a rating, effectively boycotting the MPAA. That, in turn, has infuriated theatre owners. In response to Weinstein’s statement, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has warned Weinstein that it will urge its members to give the film an “NC-17” rating—“No One 17 and Under Admitted”—which is even more restrictive than the film’s current R rating.

Since many students who are learning disabled are often targets of cruel bullying, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), a sponsor of the documentary, is joining the call for the rating change.

In an email sent to SchoolFamily.com, James Wendorf, executive director of the NCLD, had this to say about the film’s R-rating:

“[The] National Center for Learning Disabilities fully supports efforts to reduce the R rating currently assigned to the film ‘Bully’ and bring it to a broader audience. Bullying is nothing less than a crisis in this country, with 13 million American children waking up every morning fearing abuse from their peers.

“It is a fact NCLD knows all too well. Sixty percent of children with learning disabilities and other special needs say they have been seriously bullied, and that is why we joined with other special needs advocacy organizations to provide support for this vital film.

“Until parents understand this crisis and children and teens see and own the consequences of their behavior, there is little hope for improvement.”

UPDATE: 03/12/12, 10:52 A.M.: Due to the urging of Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), now the president of the MPAA, will take part in a panel discussion this Thursday, March 15 in Washington, D.C., along with “Bully” producer Harvey Weinstein and director Lee Hirsch. The film will be shown to a group of teachers and principals invited from schools in the Washington area, followed by their participation in the panel discussion.

Tips for Parents on How to Prevent Bullying

The National Center for Learning Disabilities realizes that bullying involves not only the victim, but also the one doing the bullying, and those who witness the bullying but don’t do anything about it. These tips from the NCLD can help parents figure out what to do:

  • Stop bullying before it starts. Let everyone at your child’s school know that you are on the prowl for signs of bullying and that you expect everyone else to do the same. Preventing and stopping bullying is a shared responsibility, and one that is not voluntary. Ask to see the school-wide no-bullying policy and ask that the details regarding recognizing and reporting, consequences, and prevention activities be shared frequently with parents and faculty.
  • Use the word “bullying” with your child. Make sure they know what it means. They may not know that the hurtful behavior they are being forced to endure is wrong, mistaking it for “attention” or “acceptance” from peers. If your child is the one doing the bullying, help him to understand the negative impact it has on his status. And if your child is a bystander when bullying is taking place, help her to know what options she has—doing nothing not being one of them—without fear of being targeted herself.
  • Help your child know what to do. Assure him that he will not get in trouble. The perceived consequences of “tattling” could be keeping your child from sharing his bullying experiences. Help your child know the difference between “tattling” and “reporting an incident of bullying.” This is equally important for the children who are being victimized, those who are the aggressors, or those who are bystanders.
  • Know your rights and don’t be afraid to exercise them. The U.S. government, under both education and civil rights law, recognizes that bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination. Include a goal about bullying in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); ask about bullying at every parent teacher conference; and if bullying issues are not properly addressed, be prepared to file a formal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

For more information on bullying, SchoolFamily.com has an entire section on bully awareness and prevention, with numerous articles and blog entries including what to do if you child is being bullied; tips about preventing cyberbullying; what to do if your child is the bully; and more. Readers may also benefit from reading Fast Facts on Bullying, produced by the Office for Civil Rights. 


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#19 Erin 2012-03-27 14:34
Why in the world would it be rated R instead of PG13!? This is about our young children and words like that do come out of their mouth so obviously if a child uses these words then they should HEAR them too! Children are mean at a very early age and I think even younger than 13 should watch this movie. Watch it with everyone you can because if effects EVERYONE at every AGE!
And for the parents of the bullies, its a shame they don't realize how their kids are, or when they do find out they have some excuse like 'kids will be kids' NO YOU have to teach them the right way to respect!
And for those that are victims, why do parents not know, how do you know not know that your child is hurt, whether they speak it out or not?!

Parents need to be more involved in their childs life. Not only as a PTO member, but also as a parent volunteer, I notice parents are overly excited to just drop off their kids and not have to deal with them for most part of the day. THey have no idea what in the world is going on beyond those school doors and it really pisses me off how not only clueless they are but disrespectful to the school rules too.

Show this movie to kids of all ages and show it PROUD! Then have a great lesson with those kids on what was right, what was wrong and what can you do.
#18 Alayna 2012-03-22 15:09
#17 Deborah Slager 2012-03-21 02:17
I think all school age children should see the film. Bulling is a BIG PROBLEM IN SCHOOLS TODAY!! Deborah
#16 Rosella Gadison 2012-03-19 22:04
I think that if the rating could be changed to pg-13,it would be good for tween and teenagers to see to know how their actions affect others. If the rating is not changed, I would still strongly consider taking my children. They already hear those words at school and even in private schools they stumble across cuss words. We as parents try to shelter our children from such behavior but the thing is we are not with our children 24 hours a day and in most cases have no control. Therefore, we have to teach our kids that the use of the f*** word is not acceptable no matter how or when it is used.
#15 Gracie 2012-03-19 19:22
I would not take my child to see movie if it involves words with f*** period! if you choose to keep those words then the rating should remain R!
#14 Gracie Lissner 2012-03-19 19:19
I believe the rating should remain R if they choose to keep the f*** words in it. If you really want to make it PG13 then change those words to stupid or something, Come on! I dont want my child exposed to f*** words. We have enough junk out there already.
#13 massey 2012-03-19 03:04
I plan on seeing the movie with my daughter reguardless of the rating, but if the language is the only issue than the rating should be pg 13. THIS IS AN OPPERTUNITY FOR A PARENT TO TALK TO THEIUR KIDS ABOUT THE SERIOUSNESS OF THIS ISSUE. it amazes me that parents have been more lax about the violence and sexual content in the kids movies but are worried about the use of bad language. lets be real. my 11 yr old and her dad and i will be watching it with her and well have open discussion with her as we always do.
#12 Alta 2012-03-19 00:23
Bullying is wrong coming up as a child you would be in trouble for talking about someone that was hurt or disabled you were taught compassion and to care about other peoples feelings.

Like in a hospital you are taught not to stare and react to patients. We stopped loving our neighbors when we took prayer out of the homes and schools.

I do not take my children to see movies with cursing in it. We have a TV Guardian that blocks foul language from coming into our home. I also don't believe health, or sex education class has to show pictures of sexual conduct shadows pictures or otherwise, to get a point across.

I don't want sexually explicit images of something burnt into my children's brain to make a point and we shouldn't use curse words to try and bring about good behavior. Speaking correctly can do that by itself. This is why movies about bullying should not use foul language ever to make a point.
#11 Doris 2012-03-16 21:02
This highly restrictive rating is unwarranted. Who censors the bullies that many children have to put up with? As reflected in the comments above, majority of the kids who need to see this movie the most will be prevented from seeing it if this rating is not changed to PG-13. That would be disastrous and defeat the whole purpose of this movie.
#10 Suzie 2012-03-16 19:12
I think they could easily bleep out the f-word and lower the rating to PG-13. The bleeping may raise other questions from our children but isn't that what we want? Open communication and inquiring kids? It is a learning experience all the way around. Also, if a child is oblivious to profanity, they may be oblivious to a potential bully's actions. Bullying and profanity usually go hand-in-hand. I say get over being upset about the word and get really upset about bullying!

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