The battle to let youth see a hard-hitting documentary on bullying
The US documentary Bully, now opening across Canada, takes a harrowing look at bullying, following a handful of kids — including gays and lesbians — and showing in horrific detail the bullying they have to endure on a daily basis and the depths to which they sink. The film has been hailed as pioneering, one which could be a powerful tool for schools, educators and students. But because of its sometimes graphic language, specifically the word “fuck,” the film initially received an R rating from the MPAA in the US. That meant that anybody under 17 would have to be accompanied by an adult. After widespread outrage, the MPAA backed down, allowing the film to be released with a rating of PG-13 and a crucial scene intact, though some “fucks” were cut. In Canada, the film was rated PG — G in Quebec — meaning anyone can see it unsupervised.
“I feel completely vindicated with this resolution. While I retain my belief that PG-13 has always been the appropriate rating for this film, as reinforced by Canada’s rating, we have scored a victory from the MPAA. The support and guidance we have received throughout this process has been incredible, including the more than half a million people who signed [bullied student] Katy Butler’s petition. The scene that mattered remains untouched and intact, which is a true sign that we have won this battle.
“I was bullied as a kid. And as a filmmaker, you try and find films you connect with. I wanted to make a film that gave a voice. I wanted to try and just show it and let people walk in their shoes and experience it. Bullying exists sometimes in this construct that’s very hard to define: What is bullying? It’s often met with this response that can be minimizing, ‘Kids’ll be kids; this is just a rite of passage.’”
DIRECTOR LEE HIRSCH, WHO SPOKE AT A APR 2 TOWN HALL IN TORONTO
“Kids are the ones that need to see the movie and see what’s happening to their fellow classmates. In the US, if there’s an F-bomb, after one use it gets shoved to PG-13. Here it’s 14A after three ‘fucks,’ but it’s at our discretion.
“Language is not a concern of mine, speaking personally. Children hear this language and worse in the playground every day. We felt it deserved to be seen by a wider audience. There’s an important message in the film. Our website does warn that, ‘Hey parents, there’s something to be aware of in this film.’”
JANET ROBINSON, CHAIR OF THE ONTARIO FILM REVIEW BOARD