I came across the petition to change the rating of a new documentary when I was on Tumblr. Usually, when I encounter petitions on social networking sites, I scroll past them on the grounds that they’re silly or not something I agree with, or that there are a billion other petitions with the same goal. This one, though, caught my attention.
The documentary in question is called “Bully” and is directed by Lee Hirsch. It follows five kids and their families, recording the impact of bullying on their lives.
The trailer makes it clear that the goal of “Bully” is not only to expose the effects of bullying and show exactly how damaging it is, but also to motivate people to do something about it.
Originally, the Motion Picture Association of America gave the documentary an “R” rating, which would have made it hard for anyone under 17 to see it. And, since the film aims to change the way middle and high school students treat each other, an “R” rating would effectively prevent the documentary from reaching its target audience.
The petition was to change the rating to “PG-13” so that kids could see it. According to Change.org, more than 500,000 people signed the petition, and now, after some minor edits, the film has been rated “PG-13.”
An article on The Vancouver Sun’s website describes how six uses of the f-bomb in the movie had resulted in the “R” rating, and how Hirsch agreed to edit out three of those in return for the rating of “PG-13.”
There never should have been a question about the rating. According to The Vancouver Sun, multiple uses of that particular curse word in a movie gets an automatic “R” rating from the MPAA, and I would agree with that in the case of any other movie.
However, this is bullying we’re talking about. I think any documentary about bullying would be incomplete if it did not include the things that kids call each other, and if I recall correctly, middle school bullies are not exactly the cleanest-mouthed of people when it comes to verbal abuse.
It’s also clear that the target audience of “Bully” consists of kids who have experienced bullying, whether they are the bullies or the victims. These kids are likely to have heard cursing before in real-life bullying situations. Taking that into consideration, it seems pointless to try to protect them from language that they have probably heard already.
Even if the f-bomb is a shocker, I think that the importance of showing kids the effects of their actions far overrules the danger of hearing an offensive word. This is a documentary that needs to be seen to have the effect its director intended, which is not only widespread acceptance that bullying is a legitimate issue, but also a shift in the way kids treat each other.
Bullying is not something that we can stop by telling children to buck up and deal with it, or repeating bland sayings like “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
It’s a harsh reality, and a documentary about it is necessarily going to be harsh. That doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t be able to see it.
Sharon Gollery/Culture editor
Sharon Gollery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org