Why kids won’t get to see “Bully”, why they should, and what you can do about it

Sometimes, I am absolutely, completely, mind-blowingly befuddled by the total insanity of well-meaning parents.

At the end of March, a documentary will be released to select theaters around the country, a film that could contribute tremendously to the fight to end the epidemic of bullying in our society.

Unfortunately, the people who most need to see it — kids in upper elementary and middle school — won’t get to.

Recently, the MPAA slapped an R rating on the acclaimed movie, “Bully,” because of language concerns.

Filmed over the course of one year, the documentary follows five families suffering the pain, violence and, for not one, but two families, the tragic results of bullying — the suicide of each of their sons. The film shows students at school and on the bus tormenting each other with words and fists; kids tell their stories and how they feel; and adults are presented in both the best and worst light.

I imagine that a few f-bombs might get dropped here and there, especially in the scenes where kids are whaling on and screaming at their victims. But apparently such language is inappropriate for kids to see. (Since the rating was limited to language only, I guess the brutality of the bullying is less disturbing than some cursing. Who knew?)

MPAA ratings are determined by what amounts to a focus group of typical American parents, culled from communities around the country, who decide how most people will feel about images. They are not connected to the film industry. According to the MPAA site, “Their job is to rate each film as they believe a majority of American parents would rate it, considering relevant themes and content.”

A quick scan of the ratings of last year’s R-rated titles shows that almost all of the ratings were given for reasons such as “strong sexual content,” “extreme violence,” “bloody violence,” “disturbing images,” “drug use,” “graphic nudity.”  Hardly any movies are given the dreaded rating for language only — other than “Bully,” some of last year’s big language offenders included “Carnage,” “Evil Things,” and “House Arrest.”

And, in case you didn’t know, here’s the explanation of what an R rating means, according to CARA (The Classification and Ratings Administration): CONTAINS SOME ADULT MATERIAL. PARENTS ARE URGED TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE MOTION PICTURE BEFORE TAKING THEIR YOUNGER CHILDREN WITH THEM. GENERALLY, IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR PARENTS TO BRING THEIR YOUNG CHILDREN WITH THEM TO R-RATED MOTION PICTURES.

The MPAA ought to reconsider the decision, and give the movie a PG-13 designation. The R rating virtually ensures that most parents will not even consider showing it to their kids, and no school in America could get approval to use it as a worthy teaching tool in their classrooms.

CARA defines PG-13 as: PARENTS ARE URGED TO BE  CAUTIOUS.  SOME MATERIAL MAY BE INAPPROPRIATE FOR PRE-TEENAGERS. Films such as “Batman,” “Captain America” “Cowboys and Aliens” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” have garnered that somewhat more family-friendly PG-13 ratings, making them more appealing to parents.

Surely there are things more terrible than hearing a bullied 12-year-old drop a few F-bombs after he’s been brutalized on the bus for the 30th morning in a row?

On the other hand, a tortured 12-year-old is a pretty terrible image. Sadly, it’s one that a lot of kids see each day.

(I’m pretty sure a few of them have also heard an F-bomb or two. I mean, we hear “Moves Like Jagger” nine hundred times on the radio every day, and it’s pretty clear that all my kids know what that bleeped out word is, even if they don’t understand what it means or why it’s naughty.)

Okay, we all want our kids to NOT swear. I don’t curse in front of my kids, and they know better to even think about letting one slip out of their own mouths. But in the context of the bigger message of this movie, I could overlook a few inappropriate words.

Because, in the end, it’s about who should see this movie. Grownups can benefit from it, sure, especially those who shrug off bullying with phrases like “kids will be kids,” and “I was bullied and I survived, whatever, suck it up.” Others, who would do anything to stop the torture, will weep for these children — as we do whenever we read the newspaper or when our own children come home in pain — and perhaps become doubly inspired to effect change in their communities.

But the real audience for “Bully” is kids — those who will identify with all the players, from the victims to the bullies to the onlookers who ignore what’s happening.

Kids know who in their world is bullied. Maybe a movie like this would show them they are not alone, that they can make change, that what they experience is not a solitary, inescapable existence. That it doesn’t have to be like this. That the next time they walk past a bully terrorizing another kid, they should do something other than look the other way.

This movie won’t eradicate bullying, any more than having an entire elementary school student body hold hands and sing Kumbaya will. But a movie like this can start an honest conversation between kids and the adults in their lives;  witnessing real people in aching, and sometimes all-too familiar situations, can empower kids far more effectively than a study guide or once a month health class can.

A concerned teen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has drafted a petition to ask the MPAA to reduce the rating from R to PG-13, so that more kids will be able to see it. When I signed it, over 130,000 people had also added their support.

Check out my links and see if you agree — if you do, why not sign the petition?

I appreciate the MPAA parent group who act as watchdogs for our families. But this time, they would do better to care more about our children’s bodies and souls than about the effects of swearing on their tender ears.

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