Katy Butler, a 17-year-old Michigan high school student who has rallied 165,000 people against the MPAA's decision to give the documentary "Bully" an R rating, has some advice for the ratings board: Get some better rules.
"They really need to think their ratings through a little more," she told TheWrap Wednesday.
On Sunday, Butler launched a campaign on the website change.org to have the MPAA rate the documentary PG-13, rather than R. She wants the rating changed so that people younger than 17 can see the film — and so that it can be screened in schools.
The MPAA gave the documentary an R because of language in the film. "Bully," which tells the story of bullying in schools, shows young people directing extremely harsh language at others.
"Because it's rated R, the kids that are being bullied — and the bullies also — can't see this movie," Butler said. "Kids hear worse at school. … Kids know the language and they're being called these things and these words are being used in a derogatory way."
She said that "not being able to see it in a movie theater is ridiculous."
Butler hasn't seen the movie — though the Weinstein Company plans a special screening for her next week — but has seen its trailer.
On Feb. 23, Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company is distributing the documentary, unsuccessfully appealed the MPAA's decision to give "Bully" an R.
It's that language that resulted in the R rating, Joan Graves, chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration, said in a written statement.
"Bullying is a serious issue and is an important subject that parents should discuss with their children," Joan Graves, who chairs the MPAA's Classification and Ratings Administration, said in a written statement. "The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that 'Bully' can serve as a vehicle for such important discussion."
The R rating, she said, does not reflect the quality of the film. Rather, she said, "it is meant "to provide parents with adequate information on the level of content contained in the film. The R rating does not mean that children cannot see the film. As with any movie, parents will decide if the film is appropriate for their child's viewing.
"School districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval."
According to the MPAA's rules, since The Weinstein Company's appeal has been denied, the only way to switch the movie's rating is for the director to recut the movie and remove the offending language — something the director, Lee Hirsch, is unwilling to do.
And something he shouldn't do, Butler said.
"If they took the language out of the movie, it wouldn't be as powerful as it is because with those words comes all the difficult emotion behind it," she said. "It wouldn't have the same baggage and it wouldn't deliver the same message."
Butler said she received a telephone call from Hirsch, thanking her for the petition, was bullied when she was in junior high school.
"I identify as a lesbian and in middle school I was bullied and harassed repeatedly and that was an absolutely horrible experience," she said. "I don't want anyone else to have to go through this."
She became an activist last year after a Michigan anti-bullying law included a clause that gave a religious exemption for bullying. After a petition she started on change.com began to gain steam, legislators removed that clause.
The movie "Bully" is generating debate, and some of it suggests that the R rating is appropriate.
Casting director Angela M. Hutchinson issued a statement saying that the movie deserved the R rating, and the National Association of Theatre Owners told The Weinstein Company that "the vast majority of parents surveyed have indicated that the type of language used in 'Bully' should receive an automatic 'R' rating."
In a letter to Weinstein, NATO president and CEO John Fithian wrote, "You recently released the award-winning movie 'King's Speech' and must know the language rules very well. You should not have been surprised at the rating for 'Bully.'