The legendary film critic Roger Ebert has chipped in over the controversial ‘R’ rating for a film about school bullying — and suggested how it may end.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave an R rating to the documentary ‘Bully’ because it includes more than one instance of the word ‘fuck.’
The rating has been strongly criticized because it won’t reach its audience — students — and cannot be shown in schools, and the decision has led to a campaign calling on the MPAA to change the rating.
This week Katy Butler, a bullied Michigan high school student who has appeared on CNN, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and FOX & Friends, will travel to New York City to raise awareness and to attend a special film screening of “Bully” hosted by actress Meryl Streep. Butler will also be recognized by producer Harvey Weinstein at a Media Awards ceremony hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
Ebert notes that a compromise is in the air that may mean releasing a version without the ‘fucks,’ but, he writes:
If a director wants to make a film against bullying, it is not for a committee of MPAA bean-counters to tell him what words he can use. Not many years ago, the word rape was not used in newspapers, on television–or in the movies, for that matter. But there is a crime, and the name of the crime is rape, and if you remove the word you help make the crime invisible.
This is yet another example of the MPAA sidestepping ethical judgments by falling back on the technicalities of its guidelines. It is even more insidious because the MPAA never clearly spells out its guidelines, leaving it to filmmakers to guess–although they often judge by past experience. It seems to me that either the f-word is permissible, or it is not. If impermissible, nobody should use it at all in a PG-13 film. If permissible, nobody should count. Is it a magic word, a totemistic expression that dare not say its own name? Is it a vulgar equivalent of such a word as G-d?
Over the years the MPAA’s close ties with the business of motion pictures has become clear in its hypocrisy involving sex and nudity. Films depicting much nudity and sex can usually count on an R rating. Yet it’s fair to say that a film can contain a great deal of violence and still qualify for PG-13. Sometimes the MPAA seems to be slipping in a value judgment with odd wordings, like “zombie violence,” to signal that it’s not all that serious, you see.
The MPAA has painted itself into a corner. It will be interesting to follow this case. I suspect that the MPAA will somehow devise a way to give “Bully” a PG-13 and yet make it appear that it upholds its standards. But the fact is, unless it sticks to its R rating it has exposed the entire Code for the bean-counting it is. It will be expected again in the future to allow value judgments to affect its ratings.
There is a petition to the MPAA.
Image: Bully movie poster