Roger Ebert on Outrageous Rating For ‘Bully’ Movie

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.

Related stories:

Post Rated R for Language: MPAA Limits Access to Anti-Bullying Movie

Don’t Say Gay Bill Needed to Keep Indoctrinating Children, Claims Rep

Gay Ohio Teen Beaten in the Classroom Tells His Story

Image: Bully movie poster


colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

Bartley D.there were rules and standerds in hollywood at one point, things are not so "uppity" now.

as for the MMPA. nobody knows how it works.(I think)

their pannal of judges.

Duane B.
.6 years ago

We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the MPAA rating system for movies ...

Grace B.
Grace B6 years ago

Its okay to shoot people and beat them up but not use profanity, or god forbid show a nipple on tv. Gotta love the order of our ethics.

peggy p.
peggy p6 years ago

as usual, adults should be the ones who decide if this is appropriate for their children. not a judging panel. crazy rules!

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

An R rating because it includes more than one instance of the word F---! I hear it out the mouths of 5-year-olds! Just change the rating already!!

Barbara S.

This makes as much sense as showing live human birth films to only men, and how to put on condom films to only women. The ignorance of the people who make decisions FOR us has never been greater, and the number of children who might benefit from seeing this film is beyond our ability to count. STUPID people should not be allowed to make decisions for all the rest of us.

Isabelle J.
Isabelle J6 years ago


Lydia Price

It's only a word! Who really cares about swearing anyway? Just because any of us hear or see something doesn't make us be that way too! I don't swear often, but like everyone else, sometimes the situation just can't be summed up any better way. Let the kids watch what they see everyday in real life anyway. Holier than thou people make me sick!

Lauren B.

And how many kids haven't heard swearing of all sorts? Hearing words won't harm them; bullying will.

Sue H.
Sue H6 years ago

I simply don't get it. Exposure to violence in films is much more damaging than the "F" word.