Friday, February 24, 2012

Bullying is no longer a "Restricted" topic

Many of us in parish ministry encounters the terrible effects of bullying. Whether it is a kid trying to fit in youth group or church camp, or whose parents are beside themselves trying to get the schools to pay attention, or a kid who acts out because he can't take the pressure anymore and has no place else to go. No doubt some of us have presided at funerals where bullying got out of hand and a kid died or a kid was so harassed he committed suicide. 

In the face of a "boys will be boys" culture or a society that just shrugs saying that sometimes girls can just be mean, it easy to feel helpless. 

What if you created a documentary to describe bullying and you could not show it to kids because the real-live kids in the film use language that adults think kids should never hear.  

This is the problem facing The Weinstein Company over their film "Bully." Linda Holmes at NPR has the story:
The Weinstein Company has lost an appeal to the MPAA, which has smacked an R rating on the painful documentary Bully (which I saw at Silverdocs last year when it was called The Bully Project), from filmmaker Lee Hirsch.
The rating is for language — meaning that the reason the ratings organization is taking the position that the movie isn't appropriate for kids to see without their parents is not that it depicts violence and trauma and the aftermath of the suicides of children, but because an environment full of teenagers, when realistically portrayed, includes swearing.
The intention of the studio who bought the documentary is to show it both in theaters and at high schools and middle schools across the country.  Because he MPAA gave the film an R rating, the film will be shown to the audience at which it is aimed, containing actual dialog spoken by young people who would not be allowed in to see the film.  Yes, a documentary that is about what life is actually like for high school and middle school students was deemed inappropriate for high school and middle school students.  

The MPAA said in a statement:
Bullying is a serious issue and is a subject that parents should discuss with their children. The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that Bully can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions.
The MPAA also has the responsibility, however, to acknowledge and represent the strong feedback from parents throughout the country who want to be informed about content in movies, including language.
The rating and rating descriptor of 'some language,' indicate to parents that this movie contains certain language. With that, some parents may choose to take their kids to this movie and others may not, but it is their choice and not ours to make for them. The R rating is not a judgment on the value of any movie. The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration before allowing their children to view it. Once advised, many parents may take their kids to see an R-rated film. School districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval.
Of course, an "R" rating does not simply convey information, it determines audience and what theaters will carry the film. Holmes says"
The first thing to understand about this statement is that it's simply not the case that a rating "simply conveys to parents" information. At theaters that choose to participate in the ratings system and in enforcing it, the rating stops kids at the door if they come without an adult. It's patently disingenuous, if not outright dishonest, to refuse even to come to terms with the fact that ratings functionally limit access for kids as old as 15 and 16, many of whom are old enough that they have jobs and substantial responsibilities they take care of every day, arguing that they only convey information to parents. It's just not true.
In fact, the rating has the ability to affect access for kids whose parents never have any idea the movie even exists, so obviously, it doesn't have only the effect of conveying information to parents. It can, in fact, effectively supplant the parents by deciding that if the parents for whatever reason don't know that their kids have decided to head out to a theater to see a movie about bullying, the kids aren't admitted. Nobody, in that scenario, has gotten any information about anything. Nobody. All you have is a kid who's seeking out a documentary about bullying — a documentary that tries to take them seriously, that tries in part to show them that it understands how hard it is to be them, who can't get to it.
The Weinstein Company is considering leaving the MPAA so that they can distribute the film unedited as an unrated film.  Unfortunately that means most theaters likely won't play the film.  News of the rejection is being strongly criticized from several corners.

As one young adult said to me in his e-mail alerting me to situation: 
Anyway, you should watch the trailer.  No idea if the actual movie is any good or actually gets its message across well, but the trailer is pretty moving by itself.  Wish this stuff was recognized the way it is now back when I was in junior high/middle school/high school.  Glad it's getting attention now.

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