Should I let my child see “Bully”?
The March 2012 movie titled “Bully” is currently awash in a sea of controversy. The movie details the lives of several American children who are faced with cruel bullying on a regular basis, and it documents the harm that bullying can cause to the delicate emotional health of children and teens. It sends a powerful message, one that is sure to have an impact on teens and parents everywhere.
So what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is, the movie received an R rating* (initially, see April 6 update below) from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This rating would have meant that the movie would be off limits to unaccompanied children and teens, meaning the movie’s message will be inaccessible to those who need to hear it the most.
An R rating also means that parents who aren’t familiar with the movie would likely forbid their children from seeing the film (based on the rating alone) without understanding that they are depriving their children of an important message.
Furthermore, many areas have rules prohibiting teachers from screening R-rated movies in the classroom, so this rating would have also prevented schools- arguably the place where most bullying takes place- from showing the film.
As a result, the film’s distributor ultimately decided to release the film without a rating. This raised a few new problems, however, as unrated films are often associated with the dreaded NC-17 rating reserved for adult films (usually pornography). Most movie theaters nationwide therefore decline to show movies that are unrated. But please understand that this movie is not pornography, and despite the R rating, it is also not a film meant for adults alone.
Why did the film get such a harsh rating?
The reason that “Bully” received and R rating is that the film contains some crude language. Specifically, there are some scenes (not many, but some) where young people are shown using the “F word.” While no parent wants their child exposed to such harsh language, it is important to look past the language itself and see what it represents.
Remember, when the film’s distributors received the R rating, they had the option of editing or removing the controversial language. This would have lessened the severity of the rating, and as a result, the movie would have been available to a much wider audience, thus increasing profits.
But here’s the thing: The distributors didn’t care about profits so much as they cared about the film’s important message. This message, they argue, needs to be made available to children and teens in as pure a form as possible, and sanitizing the language serves to strip the film of some of its meaning. Bullying is harsh, and the language of bullying is equally so.
The language is not ideal, and no parent wants to expose their child to dirty words. But most children, whether we like to admit it or not, are exposed to this type of language on almost a daily basis. And some of those children, like the ones portrayed in this movie, are exposed to this language as the victims of bullying.
That’s exactly the point this movie is trying to make, that although bullying is an uncomfortable topic, it is intolerable and must be addressed. As a parent, it is important to remember that this type of language is not being thrown around without purpose: It is coming from children, and it is directed at other children, often the victims of bullying.
Only you know your child, of course. But if your son or daughter is of reasonable age and you prohibit them from seeing this movie to shelter them from the occasional curse word, you could be doing them a grave disservice.
*April 6, 2012 update: According to the Weinstein Company website (produced the film), the MPAA has lowered the R rating to PG-13 without the director, Lee Hirsch, having to edit a controversial but plot crucial scene that involves a boy being bullied on a bus. This is a key victory for parents, educators and victims of bullying.