“Bully” Documentary’s R Rating Warranted? Interferes with Message?

Lee Hirsch is a documentary filmmaker with a passion. He wanted to take the world inside schools to analyze the effects of the phenomenon of late that has come to be classified as bullying on children and their families. To get the real dirt, as we like to say here at Common Sense Conspiracy, Hirsch spent over a year at three different schools in Sioux City, Iowa, capturing real, non-fiction film that makes what Hollywood sells us as “reality shows” take on a whole new meaning. Before we go any further, take a second to check out the trailer:

Almost everyone has encountered some form of bullying in their life, but the documentary really brings home just how damaging the effects of this all-too-often socially accepted rite of passage can be. To make the documentary as hard-hitting as it could be, Hirsch did not shy away from profane language or violence. After all, to bring a topic like this to households effectively, one has to report it like it happens. Let’s face it. While parents frequently shelter their kids from racial slurs, profanity, obscene talk in general, and other things that might not be allowed to show on your average thirty-minute national television sitcom, the truth is that your kids have heard these things, and probably worse than you think.

Lee Hirsch’s mission was thwarted somewhat when it came time to submit his film to the MPAA for rating. We all know the typical ratings that apply to every movie. But “Bully” is not an ordinary film. It was eventually assigned a rating of “R” based on strong language. The film has its share of what are traditionally recognized as curse words, and even worse, they are used in a terrifically derogatory manner. However, Hirsch insists that he felt that the language, uncensored and uncut, was essential to delivering the message he set out to deliver. He recognizes that the spoken word, language, is often a more hurtful part of bullying than any act of violence could be. Despite attempts to get the film’s rating reduced to “PG-13,” the MPAA wasn’t willing to play ball, and some theaters are releasing the film as not having a rating as a result.

For parents, this makes the decision even more difficult on whether to let their child view the now controversial film. Generally, an “R” rating means that a person under the age of seventeen cannot view the film without having a parent present. However, this is dismantling Lee Hirsch’s vision for the film, because he wants as many young people as possible to see it, hoping it will cause an emotional reaction with them that can really have a positive impact on the phenomenon of bullying.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with parents being concerned about films that their children are viewing. And, typically, strong language is a factor in that. However, it is the opinion of Common Sense Conspiracy that while profanity is not something we ordinarily want our kids exposed to, they are exposed to it whether we want them to or not. The documentary illustrates this perfectly. To not allow kids to get the positive message because of something as silly as curse words is almost counter-productive. Remember Mel Gibson’s controversial “Passion of the Christ” film? It was so violent in its portrayal of the treatment of Jesus Christ in the final hours of his life that many people were left wondering if it was appropriate viewing material. However, sometimes people need a two-by-four to the head to wake up, and “Bully” could be one of those examples.

In the end, it is the decision of every parent what their child does or does not see, but it’s important to realize that curse words, while indecent and inappropriate, are a fact of life, and the overall message of the film should not be marred by its rating. Sometimes parents have to weigh the pros and cons in these situations and decide whether those pros outweigh the cons of a little negative influence upon the way.

So, as always, we put it to the real test, our readers. What do you think?

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