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Editor’s blog: Why the film “Bully” should be rated PG

Update: CBS News report April 5: The Weinstein Co. says the rating for the documentary “Bully” has been lowered from R to PG-13. The company announced Thursday that an edited version of the film will be released April 13 with a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. The MPAA originally gave the film an R rating for language and declined to change it when the Weinstein Co. appealed.

Every day in third grade, a boy in class would glare at me whenever the teacher wasn’t looking. He’d slowly punch one fist into the palm of his other hand. My stomach would clench up.

He was warning me about the playground abuse that was sure to follow. He was the ringleader, but he got a group of boys to push me down and kick at me every day. It got bad enough that my mom had to start picking me up because I couldn’t safely get to the bus.

Once she and my dad intervened with the bully’s parents, it stopped – but it seemed to go on forever, pretty much erasing anything that was good about third grade.

I also stood on the sidelines – or even actively participated in – the bullying of other kids in elementary school. I remember chasing one boy, who was very tall and overweight, all over the playground, pushing him down and stuffing dried leaves in his pants until tears streamed down his reddened face. We chased another girl and tortured her so much, she ran – literally – all the way home in the middle of the school day.

These memories are painful, but they illustrate an important point. Almost all of us have been bullied – and have been bullies ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle and one that can be stopped with a keen awareness of a school and community culture and what’s considered acceptable behavior.

A rating without a cause

With what seems like increasing frequency, children as young as 10 or 11 are choosing to end their lives rather than


face another day of torment at the hands of a bully. This is simply unacceptable. It is also unacceptable that the Motion Picture Association of America gave a new documentary film called “Bully” an R rating. As such, it’s very difficult to get the film shown at schools – which is where it needs to be seen. Apparently there are too many uses of the “F” bomb.  (Watch the G-rated trailer above).

This does boggle the mind, considering the ever-loosening standards of what we can see on our TVs, computers and iPhones. How many times do you see someone get shot to death in a given day, hour or even minute? One 2002 study found that adolescents who watch more than three hours of TV daily are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior as adults. And, unless there is a parent restricting what shows kids watch (increasingly difficult with so much programming available online), then kids are already exposed to untold amounts of sex, violence, and profanity every day.

So, I ask, where’s the harm in allowing students younger than age 17 to watch a film about the realities of bullying that might actually cause them to rethink their behavior? If this rational argument isn’t working then I’ll resort to star power. Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep and Ellen DeGeneres oppose the R rating. Enough said.

There is one other option. Head north to Canada, where two provinces have rated the film PG. Or, if you want to have an impact on the rating here, consider signing the petition at Change.org, which calls for a PG-13 rating. I just became signer 446,442. And learn more about The Bully Project.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.