NEW YORK (PIX11)—"Bully" is a movie that shines a light on the ugly torment many children suffer at the hands of other children. The documentary opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles, but faces a formidable hurdle. Rather than get slapped with the "R" rating the Motion Picture Association gave it, the producers are choosing to release it as "unrated"--usually a rating that means the film has lots of violence or is very sexually explicit. But the filmmaker is hoping in this case it means more kids will get to see it.
When you see the video taken of a young Alex on his daily trips to school aboard the familiar school bus, your heart breaks. The boy is punched, pushed, hit, strangled, even stabbed with pencils. And he just seems to take it all, sometimes with what looks like a slight smile on his face. It's what the documentary "Bully" is hoping to bring to light; that our children face torments like these every day. Film maker Lee Hirsch followed Alex and several other children and families during an entire school year.
Alex, now a few years older, explained on the Anderson Cooper show, "I'm just smiling because I don't want to show them my true feelings, and I just smile and take it because it's not hurting me and I don't like it but it's not hurting me so I just smile and pretend it's a joke." But the pain behind his eyes could nearly drown out his words. And that's what Hirsch wants all of us to take a good, long, hard, look at. And not forget it.
Although heartbreaking and maddening, Hirsch believes by watching children torment other children and seeing the wounds up close, it may get kids, parents, and educators working to change how we deal with it. If the film kept it's R rating, producers argue it would keep kids under 17 out, unless with a parent. By the way, the R rating was for a string of curses one child rains down upon another in just one single outburst.
I asked Hirsch why he didn't just take the offensive language out of the picture. "Sure," he said, "But that's what people are asked to do with these experiences. Cut them down, minimize them, clean them up. I think the language is important."
Movie critic Marshall Fine says it shows how the movie ratings system is flawed--and says that R rating may stigmatize parents with good intentions to keep kids away from the film.
Marshall Fine explained it, "The F-word is used more times than is allowed for a PG 13 rating. But it's being used by kids who obviously know the word. There's much more important information in this film than curse words."
Now an on-line petition at Change.org to lower the rating to PG-13 started by Katy Butler, who was bullied, has half a million signatures. And Hirsch said he sticks by his choice to keep the harsh language in the film, "This language conveys the experience of bullying and to take it away would make the film dishonest and take away from those painful experiences."