Documentary “Bully” Needs a PG-13 Rating

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“13 million students will be bullied in the US this year. 3 million students are absent each month because they feel unsafe at school.”–website for Bully, an upcoming documentary.

School bullying is becoming more recognized as a significant problem in the lives of youth across the country. Victims of bullying have higher rates of depression and anxiety, higher frequency of suicidal thoughts, and have poorer health status. Students who are bullied are also more likely to skip school and have lower academic success.

Bully, a documentary scheduled to appear in theaters beginning March 30th, has great potential to add to public discussions of how to enact solutions to the problem. The film follows five families as they work to change the culture of bullying in their communities.

But supporters of the documentary have run into a problem. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which assigns ratings to movies, has given the documentary an “R” rating.

Katy Butler, a high school junior in Ann Arbor, started a petition to convince the MPAA to change the rating for Bully to PG-13, allowing more youth to view the film and enabling schools to show it to students. She delivered over 200,000 signatures to the MPAA on Wednesday, March 7th.

At first I thought that perhaps the documentary was given an “R” rating for violence, perhaps depicting severe bullying in action. The rationale behind the rating, however, is for foul language.

Foul language alone should not be the barrier standing in the way of delivering this film to the ages most affected by bullying, youth under the age of 17. I am happy that Butler has taken the initiative to speak up and hopeful that these efforts succeed in obtaining a PG-13 rating, making the documentary Bully available to a wider audience. The film could be a great tool for education and a starting point for interventions with students, parents, school faculty, and community members. Efforts to make school a more welcome and safe place for youth will only succeed if they are able to actively engage in discussion for solutions in their communities.