When Katy Butler, a high school student from Michigan, heard that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave the award-winning documentary about school bullying an "R" rating because of questionable language, she was outraged and decided to do something about it.
Nearly 500,000 people signed her online petition (Change.org) demanding that the MPAA remove the rating, thus giving everyone the opportunity to see the movie, which opens this Friday. This mission was especially important to Butler. She is a bully victim herself, having had her finger broken by bullies in middle school.
Thankfully, Butler recovered the ball that the MPAA ratings board had fumbled. She explained that the brief use of vulgar language in the film reflects what so many young people hear every day in school when they're being bullied.
"The MPAA said they wouldn't drop the 'R' rating unless this language was removed, but nothing can remove it from the halls and playgrounds of schools where bullied students hear it each day, except education and exposure," she said.
Lee Hirsch, director of "Bully," agrees with the young activist, explaining that the small amount of language in the film that's responsible for the 'R' rating is there because it's real. He says the "unrated" designation for the film will allow the film to portray the real trauma and torment that bullied students experience each day.
The film has received the endorsement of numerous celebrities from the entertainment industry including Kelly Ripa, Justin Bieber, Johnny Depp, Randy Jackson, and football star Drew Brees.
The subject of bullying has been a hot topic locally as well. Within the last year, Behavioral Health Associates, a non-profit health care foundation based in the greater Lehighton area, has conducted a number of local forums at schools and within our communities.
We recall a public seminar held last summer at the Packer Ridge Academy in Mahoning Township in which Haley Sawyer, a Lehighton High School student, gave a sound assessment of bullying. Sawyer, who is active in Safe School Ambassadors, told the audience that students are pretty smart and know when teachers are around or when administrators are around.
She said that doing nothing, however, when witnessing bullying is wrong.
"Silence is powerful. It is consent. It is saying it's okay to treat someone that way," she said.
This Friday, that very point will be driven home for all to see in director Hirsch's riveting documentary. This is one film that should be required viewing for all school personnel, as well as parents and children.
By Jim Zbick