The MPAA began, in slightly different form, to act in part as a tool for the early Hollywood studios. But it also quickly became a self-regulating arm of the film industry, an attempt to pacify those who accused movies of moral lapses without letting control over the business pass to a government agency. The MPAA has seen its share of controversy over many decades of existence, but in the last ten years has seemed more and more out of touch with common standards. Cite, if you will, the board’s inflexible approach towards ‘foul’ language, or a permissive attitude towards violence that contrasts with a severe distaste for sex, especially if the film in question is the product of a major studio.

Harvey Weinstein has had several battles with the MPAA in recent years, and the latest is over the documentary Bully. The film, a trailer for which we showed you yesterday, was rated R for scenes in which kids speak like kids do — that is, with some bad language. Weinstein appealed the R rating today, and lost by a single vote. Now he is threatening to do something that perhaps only Harvey could get away with: a wholesale break from the MPAA.

Update: The MPAA has released a statement in response to Weinstein’s threat. Read that below.

Deadline announces that Weinstein and his company are considering “a leave of absence from the MPAA for the foreseeable future” after the board upheld Bully‘s R rating.

This is a bit different from the situation with The King’s Speech, which Weinstein wanted rated down from an R to PG-13 in order to appeal to family audiences. With Bully, he and director Lee Hirsch had planned showings in schools, the better to get across the film’s message of tolerance and hope to put an end to the bullying behavior that has led to several suicides in recent years.

Could The Weinstein Company get by without MPAA-sanctioned ratings? Given that the board has no true censorship power, it is possible, though advertising and theatrical bookings can still be tied specifically to ratings doled out by the MPAA. But if anyone is going to break the board, it might be Harvey. Or is this just another example of the producer’s sublime ability to manipulate public and press attention?

Here’s the statement from the Weinsteins:

As of today, The Weinstein Company is considering a leave of absence from the MPAA for the foreseeable future. We respect the MPAA and their process but feel this time it has just been a bridge too far.

I have been through many of these appeals, but this one vote loss is a huge blow to me personally. Alex Libby gave an impassioned plea and eloquently defended the need for kids to be able to see this movie on their own, not with their parents, because that is the only way to truly make a change.

With school-age children of my own, I know this is a crucial issue and school districts across the U.S. have responded in kind. The Cincinnati school district signed on to bus 40,000 of their students to the movie – but because the appeals board retained the R rating, the school district will have to cancel those plans.

I personally am going to ask celebrities and personalities worldwide, from Lady Gaga (who has a foundation of her own) to the Duchess of Cambridge (who was a victim of bullying and donated wedding proceeds) to First Lady Michelle Obama (whose foundation has reached out to us as well), to take a stand with me in eradicating bullying and getting the youth into see this movie without restriction.

Update: Here’s the response from the MPAA.

“Bullying is a serious issue and is a subject that parents should discuss with their children. The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that Bully can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions.

The MPAA also has the responsibility, however, to acknowledge and represent the strong feedback from parents throughout the country who want to be informed about content in movies, including language.

The rating and rating descriptor of ‘some language,’ indicate to parents that this movie contains certain language. With that, some parents may choose to take their kids to this movie and others may not, but it is their choice and not ours to make for them. The R rating is not a judgment on the value of any movie. The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration before allowing their children to view it. Once advised, many parents may take their kids to see an R-rated film. School districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval.”

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