The Weinstein Company's 'Bully' Battle Heats Up As Exhibitor Organization Threatens To Treat The Film As NC-17

OK, this is getting absurd. First, let's recap. Lee Hirsch made a documentary called Bully that takes on the issue of bullying in schools, spurred in part by the suicides of several kids who were victims of bullying. The Weinstein Company is distributing the film, but found the picture tagged with an R rating by the MPAA, thanks to scenes in which kids talk like kids. (Read: there's some dirty words in there.)

Last week TWC appealed the rating and lost by one vote. At that point Harvey Weinstein threatened to break from the MPAA entirely. Harvey, Hirsch and others have continued to campaign for the film, which they want to be able to show in schools. A young woman named Katy Butler — herself a victim of bullying — also launched her own petition on to ask the MPAA to give the film a PG-13 rating.

Now, as Harvey talks about releasing the film unrated, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) is threatening to have association members treat the movie as if it is rated NC-17. Rarely is the argument over the release of a film so ironically captured by the film's title as it is here.

The Weinsteins today released part of a letter sent by the NATO president and CEO, which said he would,

...have no choice but to encourage my theater owner members to treat unrated movies from The Weinstein Company in the same manner as they treat unrated movies from anyone else. In most cases, that means enforcement as though the movies were rated NC-17 – where no one under the age of 18 can be admitted even with accompanying parents or guardians.

That prompted the following response from Harvey and Bob Weinstein:

As a company we have the utmost respect for the National Association of Theatre Owners, but to suggest that the film BULLY could ever be treated like an NC-17 film is completely unconscionable, not to mention unreasonable. In light of the tragedy that occurred yesterday in Ohio, we feel now is the time for the bullying epidemic to take center stage, we need to demand our community takes action.

Now, while anger over various MPAA decisions makes it easy to side with Harvey on this issue, the rules for an R rating with respect to language are quite clear. The same approach taken to getting a PG-13 for The King's Speech could have been employed here. Just do a little audio 'blurring' on the offending language, and Bully goes out with the rating Harvey wanted. But then it goes out with no fanfare. (In which, yes, we are participating, but we're trying not to do so blindly.) So Harvey's statement against the MPAA seems more than a little vindictive and silly, no matter how easy it is to identify with his ire.

This statement from NATO, however, is just as vindictive and silly, and perhaps even more so, given that comes at a point in the conversation where NATO could very easily have the unrated film treated as an R. You can read the entire text of the NATO letter, most of which is quite even-handed. But the threat that ends the letter is still absurd, given that the MPAA has deemed the current cut of the film to be an R.

At this point the argument isn't even about the film — it's a different battle between Harvey and industry organizations. Bully could just be another casualty. I wonder if Lee Hirsch is regretting taking part in the original strategy to publicize and re-rate the film.