Mar 30 2012

ReThink Reviews — ‘Bully’

Rethink ReviewsTaking a deeper look at current and past films and how they relate to the world today.

Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.

Read his reviews online at Watch his videos at, and follow him on Twitter at ReThink Reviews’ theme song is by Restavrant.


Every year or two, the Motion Picture Association of America proves how hypocritical and downright nonsensical it can be by giving a high-profile film an overly-restrictive rating based on some puritanical, antiquated, highly subjective notions of what young people should be allowed to see. In 2010, the MPAA gave the gore and nudity-free Oscar-winning film ‘The King’s Speech’ an R rating for a handful of F-bombs, and more shockingly, deemed that a husband performing oral sex on his wife in the film ‘Blue Valentine’ was so potentially harmful to children that the film should be rated NC-17, while horror films that feature beheadings, dismemberment, disembowelings, and much worse are regularly given Rs.

This year, the MPAA seems to have stepped in it again. But this time, the consequences of their ruling may sadly go far beyond potential box office receipts.

That’s because the movie the MPAA has punished with an R rating is ‘Bully’, a documentary by Lee Hirsch that takes an often heartbreaking, sometimes shocking, but ultimately uplifting look at what it’s like to be an American kid who is the victim of bullying. The film follows three kids — Alex, who’s bullied for his looks and social awkwardness; a girl named Kelby who’s tormented for being gay; and Ja’Meya, who’s in a juvenile detention center after bringing a gun to school to confront the kids bullying her. The movie also spends time with two sets of parents who started anti-bullying campaigns after their children committed suicide as a result of years of bullying.

Since ‘Bully’ contains no nudity or gore, why would it get an R? One can only guess that it’s because of explicit language, most of which is said during what is arguably the film’s most powerful and important footage that captures bullying as it’s happening as we see Alex being punched, threatened, and assaulted on the bus and at school. The only other explanation, since the MPAA releases almost no information explaining their rulings, is that they were attempting to uphold “family values” by not allowing kids under 17 to feel sympathy for an unapologetic, openly gay teenager.

By giving ‘Bully’ an R rating, the MPAA has insured that ‘Bully’ will not be shown to pre-teens and teenagers, the film’s most important audiences. That means ‘Bully’ can’t be shown at junior highs or high schools as part of anti-bullying campaigns, and kids who are bullied but don’t want their parents to know about it won’t be able to go on their own. And since the Weinstein Company, who is distributing the film, has decided to release ‘Bully’ without a rating, many theater chains won’t carry it and many newspapers won’t advertise it.

‘Bully’ is a movie all kids and parents need to see, whether they’re one of the over 13 million kids in America being bullied, kids who witness bullying but don’t want to get involved, bullies who need to see the consequences their actions can cause, parents who should be looking for warning signs, or school administrators who need to find ways to change the culture of their schools to discourage bullying. The fact that an unelected, unaccountable body like the MPAA can prevent a movie like ‘Bully’ from being seen by the kids who need it most, where lives are at stake, is unconscionable, and is yet another black eye for an organization that reminds us yearly that it’s desperately in need of reform.

But until then, you can find out if ‘Bully’ is playing near you and how to get involved with anti-bullying campaigns at And if you go, bring your kids, or any friends who have kids, or someone who works in education. The most disturbing thing you’ll see in ‘Bully’ is how badly a lot of kids, and maybe your own, need our help.

‘Bully’ is unrated and opens in select theaters today.

Watch a video of Jonathan Kim’s interview with Bully Director Lee Hirsh here:

One response so far

One Response to “ReThink Reviews — ‘Bully’”

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