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Weinstein versus the MPAA

Bully.jpgThe Weinstein Company have had a few run-ins with the MPAA, and usually it's done them good. Good publicity and a dropped rating in a few cases, see Blue Valentine's rating drop as the best example, but in the case of their latest film Bully, it seems that they aren't going to win.

I wrote about the documentary Bully receiving a rating of R, a rating that ensures anyone of seventeen and under cannot see the film without an adult, and the Weinstein Company was appealing. That appeal failed and the company are rather angry.

Wouldn't you be? After all the film Bully is out there to do some good to try and get across the terrible damage that bullying can do to people and families and how children can make a difference, perhaps even connect with some bullies and stop them from doing what they are doing. Isn't that a strong cause for a film?

Now the audience for this has to be the kids in school, after all it's no point showing it to their parents or teachers who aren't managing to stop the behaviour in their schools, it has to be with the kids who are right there and either part of the problem or witnessing the bullying. It also has to connect with them, and it cannot connect with them if it takes the adult preaching tone, it has to go to their level.

So we see children swearing in the film, and that's what's caused one member, according to Harvey Weinstein, of the MPAA board to vote to not reduce the rating of the film from an R rating, and they say the adults aren't part of the problem.

Here's the response from the MPAA regarding the film which comes through Deadline:

"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."

Swear words. That's the reason that the film missed the rating drop, and this is from a film that shows violence between children, child suicide, broken families and is trying to do something to fix the situation. That's one person on the MPAA board representing "the strong feedback from parents throughout the country".

Perhaps the parents of America believe that swearing doesn't happen outside of the cinema and that not hearing it in the cinema is more important than seeing this film. Perhaps that's true, however I don't believe so.

Children are seeing bullying, fighting, swearing and worse in their everyday lives from others of their own age and adults around them, and worse they are seeing others getting away with it, being bullied themselves, and carrying out the bullying. Isn't it better that this is addressed in a documentary that could reach them rather than being banned by a single person who is scared of moral corruption?

Harvey Weinstein is suitably unimpressed, and rightly so, here's his statement:

"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."

Before I go on to look at what the Weinstein Company is considering, let's look at a key statement that Weinstein makes in there:

"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."

Of course there's perhaps some publicity work going on in there but 40,000 students going to see the film would surely be a good thing if just a few of them came out questioning their role in bullying or even what they could do differently if they saw it going on.

Now, because of the decision on the film, Harvey Weinstein is off to try and raise support for the fight against the rating, but at the same time he's made a threat that they might pull away from the MPAA, but what does that mean?

Apparently, according to the L.A. Times, the Weinstein Company are not part of the group behind the MPAA so there's no real pulling out of the organisation, but they could stop submitting their films to the board and just letting them out on general release marked as unrated.

I'm not entirely sure of the effect this would have, would it mean that they would not be accepted in as many cinemas as R and NC-17 rated films are, or would it simply mean that the films would be advertised as unrated and left to the audience to decide? I'm not sure.

What will be interesting to see is what the BBFC rate the film as when it arrives in Britain, after all they are well known for taking much more modern and valued decisions on film ratings than the MPAA.

We'll have to see where this battle takes us, and if the Weinstein Company does decide to release films unrated what that will do to their releases and their profits. Most importantly though, will Bully get a reprieve and would those 40,000 children be allowed to watch the film if accompanied by their teacher? There may be ways to get the film seen yet.



In the US, a lot of the larger movie theater chains have kind of an unspoken agreement with the MPAA not to show movies that have not been rated. So, the Weinsteins can distribute a non-rated film but it isn't going to play in a lot of mainstream theaters. Also, a lot of TV stations refuse to run advertising for unrated films before a certain time of day. So, being a non-rated film can severely limit where it can shown and how much it can be advertised.

However, because there is no long against releasing a non-rated film and the only thing stopping theater chains from showing non-rated films is a long standing tradition, I think the Weinsteins could make a pretty good fight. They are a big enough film distributor that movie theaters aren't going to want to lose the business from not showing their movies and TV stations aren't going to want to lose the ad revenue.

I honestly think that if the Weinsteins put up a fight and really stuck to their guns, it could lead to some (long needed) changes in the MPAA ratings system.

Thanks for the explanation Rick, it sounds like it would be the same problem for them releasing a higher rated film or going with no rating so as you say, maybe they'll take the chance.

They are certainly big enough and with the right films they could convince cinemas to pick them up - Bully would certainly do the job. Some of their smaller films wouldn't though, they'd have to be selective on the ones they chose to stand out with.


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