‘Bully’ controversy has parents, studio in limbo as New York release nears
Will Manhattan theaters let underage teens get into Harvey Weinstein’s R-rated movie?
BY ETHAN SACKS
When “Bully” opens Friday in New York, the owners of the two theaters showing the documentary will have a dilemma: Should they let underage teens in or not?
Studio head Harvey Weinstein is releasing the film without a rating after objecting to a controversial decision to slap it with an R, which usually means anyone 17 and under needs an adult with them to get in.
Despite a valiant fight by Weinstein and his celeb pals, the Motion Picture Association of America refused to reverse its decision on the R, which the Weinstein Co. argued would bar its target audience: teens.
It got the R reportedly because a bully in one scene in the flick drops the F-bomb repeatedly.
On Monday, Weinstein’s company said it’d go ahead without the label.
John Cruz, manager of the Angelika Film Center, said he’ll watch the movie on Thursday when the print arrives and make his final decision then.
“[But] from my understanding, in terms that the goal of the film is to teach kids about bullying, I don’t think I’ll have any fear of selling tickets to high school students,” said Cruz.
At the AMC Lincoln Square, the other Manhattan theater showing “Bully,” the 17-and-under set will be let in if they’re with an adult — or have a note from a parent, officials said.
“Bully” is opening only in New York and Los Angeles Friday. But it’s the wide release in two weeks to 25 other markets that has had Weinstein worried.
“I’m hoping that by opening in New York and L.A., where the theaters are being reasonable, maybe the other theaters will say, ‘Wait a second, we can’t treat this that way,’ but it’s becoming an ugly fight,” Weinstein told The News.
A number of politicians, educator groups and celebrities — including Ellen DeGeneres, Justin Bieber and Meryl Streep — have come out in support of the decision not to edit out the profanity of the film.
“By having it unrated, it has the potential for parents and kids to see it,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Our job is to keep kids safe, and films like this help to do that, even if it’s tough to watch.”
The influential Parents Television Council, however, is putting pressure on national theater chains to reject the unrated film and follow the standards of the voluntary ratings system. “This movie, regardless of intentions, sets a precedent that threatens to derail the entire ratings system,” PTC President Tim Winter said.
A rep for the MPAA maintains the board is just performing its responsibility to inform parents of material that may be offensive — and let them be the arbiters of taste for their own children.
At the heart of the issue is a scene in which a 12-year-old is tormented on his bus by a student who laces his insults with six F-bombs. The curses automatically triggered an R under the MPAA’s guidelines.
“The truth is you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s 13 who had never heard that language before,” director Lee Hirsch told The News. “So it’s sort of ironic to say this is not okay for kids, but a movie like ‘The Hunger Games’ or any number of movies that have graphic violence or sexual situations, that’s okay.”
Regardless of how this plays out, the Weinstein Co. has successfully maneuvered to generate the kind of national attention for the film that you can’t buy, says Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. “This is a total win for the studio because the message of the movie now transcends the ratings,” he says.