March 1, 2012 -- "Bully," an upcoming documentary about the nation's teen-bullying epidemic, would exclude much of its intended school-aged audience if the Motion Picture Association of America refuses to ease its R rating, according to Katy Butler, a bullying victim who hopes to change the board's mind.
Butler posted a petition at Change.org to get signatures in support of a PG-13 rating for "Bully." By Thursday at 11:00 a.m. ET, the tally was 156,230 and counting. The film is scheduled to open in theaters March 30, according to the film's website.
The film's producer and director, Lee Hirsch, praised Butler's courage in heading the viral campaign to see that junior-high and high school students have freer access to his film. It ends with a plea from David Long, whose son Tyler committed suicide following "years of relentless bullying."
When she was a seventh grader, Butler suffered a broken finger when male bullies called her names, pushed her into a wall and slammed a locker on her hand. She is now a junior at Greenhills School, a college prep school in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I didn't know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid," Butler wrote in a letter on her Change.org petition web page, " MPAA: Don't let the bullies win! Give 'Bully' a PG-13 instead of an R rating!" in which she explained her desire to make sure more youngsters would be able to see the film in theaters and in schools. Education about bullying is considered key to prevention.
Last week, the MPAA ratings board rejected, by one vote, an appeal from The Weinstein Company, the film's U.S. distributor, to reconsider the R rating. In a statement, Joan Graves, head of the ratings board, defended the rating, saying the film includes epithets that are hurled at a 13-year-old bullying victim. Graves said such ratings help guide parents "who want to be informed about content in movies, including language." She said it's up to parents to make the decision about what their children see "and not ours to make for them."
Butler objected to the effect that such a rating could have on viewership: "I can't believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers from seeing a movie that could change -- and in some cases, save -- their lives."
The film's website says 3 million kids are bullied each month, and that 13 million kids are absent from school every year because of bullying.
An R rating prohibits anyone under the age of 17 from attending a film without a parent or adult guardian's permission. According to the MPAA website, R-rated films "may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements." A PG-13 rating cautions parents that a film may contain material inappropriate for children under 13.
Butler previously has used social media to marshal public opinion and move policy. Last year, she collected more than 50,000 signatures through another petition on Change.org, in which she urged Michigan lawmakers to stop the state's "License to Bully," bill because it contained religious and moral exemptions from penalties for bullying. The legislature passed a modified bill that removed those exemptions.