I met Lee Hirsch -- the director of the shocking, often heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful documentary Bully (watch the trailer here) -- on a pretty bad day for him. Bully follows three kids who are the victims of bullying and two sets of parents whose children committed suicide as a result of years of bullying. With a tragic rash of suicides by bullied teenagers over the past few years, you would think that all Americans would support efforts to educate both kids and adults about bullying, whether it's showing kids the potentially deadly consequences of bullying, helping parents and school administrators recognize the warning signs from kids who are being tormented, or urging everyone to get off the sidelines and help kids who are being bullied and need support.
But when I met Hirsch, he had just received the news that the Motion Picture Association of America had upheld its incomprehensible decision to give Bully an R rating, effectively preventing the film from being shown at schools as a part of anti-bullying programs and preventing pre-teen/teen audiences from seeing the film on their own. Since Bully contains no nudity or gore, the only explanation for the MPAA's punitive rating would have to be the language used in some of the film's most stunning footage that actually captures bullying as it happens. As we watch Alex Libby -- who's bullied for his looks and social awkwardness -- being punched, choked, taunted, and threatened on the bus as well as at school, claims that bullying is just "boys being boys" or the overreactions of overly sensitive kids or coddling parents make less and less sense. When you see what Alex endures on a daily basis and imagine yourself in his shoes, it becomes starkly evident how bullying would make any kid want to avoid school or do something even more drastic to end their suffering, and why it's vital that we make our schools bully-free environments. A bullied teenager named Katy Butler started a petition to the MPAA for Bully to be given a PG-13 rating that has received over 515,000 signatures, and the Weinstein Company recently announced that it will release Bully without a rating.
I spoke with Hirsch about the MPAA's ruling, how Hirsch defines bullying, what can be done to stop it, and a lot more. Check out my ReThink Interview with Lee Hirsch below.
Bully opens in select theaters March 30. To find out if Bully is playing near you and how to get involved in anti-bullying campaigns, visit Bully's official website.
Follow Jonathan Kim on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ReThinkReviews