By Lanford Beard
Updated March 21, 2012 at 03:03 PM EDT

Famed attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson have responded to the rallying cry to overturn the controversial R rating the MPAA gave the Weinstein Company-distributed documentary Bully. The legal duo were integral to overturning California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage and also helped TWC in 2010 when they appealed the NC-17 rating for their Oscar-nominated film Blue Valentine. Olson was a solicitor general under George W. Bush, and Boies argued for Al Gore during the 2000 election’s landmark case Bush v. Gore.

At a special screening of the documentary at New York City’s Paley Center for Media yesterday, Boies said he would take the case to court if necessary. “How ridiculous and unfair and damaging it is to have a film of this power and importance that is being censored by a rating system that has got simply no rational basis,” he said. “You can kill kids, you can maim them, you can torture them and still get a PG-13 rating, but if they say a couple of bad words, you blame them. I hope, for heaven’s sake, that they find some rational basis before we have to sue them to revise the rating system.”

Olson added these words of warning to the MPAA: “They better shape up, or here we come.”

Martha Stewart, Tiki Barber, Mariel Hemingway, Tom Brokaw, and Katie Couric were also in the audience at the screening, which Meryl Streep and tennis legend Billie Jean King hosted. Congressional Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Michael Jordan, Ellen DeGeneres, Johnny Depp, American Idol‘s Randy Jackson, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, and NFL quarterback Drew Brees have already voiced their support for the petition.

As of press time, a petition on — started by teen Katy Butler, who was bullied for coming out as a lesbian — had accrued more than 444,000 signatures in favor of changing Bully‘s R rating, which opponents argue would be prohibitive in getting the film’s message to the very audience it intends to inform — teenagers. Those signatures more than double the amount Butler delivered to the MPAA’s Los Angeles headquarters two weeks ago.

An MPAA spokesperson said there was no further comment based on these developments, but reiterated the organization’s previous position in a statement:

“The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that Bully can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions. Unfortunately, there is a misconception about the R rating of this film limiting the audience to adults. This is not true. In fact, many other R-rated movies on important topics, such as Schindler’s List, have been screened in schools and viewed by children accompanied by their parents. The R rating and description of “some language” for Bully does not mean that children cannot see the film. As with any movie, parents will decide if they want their children to see Bully. School districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval.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.”

Bully will open in New York March 30 and nationwide next month.

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