In a surprising turn of events, the Weinstein Company announced Thursday that a re-edited version of Bully has been granted a PG-13 rating by the MPAA.
The edits consisted of removing three of the movie’s six F-words. These edits do not involve a key scene in which teenager Alex Libby was verbally harassed on a school bus — that scene, which was at the center of the MPAA rating controversy, has been left fully intact and unedited. Instead, the cuts came from other moments, including one use of “motherf—er” toward the beginning of the film, director Lee Hirsch told EW. The remaining two F-words cut were heard in the background of other scenes.
The Weinstein Company will release the new PG-13 version of Bully starting April 13, when the documentary expands to 55 markets. At that time, the unrated version currently playing in New York and Los Angeles will be replaced by the PG-13 edit. This is an important development for Bully, as the film will now have a much easier path to being shown in schools. Furthermore, kids under 17 will now be able to buy a ticket to the movie without being accompanied by an adult.
Even though the Weinstein Company and MPAA didn’t coordinate their efforts, this PG-13 rating represents a compromise between the two parties. On the one hand, Hirsch was allowed to keep one of the film’s most vital scenes exactly as intended, provided he removed other instances of profanity from the movie. “The [school bus] scene had so much power and was so critical to seeing the ugliness of bullying,” says Hirsch. “What mattered was that the scene with the actual, direct bullying wasn’t diluted.”
On the other hand, the MPAA is cutting the film a bit of slack by letting it go out as PG-13 even though it still contains three F-words. Normally, any picture with more than single F-word gets an automatic R rating. “I think the MPAA made a pretty historic decision today,” says Hirsch. “And I hope that the elevated debate and discourse has not only raised awareness around the issue of bullying, but has also hopefully impacted the MPAA and the way in which they rate [movies]. Because I don’t think they want another petition coming their way.”
The MPAA originally handed Bully, about the epidemic of adolescent bullying in America, an R rating for “some language.” As a result, 17-year-old student Katy Butler started an online petition and delivered more than 200,000 signatures to the MPAA’s office in Sherman Oaks, Calif. The campaign ultimately received more than half a million signatures, plus the support of such celebrities as Ellen DeGeneres and Meryl Streep.