Friday, March 30, 2012

The BULLY Precedent That Actually Isn't One

Posted By on March 30, 2012, 4:27 PM

The Parents Television Council is desperately worried about a documentary being released without an MPAA rating. Because that only happens 78 percent of the time. ---

The new documentary Bully (which opens today theatrically in New York and Los Angeles) has been making noise as a result of the Motion Picture Association of America’s Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) decision to give it an “R” rating for language. A film about the epidemic of peer bullying among teens, its target audiences is presumably teenagers—many of whom would be unable to see the film as a result of the restrictive rating to keep them from hearing words that one would never hear in an American high school.

When the documentary’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, was unable to successfully appeal the rating, it decided to release the film unrated—and there was much consternation. Most notably, the panties-in-bunches organization Parents Television Council disdained the decision, in a statement by its president, Tim Winter. “This move, regardless of intentions, sets a precedent that threatens to derail the entire ratings system,” quoth Winter. “If a distribution company can simply decide to operate outside of the ratings system in a case like Bully, nothing would prevent future filmmakers from doing precisely the same thing, with potentially much more problematic material.”

In a manner of speaking, Winter is correct—if that manner of speaking is the reality that distribution companies already operate outside the ratings system all the time, particularly with regard to theatrically released documentaries. For many documentary filmmakers, the minimum application fee for an MPAA rating of $2,500 (according to documentation effective January 1, 2012) would take up a sizeable chunk of the budget. In 2011, for example, 180 feature documentaries were released in theaters; only 39 of them were released with an MPAA rating. And yes, that’s a whopping 78 percent of theatrical documentaries that already do what the Bully “precedent” promises to unleash.

So congratulations to the Parents Television Council for its timely concern. Please turn your attention next to the epidemic of necking at the drive-ins.

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