MPAA Stops Picking On 'Bully', Actually Gets Some Good Press For Once

from the backing-down dept

When the producers of the documentary Bully decided to protest the MPAA rating system, and then AMC supported them by announcing they would screen the unrated film, I wrote about how it represented a serious erosion of the MPAA’s artificial grip on film ratings. Since then, the MPAA has softened on the issue, and agreed to grant a PG-13 rating to a slightly-edited version of the movie:

The change was made following the removal of several instances of the F-word, but leaving intact a particularly powerful and important scene of teen Alex Libby being bullied and harassed on a bus. In a press release, distributor The Weinstein Company lauded the MPAA’s decision, calling it a victory “for the parents, educators, lawmakers, and most importantly, children, everywhere who have been fighting for months for the appropriate PG-13 rating without cutting some of the most sensitive moments.”

Well, that’s probably the nicest thing a non-member has said about the MPAA in awhile. Harvey Weinstein himself said “Senator Dodd is a hero for championing this cause”, conjuring up images of the mighty MPAA CEO carving through hordes of busybodies from the Parents Television Council. But while Chris Dodd is surely happy for some good press, his recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter (the one in which he dropped vague hints about the return of SOPA) suggests the MPAA’s decision may have been primarily personal:

THR: Why did you host a screening of Bully at the MPAA with Harvey Weinstein when The Weinstein Co. isn’t a member company?

Dodd: Because I care about the issue, and I thought it was a great film. I called Harvey, and I said I would invite the superintendent of schools, teachers and principals, an expert on bullying and Lee Hirsch, the director. We had a great discussion after the screening. You’re right, Harvey is not a member of the MPAA, but he’s a brilliant film producer, and it’s an important film on an important subject matter. It is utilizing the platform I was given at the MPAA.

THR: But Weinstein was highly critical of the ratings board at the time and has used his attacks against the board to market the movie.

Dodd: First of all, I’ve known Harvey for 25, 30 years, and we’ve been friends. He was very helpful to me as a candidate for Congress and as a senator over the years.

There’s no “second of all” forthcoming. He was just “utilizing the platform” he was “given” to do favors for his friends. It’s nice to see that he’s still putting the skill-set he perfected in politics to good use as a lobbyist.

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Companies: amc, mpaa

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Comments on “MPAA Stops Picking On 'Bully', Actually Gets Some Good Press For Once”

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E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

I really don’t understand the disconnect between theaters and retailers here. Retailers will gladly sell unrated DVDs that far exceed the requirements of an R rating. These movies if rated would get an NC-17. However, theater owners will tie themselves into knots that would make a contortionist blush in order to avoid anything unrated or NC-17 in nature.

This makes no sense whatsoever. What difference is there in a 16 year-old buying an unrated DVD (which they can do around 50% of the time) and buying a ticket to an unrated movie?

Anonymous Coward says:

This is STILL bad...

The director edited the film the way he wanted to make the statement he wanted the way he wanted in the first place. Slight or no, this is CENSORSHIP that should be against the law. You shouldn’t be able to blackmail someone into altering what they have to say to fit your own personal morality. The ratings system needs to go BYE BYE. Period.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: This is STILL bad...

Well, it’s not really censorship. This isn’t a free speech issue – the government is not involved. Studios can release whatever films they want, at whatever rating or without a rating at all – the MPAA is a private group that gives out ratings, but you don’t have to work with them. The problem is that most cinemas cooperate, and won’t show unrated films – but, again, it’s entirely voluntary: there’s no law or government entity blocking their right to show whatever movies they want. They simply choose not to almost all of the time – which is why it was news that AMC announced it would air the unrated film.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This is STILL bad...

It’s still censorship just not by the government. When you force someone to alter the content they created in order to conform with your sense of morality through coersion (ie. you can’t get the film in the theatres without a rating and you can’t get the rating you need without changing the content) that’s still censorship. I didn’t say GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP. It’s still censorship none the less. Besides since the media conglomerates run (read: buy off) the government what is the difference between them censoring it through the government vs. any other means if it accomplishes the same result?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: This is STILL bad...

I still say we need to remove the part of the FCC that tells us what we can and cannot see over the public airwaves. And TV Networks should not be allowed to butcher a movie the way they do, then air it under the same name on Network TV in the name of “decency”. Air the movie as the director cut it or do not air it at all. What give’s them the right to change someone else’s speech?

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This is STILL bad...

I generally take the view that “censorship” is only censorship when it’s the government doing it.

If it’s voluntary on the part of everyone involved, then where’s the censorship? Now yes, industry players have manipulated the system to give themselves power, but that’s a different kind of problem – maybe it flirts with anti-competitive practices.

But contrast this with, say, the public outrage at GoDaddy causing them to switch their position on SOPA. At the time, a bunch of SOPA/PIPA supporters in the comments tried to claim that somehow GoDaddy’s free speech had been taken away. But, that’s ridiculous – they were free to do whatever they wanted, and other people/organizations were free to place whatever kind of pressure on them that they wanted. If you start calling that sort of interaction between private parties “censorship” and creating laws against it, you are heading down a dangerous path… Creating laws preventing the MPAA from offering film ratings however it chooses, and preventing cinemas from following them if they want to — that would be real censorship

I think the MPAA’s ratings monopoly should be busted by studios and cinemas refusing to participate in it. Illegal? Not so much (unless there is sufficient evidence for collusion or antitrust issues of some sort, which I’m less sure about)

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This is STILL bad...

I generally take the view that “censorship” is only censorship when it’s the government doing it.

It should be noted that the history of movie theaters in America has always been a collusion to exclude until the 50s where studios were essentially banned from owning theaters and preventing independent film makers from being shown.

It’s still that same problem that Matt Stone and Trey Parker talked about so long ago with the Paley Center, where the MPAA is so large that they control what the smaller film artists can do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This is STILL bad...

Ok so if you can still make a movie that says whatever you want but just can’t get it shown unless you “voluntarily” conform to their rules because of the agreements between the theatres and the studios, then it’s not censorship because you still get to say what you want even though they are going to keep anyone from hearing what you have to say. The problem with categorized ratings is the abuse of it. If there is a worry that there is some stuff that some people will find offensive or in appropriate for people of whatever age, LIST THE INGREDIENTS ON THE BOX. (And this next part is not directed to you Leigh, just so you know…) DO NOT TRY TO TELL ME WHAT IS AND IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR ME OR MY CHILD TO SEE. I RAISE MY CHILDREN AND I DECIDE WHAT IS APPROPRIATE FOR THEM AND AT WHAT AGE. I WILL NOT LET YOU TURN THEM INTO SPINELESS LEMMINGS LIKE YOU TRY TO DO TO THE REST OF THE PUBLIC.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 This is STILL bad...

Well I mean, I don’t like how it plays out either… and I do think it’s worth examining things from a collusion/antitrust aspect. But other than that I think the way things went with Bully show the first steps towards the sort of social pressure that will end the MPAA ratings regime without the need for government intervention.

Look at Bully: it generated a bunch of buzz online, so the studio was emboldened to ignore the MPAA and release it unrated, and then AMC was emboldened to agree to show the film. So – people did break from the MPAA. Sure, by making this change (with the minor edits) the MPAA has backtracked things a bit – but it’s only a matter of time before this sort of thing comes up again, and again, and again, all while lots of filmmakers are exploring alternative distribution methods for other reasons too. Ultimately, a control system like the MPAA ratings regime can’t survive in the digital world – and I’d rather see it worn away by those social and market forces than I would see it legally regulated somehow (because, let’s face it, the regulators would probably screw it up)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 This is STILL bad...

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that AMC cared at all about doing the right thing or setting any precedents or anything altruistic like that. They were simply motivated by money. The fact is the controversy has created a buzz around the film that many people now will want to go see the film simply to see what the fuss is all about. AMC recognized this and since they knew that the other theaters would follow the traditional line and not show the unrated film, this would leave them alone with a monopoly on cashing in on this buzz. They only care about the money.

Anonymous Coward says:

“There’s no “second of all” forthcoming”

Actually, if you read the text, it seems that the interviewer pretty much “moved on” before there was any other answer, trying to hone in. First of all may have been nothing more than a phrase used to suggest he had more to say, but the interviewer didn’t let things go that way.

It could also be that (shock) that the interview isn’t “integral” and perhaps part of the answer was edited out for space constraints.

Marcus, once again you are too busy trying to drum up a conspiracy where none exists. You aren’t learning your lessons, are you?

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“space constraints.” On the web? Really?
“It could also be” that space aliens ate the rest of the interview, although not likely.

Oh… oh… An AC used the “C” word. Because we all know if you want to paint someone crazy just say [hushed under breath] conspiracy.

First of all, I have nothing else to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The site in question is part of a “print” and PDF distributed industry paper. Space limitations are not imposed by the website, but by the other formats that the story would appear in.

You don’t want to be like Marcus, take the time to look at things before you try to slam something.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So you never picked up a paper only to do a web search to find a larger article online from the same publication?

“The site in question is part of a “print” and PDF distributed industry paper. Space limitations are not imposed by the website, but by the other formats that the story would appear in.”
And if I was reading one of the other formats your comment may hold true. This was written for the web blog, or they didnt attribute the source. FAIL.

[cringe and shudder] Id much rather be like Marcus than the likes of your kind.

So follow your own advice:
take the time to look at things before you try to slam something.

In addition you DO know we are talking about this article:
Not this:

Which is funny as hell because I just submitted an article from that same industry insider magazine my wife subscribes to. I read an article there that spouts how great the industry is doing. Thanks for the motivation, I will transcribe every word for Mike or Marcus to do an article on if they wish.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“This was written for the web blog, or they didnt attribute the source. FAIL.” And since my wife subscribes to that particular magazine i assure you I will be combing through every page to see if it was in print as well. I dont remember seeing it as I page through while on the toilet. The perfect place for an industry insider.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

You do realize the whole thing was a marketing gimmick (and boy did it work). And there’s Chris Dodd doing favors for his buddy even though they’re not a member of his organization.

I tell you that Weinstein guy can yank Hollywood’s chain like nobody in history.

And theatres won’t show NC-17 movies? Then why have the rating? Yet another reason not to go to the cinema. Thankfully the internet is unrated.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would say the rating system is pretty consistent, as it should be. It would ruin the reputation of the rating system if the ratings were not consistent and this is something they have done a pretty good job on.

Those who don’t like the rating system can find someone else to rate their content or they don’t have to have their content rated. Otherwise, those doing the ratings have a responsibility to determine how the movie should be rated based on its contents and how various changes to the movie would alter the ratings if they expect to acquire and maintain their credibility. While I’m no fan of the RIAA/MPAA I think when it comes to the rating system they’ve been consistent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Consistent means repeatable and predictable.

Where is the algorithm to evaluate the quality of a song or a picture or a painting?

I have an opinion, I am expressing it. You may have a different opinion and you may express it and that’s fine.

Some people like rock music, some people like rap music, different people have different opinions. Not everything needs an algorithm to evaluate. Heck, most things just need heuristics because nothing can be determined with absolute certainty. That’s whys science, for instance, doesn’t deal with absolute proof. and decisions, like ratings, don’t have to be perfectly based on a perfect algorithm to be useful. A level of uncertainty exists before making any decision. For all you know, you can get into an accident the next time you drive your car, please reverse engineer the algorithm that guarantees you won’t or perhaps post suitable links to those who have. Otherwise, you are just blowing off hot air.

While I agree that the rating system isn’t perfect, neither is anything. But I think it’s still pretty consistent.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Consistent means repeatable and predictable.

While I agree that the rating system isn’t perfect, neither is anything. But I think it’s still pretty consistent.

Except it’s really not… people get inconsistent treatment depending on their position in the industry (and of course, in this case, depending on their relationship with Chris Dodd):

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Consistent means repeatable and predictable.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker were essentially forced to add scenes that they considered to be worse to the South Park movie because the MPAA didn’t like a few of the parts.

So, they’ve already demonstrated once how inconsistent they can be.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Consistent means repeatable and predictable.

I re-watched it all of thirty minutes ago. Look, call it “censorship” if you want – but I don’t think there should be a law against it. If it were illegal for the MPAA to rate movies, and for cinemas to follow their advice then…. would it be illegal for consumer groups to rate companies, and for customers to follow their advice Your proposed remedy to this censorship is in fact a worse form of censorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Consistent means repeatable and predictable.

Ok fine then just make sure there has to be a separation between distribution and rating. If it were a review ok. But it’s not. It’s a condition for release… in most cases that is if you want it to have a run in the theatres.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Consistent means repeatable and predictable.

That’s the thing. They’re not part of the MPAA. The government busted up that monopoly 50 years ago because the studios were controlling which films got shown on movie screens (I think this was before the MPAA existed).

Today the big studios and movie distributors are tighter than ever, esp. with digital projection systems, where the big studios are once again controlling what movies get shown on movie screens. The studios subsidize the cost of installing the projectors, and in exchange they’re guaranteed a certain percentage of screen time.

So yes, movie exhibitors refusing to show a film based on the MPAA rating, or letting the MPAA ratings control which audiences see which films, is absolute censorship. It’s the kind of censorship that keeps independent and foreign films out of movie theatres, so the only choices people have are big studio product.

Weinstein, perhaps the greatest independent producer in film history, made a big stink about it, and they gave him a pass because he’s got money, influence, and Oscars. Weinstein is not a member of the MPAA. Neither is Lionsgate or Summit, which made “The Hunger Games.”

Hollywood would like to keep these films out of the multi-plex. Weinstein made his money in art houses with foreign films and indie films like “Pulp Fiction.” Then he stole Hollywood’s lunch money and nabbed a bunch of Oscars. This year’s winner “The Artist”? That’s Weinstein again.

Weinstein was the head of the indie film movement of the 90s that threatened to undermine the MPAA dominance of movie screens. Hollywood responded by starting their own indie studios with just enough money to drive the others out of business. Once the indie movement was killed, the closed their indie studios and went back to churning out remakes and sequels, hiring talented actors and directors to make comic book movies. They could do this because they absolutely control all film distribution in the U.S., even though they’re not supposed to be in the exhibition business.

The MPAA is out to stifle all competition. That’s the reason why only five companies make most of the movies everyone sees, and why they’re all in one city.

When it comes to ratings, we need an independent body that isn’t a club with the big Hollywood studios and we need parents, not movie theatres, deciding which movies teenagers can see. Common Sense Media is a great alternative to the MPAA.

Lord Binky says:

Re: Re:

Did the stop using anonymous parents to rate the movies? Anyways, I think the MPAA’s rating system was shown to be quite flexible with South Park: Bigger,Longer,Uncut where the original title South Park : All Hell Breaks Lose was without the penis reference. I also liked how consistency was applied when Jack Valenti said he regretted not giving it an NC-17 rating (like it mattered because the rules of the ratings system are set in stone, right?), I guess it took him awhile to realize when they changed the parts that were objected to, they were made more obscene with the requested word change applied.

Lord Binky says:

Safe for another day

I’m glad to know that kids today don’t understand the “F-word” if it only appears in a movie 3 times, maybe the smart ones get it in 2. Can you imagine the damage if they heard it seven times instead of three? *shudder* Obviously they are not allowed to see the movie multiple times to keep their yearly obscienity exposure within the appropriate category of MPAA determined levels. Do you realize these kids have been fighting really fucking hard to see this movie? Oh shi

gorehound (profile) says:

So the dickheads MPAA now want to look good but the only reason why is that they would of showed the film anyways and they made the Director change his Art.
Bully should of not been Edited and should be viewed by any over 13 and they should use this film to learn.
Bullying is wrong !
I must of learned curse words when I was what 8 9 years old.We used to say them as fast as possible and LOL.
fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck over and over.
The unedited version would of been exactly the way the children speak when not in mom & dad’s house.
MPAA Still Equals Fail.

BeeAitch (profile) says:

The MPAA rating system reminds me of when Montana did away with speed limits on highways in the late 1990’s.

Many people assumed you could drive as fast as you want and not get a ticket, ever. What they didn’t realize is that the issuance of a ticket was at the officers discretion: if he decided you were going too fast, you could get a ticket, even if you were only going 60mph.

The MPAA’s rating system is voluntary, so filmmakers don’t have to pay attention to it if they don’t want, right?

Theoretically, yes. In actuality it is up to the discretion of the MPAA because theaters choose to abide by the ‘voluntary’ system.

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