Bully just may be the most important movie of the year. The documentary weaves together the stories of five families dealing with the long-term effects of school bullying — two that have recently lost their children to suicide and three that are experiencing it day in and day out. While the film has received significant media attention for receiving an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board due to the inclusion of six curse words (it is now being distributed without a rating through many theater chains beginning today), it is the honest, heartfelt look at how 13 million kids are treated each year that should make it required viewing for every parent and school-aged child.
I spoke with the film's director, Lee Hirsch, about the bullying epidemic, the ratings controversy, and why even parents of kindergartners need to see Bully.
LilSugar: You've really started a national dialogue with this film — was that your goal?
Lee Hirsch: In a way, it was my goal. We were busy thinking, what could our movement look like, how could we do this, how do we engage, and how do we amplify? I don’t think I ever imagined that we would have this level of support and that we would grow to be this high. It just feels like just a wonderful blessing to have so much support.
I knew that there were so many people that had this narrative, and I remember when I was first talking about this film, I would say, "God, everybody has a story when it comes to bullying." But I didn’t really feel the way that I do now. Now I really feel like there are hundreds of thousands of people speaking out, [and] you start to see the impact of all these generations of people who’ve had this experience, who never really had a place to process them. It’s really exciting.
LS: With the R rating, Bully’s getting more attention than anyone probably ever expected. Why did you decide not to bleep out the six curse words and get the PG-13 rating? Was it worth fighting to keep them in there if it means that the film might not be seen by everybody who needs to see it?
LH: I think it’s worth fighting, because what we are saying is that this is a movie about what happens. It's what really happens when it comes to bullying. In this bullying and situations of bullying, language is critical. Language matters — it's a weapon. It's such a ridiculous argument that the MPAA says that they will allow one F word, but what if you see the film four times? It makes no sense! On the flip side, we are saying we are talking about bullying, we are talking about violence, we are talking about people being numb to violence, and so the MPAA has put a rule on that, they have stamped movies that have sexified and glorified violence all the time with a PG-13 and PG ratings. So I think the stamp matters — it matters for the people that are bullied.
LS: You spent a year in three Iowa schools. How did you convince the boards of education to let you film in their schools?
LH: We had rigorous conversations with the schools; it took many conversations and days of flying out there. We presented them honestly what we were trying to do with this movie — what our hopes were. We wanted to show what it looks like from the perspective of being able to just really see what goes on at a school. They were very brave. The school district is taking a lot of heat from this film, and at the same time, most school districts would never agree to this — they wouldn’t open their doors, wouldn’t admit they have a problem.