Harvey Weinstein's Bully Problem — and Ours

You've heard about Bully, right? The anti-bullying documentary featuring real video of real teenage bullies tormenting real peers, interspersed with experts and victims alike expounding on our ongoing bullying epidemic? Of course you have, because when The Weinstein Company wasn't shoving its 2012 Oscar crop down your throat, it was protesting way too much about a ratings "controversy" that would require youngsters under 17 to attend the doc with a parent or guardian. God forbid! Because the last thing we want is parents and teens watching and ideally discussing a film about bullying, right?

I privately vowed not to succumb to this most ironic of Weinsteinian pursuits: The most legendary bully of the modern Hollywood era releasing a movie about bullies, and then publicly bullying the MPAA over the last week with his outraged! Campaign! To overturn Bully's R rating for language! For the children! No, really: "I have been compelled by the filmmakers and the children to fight for an exception," Weinstein said in a statement. "[...] I want every child, parent, and educator in America to see Bully, so it is imperative for us to gain a PG-13 rating." That was followed by a riotous threat to take "a leave of absence from the MPAA" after the rating was upheld on appeal (by reportedly one vote, which was awfully convenient for the press-release narrative, but hey). Such altruism, Harvey, seriously.

But what do we do when commentators as smart and influential as Andrew Sullivan are taking Harvey's bait not once, not twice but three times, or when the tired, transparent King's Speech/Blue Valentine-esque gambits that evoke Harvey's singular genius transcend PR stuntery to become... uh, this: a "Human Rights Petition" launched by a Michigan high-schooler seeking a PG-13 for Bully:

When I was in 7th grade, a few guys came up behind me while putting my books in my locker. They called me names and asked me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one liked me. I ignored them because I was scared of what else they might say and who else they might tell if I stood up to them. When I went to shut my locker, they pushed me against the wall. Then they slammed my locker shut on my hand, breaking my fourth finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid.

I just heard that the Motion Picture Association of America has given an “R” rating to Bully -- a new film coming out soon that documents the epidemic of bullying in American schools. Because of the R rating, most kids won’t get to see this film. No one under 17 will be allowed to see the movie, and the film won’t be allowed to be screened in American middle schools or high schools.

Wow. OK. Setting aside the exploitation of a young woman's traumatic bullying experience and the blatant untruth that an R-rating precludes Bully's exhibition in American middle schools or high schools (as though Congress passed some constitutional amendment outlawing parental permission slips), there is no fundamental "human right" dictating that Weinstein Company releases must be viewable by everybody. What's happening presently in Syria is a human-rights issue. This is a crass, cynical marketing ploy by a man who eats Oscars and shits Tonys.

Let's also not forget many distributors' long-standing frustration with what they term the inconsistency of the MPAA ratings board — the application of one ratings standard to Film A and another to Film B (often perceived as a major studio vs. indie conflict, but if The Weinstein Company isn't a major after Sunday night, then nothing is). As it did a little over a year ago with The King's Speech, the board counted the F-bombs and issued the R-rating consistent with numerous prior films it had also rated R. About time, right? Not for Harvey, who knew both the box-office impositions that The King's Speech and Bully would face when he got into bed with each of them and the MPAA mileage he could milk from both contretemps. The kvetching commenced immediately.

In other words, this isn't the MPAA's problem, and anyone who attempts to persuade you that it is is either misinformed or a bald-faced liar. Or he's Harvey Weinstein, who can be both those things in equal measure but most often plays the showman middle with mastery beyond reproach. This, however, with Harvey himself publicly invoking his "school-age children of my own" and openly acknowledging in one statement how "the Cincinnati school district signed on to bus 40,000 of their students to the movie – but because the appeals board retained the R rating, the school district will have to cancel those plans"? This is just... gross. It's also socially counterintuitive, as noted by at least a couple of Sullivan's readers who chimed in on the matter today:

"At a movie theater on Friday night, I saw numerous young children (ages 5-10, or so) in line with their parents to see the R-rated Act of Valor, the new action movie/recruitment video starring active-duty Navy SEALs that goes as far as depicting torture. I’m assuming that those parents thought that seeing our country defended on screen so violently would be a positive, character-building experience for their children. Although I would personally disagree, every parent does and should have the right to make those decisions for their children. My hope and expectation is that parents would bring their children to see Bully as well." [...]

"What the R rating for Bully does mean is that teenagers (supposedly) can't see it with their friends, where they might decide to be assholes and cheer for the bullies throughout. This might be a good thing."

Amen. Anyway, the panic continues and barring some sort of bleep-tastic editing revisions, Bully is and shall remain rated R for strong language. Or maybe we can make it silent, black-and-white and splice in a certain charismatic Jack Russell terrier? Whatever it takes, Harvey! Whatever it takes.

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[Top photo of Harvey Weinstein at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards: Getty Images]


  • Jack says:

    Just release a BLEEPED version for the the theatrical release so you can get a PG-13 and a non rated version for the DVD.

    Done. This ain't rocket science.

  • JoJo says:

    What's up with the clear bias and hatred the author is harboring for this guy? Did he club your children over the head with a baby seal or something?

    The language is necessary to make the point. This is not dialogue created to shock the listener. These are real kids using the language of their generation and their peers. Changing it is not a viable option.

    And I think his claim about schools not showing it are spot on. Have you seen a high school administrator stick his neck out in the name of free speech, or advocate anything other than "zero-tolerance" lately? Neither have I. There is no way that this film will make it anywhere near a school if the rating remains.

    • clear bias says:

      Couldn't have put it better myself jojo. At least not without receiving an R rating. Up until reading S.T. VanAirhead's tripe I rather liked Movieline, now I'm revisiting that thought... Way too biased, and opinionated review, well actually, way too biased, and opinionated to even be considered a review!

      • j'accuse! says:

        Where do you work?

      • Yashar says:

        You guys don't know much about Harvey Weinstein and his history, do you? The writer of this piece even linked to his uber bullying tactics in the past you are still saying this?

        This is not bias. This is criticizing a dictator that's trying to pretend he is not one and is using his bullying powers to force a rating board into abandoning its own rules in favor of the dictator / big bully. Yes, MPAA is flawed beyond recognition and Yes, the message of the movie could be really important. "Bully" issue is a real and major one but when you are a known bully like Harvey (EVERY one in Hollywood knows that, not just columnists and film writers) trying to bully MPAA for the sake of a movie about "bullying", the words hypocrisy and irony don't even being to describe the situation.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    Let's say you're right about Weinstein's motives, and how crass they are. How does that justify what the MPAA is doing, or justify how the National Association of Theater Owners is now saying they'll release it rated NC-17? And while you say it's a blatant untruth about an R-rated movie being banned from being shown in high schools - and normally, I'd agree with you here, as I saw "Apocalypse Now" in my high school English class, and no one raised a peep about that, but that was over 25 years ago - with all of the publicity about certain parents groups dictating what can be taught in classes such as science and history, not to mention the tacit tolerance of bullying towards minorities, lesbians and gays in certain school districts, I think "blatant untruth" is at best exaggerating.

    You think Harvey Weinstein is nothing but a crass publicity-grabber. Fine. That doesn't mean the issues raised here aren't serious or worth discussing. I think it's a little more complicated than your self-righteous article would indicate.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Ultimately this "controversy" is not about the subject matter or the language. It's about the MPAA and NATO and Harvey all being part of the same shit-stirring hypocrisy. Neither the MPAA nor NATO are doing or saying anything inconsistent with what they've always maintained -- which Harvey knew would happen from previous experience, and thus he is taking full advantage. Everyone wins in this schema: The ratings board looks steadfastly vigilant in advising parents as to a film's content (which is what it was set up to do 45 years ago). The theater owners sell tickets while swinging their rectitude around. And Harvey Weinstein gets to look like some crusader against bullying when he's just evincing the same showman shtick he's honed for decades now.

      And the allegation that the film will be unviewable in schools is a blatant untruth. It's a misrepresentation of the case-by-case measures by which parents, students, teachers and school districts weigh educational issues every day in this country. There is no evidence or proof or even so much as an official insinuation that Bully will now be subject to some blanket ban from public schools. It's a complete fabrication intended to generate attention for a theatrical release. And it's working.

      If not understanding how any rational person can fall for this -- despite every red flag billowing over the landscape -- makes me self-righteous, then so be it. Better that than a sucker.

  • Joe Wood says:

    So this is important news that S.V.Vanairsdale doesn't like Harvey Weinstein.
    I don't know who S.V.Vanairsdale is.
    That is of no matter.
    I don't know why there is so much vitriole directed towards this Mr.Harvey Weinstein.
    That is S.V.Vanairsdale's personal problem and something that should be worked out with a therapist or psychiatrist and not be given an airing here.
    The essential matter, if S.V.Vanairsdale has been given the privilege of occupying this news slot is to focus on the issue of protecting children in our schools.
    S.V.Vanairsdale's rage seems to have smothered that completely.
    What a shame and a disgrace.

    • dukeroberts says:

      This is a movie site. S.T. Vanairsdale is a film columnist. He is commenting on the rating for the film and the marketing of the film by the all too often forceful Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is known for being a blunt instrument when it comes to marketing his movies. Vanairsdale is not commenting on the worth of the film as it may pertain to this "epidemic" of bullying. It is not S.T. Vanairsdale's place to protect children in our schools. It is not a privilege for Vanairsdale to write on the "important" topic of bullying. This is a film site, and S.T. Vanairsdale is paid to write commentary, or opinion articles, on things related to movies, not on the topic of bullying. It is not a shame or a disgrace.

  • Joe Wood says:

    Yes, I'm sorry.
    It is S.T.Vanairsdale.
    My mistake.
    Mo matter.

  • MartiniShark says:

    I'm curious about this delaration that Cincinati was bussing in 40K students to see this film. Even if Harv magnanimously halves ticket prices does this not mean he stands to pocket a couple hundred thousands of dollars as a result, via our school system? And that is from ONE city.

    How many other districts have struck similar arrangements with the struggling company? Now wonder he's howling about MPAA abuse; they're preventing him from milking the school boards.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      I'm not quite ready to take Harvey or his magnanimity at face value, but even the idea of him suggesting that 40,000 teenagers have been deprived of the opportunity of going to his movie because of a fucking rating reaches new depths of self-serving mendacity. Which, for Harvey, is really saying something.

  • dukeroberts says:

    Since when is bullying an "epidemic"? I got made fun of by groups of kids everyday in junior high, and I mean e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y. A group of black kids in my homeroom used to make up belittling rap songs about me. My parents didn't prosecute anyone. I didn't shoot anyone in retaliation. I dealt with it. Are kids so fragile these days? Am I just insensitive?

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      I see it both ways, Duke. I once tried breaking my own leg in P.E. just to avoid having to spend another day of torment under a few ruthless 7th grade classmates; the next year I had to hatch a plan for the swiftest escape from school in the afternoon, lest the dreaded Adam Espinoza track me down again on the freeway overpass for a few easy punches. And yeah, it sucked, and I dealt with it, and I seem to be OK now. Whatever.

      BUT, flash forward 25 years: The suicides we're seeing? These kids getting bullied on the Web? The taping and uploading of videos of vicious beatings while onlookers do nothing but cheer and, well, videotape? I don't doubt Bully's relevance or importance. I just resent a shameless studio mogul (and renowned bully himself) pissing on my shoe and telling me it's raining.

      • dukeroberts says:

        I eventually became friendly with all of my tormentors. They all eventually spent some time in jail at one time or another. I no longer bear them any ill will.

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    I'd like to see it. It looks to be the kind of film people could be mandated to see. If it really works to draw people to have more empathy, this would be for the good; but I just cannot believe anyone's making a film right now were they themselves are really drawn back to what it feels like to be powerless and alone, and suspect you don't have to be with a pack of wild boys to watch it and come only to the conclusion -- DON'T BE THOSE KIDS. Afterwards you're left with a firm list of things to purge from yourself, and torment in others still possessed with them.

  • The Winchester says:

    Yeah, let's bully the writer of an article about the bully Harvey Weinstein bullying the MPAA and NATO bullying the movie Bully, which should not be confused with Larry Clark's movie Bully, or the rockstar video game Bully, (who really should be bullying the MPAA themselves over Weinstein's use of the title Bully).

    BULLY! (Said in a 1920s banker tone)

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Right? I haven't been called "VanAirhead" since maybe eighth grade.

    • j'accuse! says:

      Dude, I was thinking the same thing. These people, they're like the darkside yelpers I've been dealing with recently. They seize upon one small thing they dislike and make it their mission in life to be the bitchiest bitches that ever bitched.

      Btw, though it came out long before my time, I kept on confusing this w/ the Larry Clark movie and kept scratching my head wondering why there was all this controversy about an old movie...then I read beyond the headlines. What can I say, busy couple of weeks.

      But seriously, you don't like a guy's writing, you move on. You don't stick around to anonymously flame the guy...I mean...you people who are doing this must have lives or people who love you that you can focus your attention on, right?

  • Max Renn says:

    Then can we get the movie about bullying in the workplace. It doesn't end in the schoolyard.

  • James Freud says:

    Let's just overlook the obvious pre-hatred for Weinstein you brought to the article for now - are you really comparing the 'bullying' (I call it business acumen) of the movie business to the 'bullying' of a defenceless child by a peer? If so, just stop writing. Please, just stop.

  • Shinobi Jedi says:

    It's easy to sit on your high horse and judge isn''t it?

    What if that bullyng, or 'business acumen' as you so ignorantly put it, of the movie business demonstrated by the subject of the article included knowing tactics such as threatening to take the life, murder, kill film journalists for printing truthful, verifiable articles that exposed Weinstein on his borderline criminal Producing tactics..

    I think threatening to kill someone is pretty equatable. And something I believe that has happened to many actors, directors and journalists.

    Including the author of this article if my memory serves correct. Which afaik, he's being pretty classy about not specifying it.

    So, while the writer may have the class to choose to not explain the source of his bias, I am happy to.

    As I'd feel the same way too if some insecure, wannabe gangster, asshole like this guy threatened to kill me for doing my job.

    Now, he's the Producer of a bullying documentary?

    Harvey's must be pals with Jerry Sandusky seeing as he's stolen the exact same play from Sandusky's playbook.