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Harvey Weinstein and Katy Butler at Saturday's
GLAAD media awards (GLAAD)
The Motion Picture Association of America's decision to give an R rating to Lee Hirsch's documentary Bully, stirred up a firestorm of controversy. The film earned its R because of a few too many F-bombs dropped by kids in the movie, and it was decided by the MPAA it was unsuitable for teens to see unescorted. The director and his producers contend they would not bleep out the offending language as it was essentially to telling the truth of the situation.

Breaking news coming from says the decision has been made by the film's distributors, the Weinstein Company to release the film as unrated, and producers are claiming victory. Katy Butler a 17-year old activist from Ann Arbor, MI started a petition that garnered 500,000 signatures objecting. The movement attracted a great deal of attention from the world of politics, entertainment, news and grassroots organizers.

“The MPAA might not recognize the reality that thousands of bullied kids face each day in school, but nearly 500,000 people around the country, from celebrities to politicians to bullied kids themselves, stepped up to speak out about bullying by signing my petition,” said Butler. “The brief use of explicit language in this film reflects what so many kids hear each day in school when they’re being bullied. The MPAA said they wouldn’t drop the ‘R’ rating unless this language was removed, but nothing can remove it from the halls and playgrounds of schools where bullied students hear it each day, except education and exposure.”
This is a gutsy move on the Weinstein Company's part (no one ever accused Harvey of being a shrinking violet). Ordinarily, unrated films are treated by theaters as the equivalent of NC-17, the designation for adults only. Many theaters refuse to screen these films at all.

There is hope that this film may be treated differently:

Gerry Lopez, the CEO of AMC Theaters, one of the largest movie theater chains in the world, signed Katy Butler’s petition. He said previously in a statement that he will make sure “Bully” plays at AMC Theaters even with an “unrated” rating.

“AMC will show this movie, and we invite our guests to engage in the dialogue its relevant message will inevitably provoke,” Lopez said.

AMC represents a huge slice of the multiplex business. If they allow kids in, other chains in the same town will merely be screening empty rooms. This would be your free market at work.  AMC may be the only game in town in many places. The 800-lb gorilla of theater chains essentially flipped the bird to the MPAA here.

Ultimately, MPAA looks like a loser, and their reluctance to see reason leaves the credibility of their rating system in question after this unfortunate episode. New precedent has been set, other film producers and companies may decide they too will take their chances releasing unrated films rather than try to work within the MPAA system.

Much more background on this story in DC politicos, Hollywood players rumble over R rated Bully. The film is scheduled to open Friday.

6:16 PM PT: Some data on AMC's market share, from their site (PDF)

• 351 theatres with 5,083 screens. 

• 20 of the 50 highest grossing theatres in the United States and Canada

• This includes six of the top ten theaters

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