Weinstein Goes to Battle With Theater Owners Over R Rating for 'Bully'

3:07 PM PST 02/28/2012 by Pamela McClintock
Lee Hirsch/The Weinstein Company

The National Association of Theatre Owners say exhibitors may have to treat all TWC films like NC-17 releases if Harvey and Bob Weinstein break with the ratings system.

Harvey and Bob Weinstein are amping up their fight to overturn the R rating assigned to Lee Hirsch's documentary Bully, this time taking on the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Last week, Harvey Weinstein threatened to withdraw from the MPAA ratings process, prompting NATO president John Fithian to send a letter suggesting that if TWC's movies go out unrated, theater owners may have to treat them like NC-17 releases.

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The back-and-forth came after an appeals board of the Classification and Ratings Administration upheld the R rating, which was given to Bully because of language. CARA, administered jointly by the MPAA and NATO, has strict language guidelines.

So far, TWC hasn't said whether it will release Bully -- which addresses the bullying epidemic in America's schoolyards -- unrated. The documentary, which has six or more f—s, opens in theaters March 23.

Both the father of four children, Harvey and Bob Weinstein said the issue is "first and foremost a personal matter and one deserving of its due respect from the MPAA and NATO."

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"As a company we have the utmost respect for NATO, but to suggest that the film Bully could every be treated like an NC-17 film is completely unconscionable, not to mention unreasonable. In light of the tragedy that occurred yesterday in Ohio, we feel now is the time for the bullying epidemic to take center stage, we need to demand our community take action," the brothers said, referring to the high school shooting in suburban Cleveland that has left three students dead.

Their statement was based on unsubstantiated reports that suspect T.J. Lane, 17, was a victim of bullying. However, a prosecutor involved in the case said Tuesday afternoon that the suspect "chose his victims at random" and that "this is not about bullying."

NATO declined to comment on the spat with the TWC, but nowhere in his letter does FIthian threaten to treat Bully as if it were an NC-17 rating. Rather, he said there is a system in place that must be followed.

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"As a father of a 9-year-old child, I am personally grateful that TWC has addressed the important issue of bullying in such a powerful documentary," Fithian wrote. "Yet were the MPAA and NATO to waive the ratings rules whenever we believed that a particular movie had merit, or was somehow more important than other movies, we would no longer be neutral parties applying consistent standards, but rather censors of content based on personal mores."

Fithian also wrote that the Weinstein Co. is well aware of the language rules after the battle over The King's Speech, which received an R for langauge.

"But if you decide to withdraw our support and participation in the rating system and begin to release movies without ratings, I will no choice but to encourage my theater owner members to treat unrated movies from the Weinstein Co. in the same manner as they treat unrated movies from anyone else," Fithian said.

TWC chief operating officer David Glasser said Fithian's letter was "inflammatory and disrespectful not only to the children and families in the film who courageously let us into their lives so this epidemic can be stopped, but to the millions of children, parents, teachers and school officials for whom this film was made."

Glasser aided that TWC is in negotiations with attorneys Martin Garvis and David Boies to help the company in the fight to make sure Bully can be seen by audiences everywhere, and that all efforts and actions will be done to recant NATO's letter.

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