Harvey Weinstein Considering Parting With the MPAA Over Ratings Dispute

Harvey Looms Large
Nancy Kaszerman/Zuma Press/Newscom

The BAFTAs offer Hollywood types an opportunity to experience some serious "big fish in a small pond" syndrome. British producers are at the top of the food chain in London. But when someone like Harvey Weinstein arrives, he ranks somewhere near David Beckham in terms of local awe.

The Weinstein Co. is unsuccessful in overturning the R-rating assigned to "Bully" for its language.

Harvey Weinstein reacted swiftly to a decision upholding the R rating given to Lee Hirsch's documentary Bully, saying he has no choice but to consider parting ways with the Motion Pictures Assn. of America, which administers the ratings system.

"As of today, The Weinstein Co. is considering a leave of absence for the foreseeable future. We respect the MPAA and their process, but feel this time it has just been a bridge too far," Weinstein said in a statement.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the Weinstein Co.--which isn't an official member of the MPAA--is mulling whether  to no longer submit its films to the ratings board.

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The Classification and Ratings Administration has strict rules regarding language, which resulted in Bully, a documentary about schoolyard bullying, getting an R rating.

At the appeals hearing in Sherman Oaks on Thursday, Weinstein and Alex Libby--one of the bullied children chronicled in Hirsch's documentary--argued that the rating will preclude the film from being seen in middle schools and high schools, where bulling is an epidemic, as well as make it difficult for kids under 16 to see the film in theaters without an adult companion.

The appeals board's final tally fell one vote short of the number needed to reverse the decision, TWC said.

"I have been through many of these appeals, but this one vote loss is a huge blow to me personally. Alex Libby gave an impassioned plea and eloquently defended the need for kids to be able to see this movie on their own, not with their parents, because that is the only way to truly make a change," Weinstein continued.

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Joan Graves, chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration, issued a response on behalf of the rating board, saying, “Bullying is a serious issue and is a subject that parents should discuss with their children.  The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that Bully can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions. "

However, she continued, "The MPAA also has the responsibility to acknowledge and represent the strong feedback from parents throughout the country who want to be informed about content in movies, including language." She explained that given the rating board's warning about the movie's language, "some parents may choose to take their kids to this movie and others may not, but it is their choice and not ours to make for them.  The R rating is not a judgment on the value of any movie.  The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration before allowing their children to view it." She added that, "school districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval.” 

Weinstein said that he is personally going to ask public figures and celebrities around the world--from First Lady Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga to the Duchess of Cambridge (herself a victim of bullying)--to help allow the movie to be seen without any restrictions.

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Bully--which doesn't open in theaters until March 30--is being screened Friday morning at Fairfax High School iin Los Angeles for some 150 students.

"Tomorrow's screening means even more to me in the wake of the decision by the MPAA. To say that I am disappointed and distressed would be a grave understatement. It is my great hope that Bully reaches the audience for whom it was made: kids, the bullied and the bullies and the 80 percent of kids who can make the most impact by becoming upstanders rather than bystanders," Hirsh said.

According to Weinstein, the Cincinnati sschool district signed on to bus 40,000 of its students to the movie – but because the appeals board retained the R rating, the school district will have to cancel those plans. 

Bully was filmed over the course of the 2009/2010 school year and looksat how bullying has touched five kids and their families. It also documents the responses of teachers and administrators to aggressive behaviors, and it captures a growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is handled in schools, in communities and in society as a whole.