WASHINGTON – When 17-year-old Katy Butler came out as a lesbian in middle school, some of her classmates retaliated against her. They called her names, pushed her into lockers and broke one of her fingers. She was eventually forced to change schools.
After years of torment, Butler decided to take action.
She recently trekked from her native Ann Arbor, Mich. to Washington, D.C. to petition the Motion Picture Association of America to reconsider its R-rating for “Bully,” a documentary about harassment in schools.
Armed with 300,000 signatures, the high school junior personally delivered the appeal Thursday evening.
“If the rating is R, the kids who need to see it — the middle schoolers and the high schoolers — will have a really hard time,” Butler says. “They can’t go without a parent and they can’t show this movie in schools without a whole lot of hassle.”
But the MPAA stood behind its decision, saying the R-rating is based on the film’s hard language.
“[It] is not a judgment on the value of any movie,” said Joan Graves, Classification and Rating Administration chair. “The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration.”
Still, Butler is not giving up. This is her second attempt appealing to the MPAA. Last week, she flew out to Los Angeles and met with the organization there.
“They said they want to be consistent with what they have done in the past,” Butler explained.
After the meeting, the association issued a statement:
Butler’s “efforts in bringing the issue of bullying to the forefront of a national discussion in the context of this new film are commendable and we welcome the feedback about this movie’s rating.”
Some have suggested editing the documentary’s language to get it closer to PG-13 requirements, but Butler says that would be a mistake.
“If they took out the language, it would weaken the message,” she says. “It’s the language these kids hear in schools every day. No one goes into schools and edits out the language.”
Celebrities have also joined the cause. Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp are all backing a rating change. Even younger stars like Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber are speaking out on the film. Butler says with names like that, the anti-bullying message is sure to keep spreading among the target audience.
“These kids who are being bullied have to see [the film] because it lets them know that we’re not alone and there are other people out there who are going through the same thing,” she says. “If we stand up together, we can definitely change the climate of bullying.”