Thursday, March 8, 2012


In my last posting, I wrote about the growing public awareness of the negative consequences that the bullying of pupils with disabilities in school generates.  Today, parents and educators nationwide are  collaborating to end the cyclical nature of this violence and abuse. 

School bullying is a major education, public health, and school violence issue.  Data indicates that 13 million pupils are bullied each year and that it is a factor in 3 million school absences every month. 

Bullying interferes with the victim’s ability to learn and succeed in school and results in injuries, emotional and psychological trauma, and even suicides.  Research also shows that pupils with disabilities are disproportionately targeted because of their perceived “differences” and prejudices and stereotypes about disabilities.

Now, an important new anti-bullying documentary, Bully, that can be an important educational tool to stop bullying is in danger of having its potential impact diminished.  Its assigned movie rating may prevent a large part of its targeted audience of youth from ever seeing it.   

As a former bullying victim, the Director was motivated to film Bully.  It interweaves five emotionally compelling stories about families whose children were victimized.  Sadly, the torment they endured caused two of them to commit suicide.

Bully’s graphic portrayal about what it’s truly like to experience bullying can help change how youth perceive and react to bullying.  It encourages pupils to report incidents to authorities and have more compassion for those who’re socially ostracized at school.  Of course, to maximize its effect it must be seen by as many parents, educators, victims, and perpetrators of bullying as possible. 

Unfortunately, Bully was given an R-Restricted rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  That rating could undermine its effectiveness because pupils under age 17 would need to be accompanied by parent or adult guardian.  One Ohio school district canceled plans to bus 40,000 pupils to see Bully as part of its anti-bullying campaign.

The Director recently lost his rating appeal.  He was informed that the utterance of six “F-words” required the R rating.  It’s an arbitrary decision because the MPAA recently gave a documentary about the Iraq war a PG- 13 rating, even though it used forty-six comparable words.  At the time, the MPAA’s justification was that it needed to be seen by a larger audience because the war was going on. 

Movie critics argue that the MPAA is out of touch with the public’s reactions to such language.  They claim that they are more concerned about parents in small town, Middle America than the general public.  Surprisingly, polls show that those same parents find graphic violence more acceptable than what they view as objectionable language.

The Director could get a better rating if he edited out the language.  However, he believes it was spoken in appropriate contexts and would violate the integrity of the film. 

Regardless of the rating outcome, the disability community should encourage our neighbors, friends, and families to see Bully. The expected healthy debate about school bullying will help support our efforts to combat the bullying of pupils with disabilities.