In a move that allows both sides to claim victory, the Weinstein Co. announced Thursday it had reached an agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America to recut its unrated documentary "Bully" to land a PG-13 rating. The movie will now go out with that rating when it opens in about 115 new theaters (including in Buffalo) next weekend.
The Los Angeles Times had reported on its website March 30 that the distributor was planning a new version of the movie -- which focuses on the issue of teen bullying through the lens of five families -- so it could nab the lower rating and open the film to a wider audience.
The new cut of the Lee Hirsch film makes some concessions to the MPAA: It removes an F-word obscenity in an early scene in the film, along with two other quickly uttered F-words. Audio will be dropped out in all three instances.
But the new cut leaves intact a controversial scene on a school bus in which three F-words are used against a bullied child.
The case now represents an exception to the MPAA's rules; the group typically imposes an R rating on any film with more than two F-words.
Stephen Bruno, head of marketing for the Weinstein Co., told the Times that "I can say with no stutter that we would have remained unrated if we had to change that scene."
In an interview, Hirsch said that he felt satisfied by the results.
"This was about drawing the line but not being utterly unreasonable," he said. "What's absolutely relevant is the scene that we retained. There was one [obscenity in another scene] I didn't want to give up. But I didn't want to hold back all the groups that wanted to see the movie, Boy and Girl Scout groups and school groups, that wouldn't be able to go if we stayed unrated."
The new rating means that children of any age can see the documentary without an adult. An R rating requires adults to accompany children under the age of 17; a PG-13 simply offers guidance without imposing an age minimum.
The new rating also means that all theater chains -- including Cinemark, the nation's third-largest, which has a policy against playing unrated films -- can show the movie.
Weinstein Co. went out with the movie unrated after losing an appeals battle with the MPAA to knock the film down from an R; in the process, the company garnered buckets of free publicity as a grass-roots and celebrity-studded campaign to overturn the initial R rating gained momentum.
"Bully" opened last weekend in five theaters in Los Angeles and New York City as an unrated film. It did solid business, averaging $23,000 per screen.
The unexpurgated version of the movie will remain in those theaters this weekend, with the PG-13 print replacing all versions when the movie widens Friday. The MPAA bylaws require a 90-day waiting period between different cuts of a film but make an exception for movies that go from limited to wide release, as "Bully" is doing.
One person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to talk about it publicly said that Christopher Dodd, the former Connecticut senator who runs the MPAA, was instrumental in making an exception on the three F-words, winning out over other personalities at the organization who were less willing to make the exception. Hirsch said that there was "an openness [at the MPAA] that had a lot to do with him."
Asked about the exception via a spokesman, Joan Graves, head of the MPAA division that oversees ratings, released a statement that read, in part:
"In the case of 'Bully,' the ratings system has worked exactly as it is supposed to: Parents have been kept informed of the content of each version of the film, and they have been given the information they need to make moviegoing decisions on behalf of their kids.'
The issue has shone a light on the rules of the MPAA, which some critics have said are inconsistent and opaque, particularly when it comes to the issue of language.