We've read — and written — a lot about "Bully" lately. The R rating, followed by the Weinstein protest, followed by a screening for kids, followed by NATO's counterprotest. And all of it has produced the sort of PR bonanza for which the Weinsteins are known.
"Bully" has also produced a curious side effect: Irony.
Earlier this week, Movieline's S.T. Van Airsdale weighed in with his essay, "Harvey Weinstein's Bully Problem — and Ours:"
I privately vowed not to succumb to this most ironic of Weinsteinian pursuits: The most legendary bully of the modern Hollywood era releasing a movie about bullies, and then publicly bullying the MPAA over the last week with his outraged! Campaign! To overturn Bully's R rating for language! For the children!
For Mark Lipsky, however, the comparison was less ironic than personal. He was a marketing exec for the early days of the Weinsteins' Miramax Films, where he handled Bille August's "Twist & Shout," Lizzie Borden's "Working Girls" and Jennie Livingston's "Paris is Burning." It launched Lipsky's career, but he remembers the Weinsteins as "two of the most unrepentant bullies I’d ever met." Writes Lipsky,
They’ve famously bullied their staffs and their business partners and like most adult bullies, they’ve rarely if ever been called on it. In fact, I’ve so often heard it laughed off or even exploited by outsiders that, just like Rick Santorum, it makes me want to throw up.
Now, in the face of Weinstein releasing a documentary about bullying that he wants to affect as many people as possible, Lipsky asks: Can a bully change? That's why he wrote this open letter to Harvey (which originally appeared on Lipsky's site, InciteCinema). We've republished it with Lipsky's kind permission. — Dana Harris
[UPDATE: Longtime Weinstein exec Meryl Poster replied to Lipsky's letter. Go HERE to read it on Indiewire.]
In the natural world, bullying is an accepted, often essential ingredient. For some species it’s a foundational component in their evolutionary journey and an acceptable if sometimes heartbreaking fact of life.
In the unnatural world – you know, the one we humans live in with our perversely outsized and underutilized brains – bullying is one of the most insidious and detestable realities. There’s nothing good or right or natural in human bullying, not for the past several thousands years anyway. Just like hatred and intolerance, bullying is a learned behavior and in my experience, the home is where all bullies are schooled. Once instilled in a child’s psychological makeup, it’s virtually impossible to unlearn without intense family counseling where both parents and all siblings are fully engaged and committed to the process – and how often does that happen?
So a bully is nearly always a bully for life. Once they’re out of school, their bullying continues within their own homes – where they pass the behavior on to yet another generation – and it wafts through their social circles and work environments. Sometimes it’s called domestic violence, sometimes workplace harassment but the root cause is a lifetime of untreated, unacknowledged bullying. Unfortunately, adults who bully are as unlikely to be confronted and taken to task as child bullies.
Back in 1986 I fell in with two of the most unrepentant bullies I’d ever met. They’ve famously bullied their staffs and their business partners and like most adult bullies, they’ve rarely if ever been called on it. In fact, I’ve so often heard it laughed off or even exploited by outsiders that, just like Rick Santorum, it makes me want to throw up. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible for a bully to reform, but Harvey and Bob have done so well for themselves pushing people around I find it hard to believe that they’ve given it up.
Last April, The Weinstein Company acquired Lee Hirsch’s “The Bully Project,” now titled simply “Bully.” Was it a hopeful sign that the Weinsteins went after Bully? Had they seen the error of their ways and now wanted to give something back besides derision and contempt? Or was it simply the definition of irony?
In any case, as you may have read, the MPAA recently handed the film – and the Weinstein marketing department – an ‘R’ rating. Last week, Harvey and Alex Libby, one of the bullied kids from the film, appealed the ruling but were denied. TWC is ‘threatening’ to release the film unrated which could seriously undermine their effort to reach the widest possible audience since NATO has now notified the company that if Bully goes out unrated, it will proactively ask theaters to enforce an NC-17 standard on the film which would mean no one under 18 admitted even *with* an adult. (In typical Harvey bluster, he responded by ‘threatening’ to take a leave of absence from the MPAA – an organization he doesn’t belong to.)
Prior to the appeal and according to Reuters, Harvey issued the following statement to the MPAA:
“As a father of four, I worry every day about bullying; it’s a serious and ever-present concern for me and my family. I want every child, parent, and educator in America to see ‘Bully,’ so it is imperative for us to gain a PG-13 rating. It’s better that children see bad language than bad behavior, so my wish is that the MPAA considers the importance of this matter as we make this appeal.”
I hate bullying and always have. I also have an abiding contempt for hypocrisy. If Harvey has, in fact, reformed, he needs to come out and say so publicly. He needs to own his past behavior, admit to his addiction – bullying is an addiction, after all, both to power and dominance – and pledge to never bully anyone again. If he’s looking for ink and controversy (and he certainly is) there’s no more honest or powerful way for him and the film to get it.
I haven’t seen “Bully” yet but anything that shines a bright light on this terrible corruption of humanity is a good thing. By the way, I disagree about the rating. I think the ‘R’ is right for “Bully.” Certainly every kid in America should see the film, but it’s even more important for the parents to see it since they represent the root cause of the disease. Having to have a parent accompany the child to the theater is a good thing in this case. I’d go so far as to say both parents, if in fact there are two parents, should have to accompany the child.
Kids know all about bullying. They see it every day and everyone knows who the bullies are. But unless the parents of those bullies are made to experience an epiphany, take responsibility and choose to break the pattern, there’s little hope for any substantive change.
Harvey, you have a rare opportunity with “Bully” to actually move the needle and leave the world a better place. I believe that you’d like to see bullying stop. I believe that you “want every child, parent, and educator in America to see “Bully,” and not just for the boxoffice. So get up on that incredibly high horse of yours and use that bully pulpit to assure children, parents and educators everywhere that if you can reform, anyone can.
Light a fire, Harvey, for every kid that’s ever bullied someone and for every parent who taught them how.