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by D.R. Stewart
February 24, 2012 7:16 PM
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The Kids Are All Right: Weinstein Screens 'Bully' For High School Students and Inspires One to Fight Back in the Theater

Ninth-grade students outside Los Angeles' Cinefamily Theater before Friday's 9am screening of Lee Hirsch's "Bully." D.R. Stewart
On Friday morning, students from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles got what Harvey Weinstein wanted: The opportunity to watch "Bully," Lee Hirsch's documentary about five kids and their families devastated by bullying.

"Bully," of course, received an 'R' rating this week from the MPAA, which was later upheld despite an in-person appeal from Weinstein and bullying victim Alex Libby. Weinstein's now threatening a "leave of absence" from the MPAA, an organization he's happily clashed with on multiple occasions.

Any grandstanding aside, what's at stake is the opportunity for kids to easily see "Bully" (formerly known as "The Bully Project"). Not only do they serve as the film's subjects and promise to be the film's best audience, they are also the ones most likely to benefit from its message.
 
The R rating stems from profanity, including the nuclear epithet of "motherf***er." In a Q&A after today's screening, Hirsch asked Joe Jacovo’s 9th grade English class if they could handle the language and the high schoolers said they thought it was mild; one student added, “I know we’re not supposed to talk this way, but we do.” 

Hirsch's audience was more concerned with his experience of documenting the abuse of Libby, the film's subject.
High schoolers said they thought the language was mild; said one, “I know we’re not supposed to talk this way, but we do.”


“It was really, really hard," said Hirsch. "If it had gotten more violent, I would have… the bigger picture was I wanted to stop it. Alex and I had a kind of partnership and agreement, he was committed to being brave – he wanted people to know what he actually experienced. It had been happening for years. He was almost happy that somebody saw it.” 

Another Fairfax freshman asked if the bullies cared that they were being caught on film tormenting Alex. 

“I don’t think there was a show for the camera,” said Hirsch. “I don’t think they were more aggressive or less aggressive; it’s just how they were that day. I’ve ridden that bus a number of times, on different days. That school existed in a climate and culture where kids had been able to bully Alex for many years. And the consequences were not really serious. The presence of an adult who wasn’t a disciplinarian didn’t really mean anything because they were used to that. Plus, I was shooting with a 5D, what looks like a still camera, just riding the bus.“ 
 
During the Q&A, Fairfax High student Haku Chi created a stir when, after congratulating Hirsch on the film, she turned around and challenged some boys behind her who had been less than respectful to the film's message and subject. 

The audience was more concerned with the director's experience of documenting the abuse of Alex Libby, the film's subject.
Later, Chi explained: “I was really upset that someone didn’t appreciate (Hirsch’s) work. They were laughing at the way the mom acted whose son died and the fact that ‘No Fags Allowed’ was written on a locker. I took that very personally, because I’m lesbian myself. It was hard watching, hearing them, while I was trying to watch the film.  With my experiences, me being such a nonconformist, I’m always getting bullied for being lesbian, for being pagan, for not hanging out with other Asians.”
 
Chi went on to explain through tears that “I came out officially to my parent a couple of months ago. My house was crazy, I went to foster care, the school got into it, it was a big deal. My friends knew since I was 13. I always knew and I wasn’t afraid to tell people. I’m glad for where I live, because I know other people have it so much harder.  And I’m very happy with the friends I have, they’re okay with it, but I have friends that live in the Valley – well, suicidal thoughts come to everybody."

Chi was also “glad that other kids watching the movie have the chance to know what it’s like to be bullied and not accepted into normal society,” but, like Weinstein, worried about the impact of the “R” rating.

“I think it’s ridiculous that kids aren’t able to see this, because they need to get affected by this film," she said. "The reactions that I’ve seen, my friend was crying, I was crying, it rings a bell. And people stop and think and they go – ‘I know someone who should be spoken to. I know someone who should be stood up for.’ For it be shown to other kids – makes all the difference.”
 
As far as the rating battle goes, the Weinstein Company maintains that the appeal process is still pending and they intend for the film to be seen in its current state without edits.

Hirsch made it clear that no ground will be ceded on the film. “My position has been no, I don’t want to cut it. I said, 'I would like you to support me in fighting this rating' and [Weinstein] said, ‘We’re already there.’ This film is not an 'R' film. Those scenes matter. And that language makes it real.”
 

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13 Comments

  • Samantha Klein | February 29, 2012 6:12 PMReply

    Sadly, I think the reaction of the kids who were laughing and mocking the film shows that bullies themselves aren't likely to be changed by the film. I haven't seen the film, obviously, but I hope it shows how kids and parents can fight bullying. There has to be zero tolerance in our schools and in our society.

  • Haku E. Chi | February 27, 2012 11:42 PMReply

    IndieWire-- thank you! A beautifully written article; Being a part of your legacy is truly inspirational and I hope "The Bully Project" gets it's R rating changed-- children need to see the cruel effects that bullying brings-- emotionally and physically. Families, friends, whole communities... everything can change after a simple tease or taunt and A Life, so precious, can be lost. Thank you again for your wonderful work and support towards Harvey Weinstein's film.

  • D.R. Stewart | July 31, 2012 9:36 PM

    Glad you appreciated -- I sure appreciated your valor in confronting the monster -- made me wish I had been that brave in my past ...

  • a. | February 26, 2012 8:06 PMReply

    harvey weinstein is putting out a movie about....'bulllying'? i won't even put my real address i am so scared he might find out i put this here.

    with all serious this is a noble attempt.

  • Barb | February 25, 2012 5:44 PMReply

    Good Article,Well Written. Thank you to everyone who was involved in making this important film. We have to reach kids and adults and change the culture of bullying. It's so wrong and harmful. Obviously, the film did it's job and elicited a dialogue between the viewers. Touche!

  • Laurent Rejto | February 25, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    How insane to give this important film an R rating. Criminal!

  • Eris Akman | February 25, 2012 9:48 AMReply

    Well done, Mr. Weinstein.. I don't think MPAA is a body authorized to judge what to show kids of today. Are we going to stop our kids to see and learn about something they ought to just because there is profanity in it? Profanity is all over the streets, schools even households.

  • Haku E. Chi | February 27, 2012 11:45 PM

    So true-- many of the students agree the profanity in the film is mild-- we were shocked in learning that other children and teens arent able to watch such an emotionally moving film! In Harvey's film, /this/ is the life these kids are living-- posting an R rating is like telling the kids they cant watch their own lives. It's ridiculous. xoxo, Haku.

  • Jason | February 24, 2012 8:18 PMReply

    To anyone who has seen it already, what age would be the youngest to show this film to?

  • Christina | March 6, 2012 3:32 AM

    My son just turned 10, but he has been bullied for a couple years now. I have had several conversations with him about bullying. I think this movie would help him to not feel alone and to realize what I've told him is true.

  • Haku E. Chi | February 27, 2012 11:51 PM

    I would say at 9 years old-- because that's how far the bullying has gone in the world. Montana Lance never deserved to die, he was bullied and bullied until one day enough was enough. Children need to know when to stop-- or more importantly, to never start bullying at all. Bullying is murdering innocent lives, it's time for someone to take a stand.

  • Lindsey | February 24, 2012 9:25 PM

    I would say as young as 6th grade, potentially younger depending on the maturity of your child. It is powerful and could really start up a dialogue between you and your child (because we know how hard it is to talk to our kids about bullying). This film is worth it.

  • Jeffrey Abramson | February 24, 2012 7:43 PMReply

    good move Weinstein