Today in North America, BULLY, a documentary about bullying, opens in half a dozen selected theaters. The documentary has been talked about online for nearly a year (since its screening at the TriBeCa Film Fest in Spring 2011), is a darling of the news media, and was the subject of a celebrity-led petition drive by thousands. Directed by Lee Hirsch and written and produced by Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen, it follows several children as they get bullied in their daily lives, and records the adults and educators who fail to empathize or protect them. (View a two minute trailer here.)

This film about BULLYING was itself bullied by the anonymous adults that serve on the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) ratings board. The MPAA insisted on an “R” rating for BULLY, which prohibits young audiences from seeing the film without an accompanying adult. Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s “The Weinstein Company” is the documentary’s distributor, and will release BULLY without a rating; but some theater chains, such as AMC, are not able to screen unrated films.

The MPAA, which was “created” by the Hollywood film industry as a way to “self regulate” films and stave off local communities and diocese leaders from censoring films, is a secretive body known for its conservatism. Drop the “F” word in a film, and you can expect an “R” rating. Cut off someone’s bloody head, or kill teens as in The Hunger Games, and you can expect just a PG-13. Do they care that 13 million children will be bullied in 2012, and that 3 million kids will skip school due to bullying? Perhaps. But it seems that their primary mission is to preserve Hollywood revenue, not bring about social education.

THANKFULLY, a national Jewish youth group, BBYO, has risen to the occasion, and will foil the MPAA’s attempt to limit the documentary’s release. The film’s director, Lee Hirsch, a graduate of the Putney School in Vermont and Hampshire College, was bullied as a pre-teen, growing up on Long Island, NY. Hirsch attended the international BBYO conference in Atlanta in February, screened the film, discussed it, and even introduced the attendees to the parents of one of the bullied children. The screening was followed by discussions on Jewish values and the “Facing History” anti-bullying curriculum. (Coincidentally, the Bully Project film, Facing History, and BBYO are all grantees of the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust) The BBYO teen leaders in attendance decided to take action, and partnered with The Bully Project to bring the film to Jewish teen audiences. In April, screenings will be held for teens in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, DC, Dallas, Detroit, and other cities.

Bravo to BBYO, affiliated JCC’s. Keshet, NFTY, and the other groups that are taking this issue into their own hands. For those looking to take action against bullying now, BBYO happens to be collecting signatures from teens and their families as a part of BBYO’s Stand UP for Each Other Campaign for Respect and Inclusion, a grassroots effort focused on creating safe and welcome communities for all Jewish teens. All signatures will contribute towards The Bully Project’s goal to reach one million teens
To sign the petitions, learn more and register, visit BBYO.ORG/BULLY

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