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Katy Butler poses with boxes containing more than 210,000 petition signatures. (Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn) Katy Butler poses with boxes containing more than 210,000 petition signatures.

Teenager petitions to change R rating for 'Bully'

By Sandy Cohen
AP Entertainment Writer / March 8, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Katy Butler hasn't forgotten what it was like to be bullied in the seventh grade, when a group of boys surrounded her, taunted her and broke her finger by slamming it into a locker.

Now 17, Butler has become the face of a campaign to change the rating of "Bully," a documentary that tracks victims and perpetrators of bullying in American schools. The film, set for release this month, has been rated R for its language content.

Butler, along with distributors the Weinstein Co., wants the rating changed to PG-13 so more young people can see it.

"This could change bullying and save lives," the high-school junior from Ann Arbor, Mich., said.

The Weinstein Co. appealed the R-rating, but the Motion Picture Association of America, which oversees movie ratings, declined to change it. That inspired Butler to start an online campaign on Change.org, a website that publishes community petitions and funded Butler's trip to Los Angeles.

The teenage activist collected more than 200,000 signatures in just 10 days and delivered them Wednesday to the MPAA's headquarters in hopes it might reconsider its decision.

Among the signatories is Ellen DeGeneres, who discussed the film on Wednesday's episode of her talk show.

"I can tell you after seeing this movie, the lessons that the kids learn from this movie are more important than any words they might hear -- and they're words they already know anyway," DeGeneres said.

She introduced Butler, who was sitting in the audience, and told the teen: "Good for you. I'm proud of you."

So far, more than 224,000 people have signed Butler's online petition with the headline: "MPAA: Don't let the bullies win! Give 'Bully' a PG-13 instead of an R rating!"

Butler carted four boxes packed with papers containing the signatures she collected into the MPAA building in Los Angeles. Officials met with the teenager and her mother but have declined to revise the film's rating.

"Even though we think this is a wonderful film and very worthwhile film for people to see, our main purpose is to give parents information on the level of content," Joan Graves, chairman of the classification and rating administration, said in an interview. "She wants us to ignore the level of content because this is a good film, and we can't do that. We have to be consistent."

Graves said the organization often meets with individuals and groups seeking changes in film ratings, but this is the first time a teenager has spearheaded such a campaign.

"We always pay attention to groups who are trying to give us information about how they feel," Graves said. "Our whole goal is to rate films the way the majority of American parents would rate them."

Butler's mother, Anne Butler, has seen "Bully" and calls it "important and empowering," despite the profanity it contains.

"There's some language in the film, but the language is the language kids use every day at school," said Anne Butler, who is also the mother of a 13-year-old girl. "This is kids' language. It's not an adult situation with adult language. This is what our kids see and hear every single day."

Katy Butler plans to keep collecting signatures in hopes of changing the MPAA's position.

"They didn't say it was their final decision," she said, noting the film won't be released until March 30.

Graves said a rating change would be unlikely.

"Filmmakers have a choice about how they react to our ratings," she said, adding that some have chosen to re-edit or bleep offending language to achieve a lower rating.

Participation in the MPAA's ratings system is voluntary, she said, and "there's also the possibility of sending a film out unrated."

Harvey Weinstein has threatened to withdraw his future films from the MPAA rating system. He and "Bully" director Lee Hirsch have declined to recut the film, saying such editing would minimize the harsh realities of bullying.

"To cut around it or bleep it out, it really absolutely does lessen the impact and takes away from what the honest moment was, and what a terrifying feeling it can be (to be bullied)," Hirsch said. "I feel a responsibility as a filmmaker, as the person entrusted to tell (these kids') stories, to not water them down."

Follow AP entertainment writer Sandy Cohen on Twitter.

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