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"The small amount of language in the film that's responsible for the R rating is there because it's real. It's what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days," filmmaker Lee Hirsch said.
The Weinstein Co. is moving past the R rating earned by its documentary "Bully" and plans to release the film unrated.
The company announced Monday that "Bully" will hit theaters March 30 without a rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, meaning some theater may choose not to show it.
The MPAA gave the film an R rating for language and declined to change it when the Weinstein Co. appealed. That inspired teen activist Katy Butler to start an online petition seeking a lower rating so more young people could see the movie.
She has collected more than 475,000 signatures so far and even met with MPAA officials earlier this month, but the group stood its ground and "Bully" remained rated R, which requires children under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told the Weinstein Co. that releasing the film unrated could result in theaters treating the teen-focused documentary as an NC-17 film, which means no one 17 and under can be admitted.
Stephen Bruno, president of marketing for the Weinstein Co, isn't too concerned.
"We believe theater owners everywhere will step up and do what's right for the benefit of all of the children out there who have been bullied or may have otherwise become bullies themselves," Bruno said Monday, adding that the company plans to make the film available to teachers, parents and students nationwide.
Filmmaker Lee Hirsch said he declined to edit the documentary's offensive language because it would diminish the painful reality of bullying.
"The small amount of language in the film that's responsible for the R rating is there because it's real. It's what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days," Hirsch said.
He expects many young people to see the film, "so it's up to the theaters to let them in."
The MPAA did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Monday.
Butler said she's pleased the film will maintain its original content.
"The MPAA said they wouldn't drop the 'R' rating unless this language was removed," she said. "But nothing can remove it from the halls and playgrounds of schools where bullied students hear it each day, except education and exposure."