A movie about bullying, from a producer sometimes accused of bullying, has ignited the debate about how film-makers are bullied into censoring work that may upset America's "family values" lobby.
At issue is a restrictive "R"rating recently given to Bully, a documentary released this month. It means children under the age of 17 will be unable to watch the film, which follows five bullied teenagers, unless a parent or guardian is present.
The decision has outraged backers of the film, produced by Harvey Weinstein, the independent mogul behind The Artist. They had hoped to screen it in schools, where teachers might use it to kick-start conversation about an issue which is highly topical, following a string of widely-reported adolescent suicides.
Mr Weinstein has already threatened to withdraw his company from the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) ratings system in protest. He recently told the Hollywood Reporter, "kids need to be able to see this film on their own, not with parents, because that's the only way to truly make a change".
On Wednesday, Katy Butler, a 17-year-old victim of bullying, delivered a petition calling for the rating to be reconsidered to MPAA's headquarters in Los Angeles. It carried almost a quarter of a million signatures. "This film could save lives," she said. For now the agency is standing firm, saying Bully cannot be given a more liberal classification because of a scene in which teenagers repeatedly swear. Any film which contains more than one "sexually-derived" swear word is rated "R".
A spokesman said it would only reconsider if bad language was removed. But director Lee Hirsch told the Associated Press that such a move would amount to censorship. "To cut around it or bleep it out, it really absolutely does lessen the impact and takes away from what the honest moment was," he said. "I feel a responsibility as a film-maker, as the person entrusted to tell stories, to not water them down."
It is not the first time that America's famously-prurient ratings agency has been at odds with Mr Weinstein. Only last year, a similar controversy erupted over The King's Speech, rated "R"because of repeated use of the word "fuck."
Other nations, which are perhaps less beholden to the "family values"lobby, are not nearly so careful. In Britain, censors gave The King's Speech a 12 rating. In Canada, censors yesterday announced that Bully deserved a PG.
Cynics have meanwhile observed that Mr Weinstein makes a strange anti-bullying advocate. He boasts a legendary temper – Meryl Streep recently called him "The Punisher"– and was famously accused by biographer Peter Biskind of manhandling New York Observer editor Andrew Goldman during a confrontation at a cocktail party.
During that incident, which occurred in 2000 and has since entered Hollywood lore, Mr Biskind claims that Mr Weinstein put Mr Goldman "in a headlock and dragged him out the doors on to the street." The duo weren't separated until frantic publicists appeared.Reuse content