"Bully," the peer-abuse documentary at the center of a ratings controversy, should be seen by teenagers, said audience members at an advance screening this week at Tower Theatre.
Curse words and all.
"I think it's good that the words should be heard instead of being edited out," McClatchy High School junior Liam Olson-Kenny, 17, said after the screening. "Because you don't get the whole effect if you don't hear what's actually being said."
"Bully," which shines a light on peer abuse via several families' stories, was assigned an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for its use of profanity in scenes of peer harassment. It was released in New York and Los Angeles unrated before being re-cut for its wider release today. It now carries a PG-13 rating. The new version excised some swear words but still contains more of them than most PG-13 movies.
The MPAA changed the rating in response to a campaign by the film's distributor, the Weinstein Co., and anti-bullying groups. They argued that an R rating or no rating would keep preteens and teens the age groups most affected by bullying from seeing the movie. (No one under 17 can see an R-rated film without an adult, and some theater owners will not show unrated films).
The movie's release coincides with greater national awareness of bullying and of teen suicides attributed to peer abuse.
Seeing the stories on screen is important, said Andrea Fazel, a teacher at Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep charter school and faculty adviser to ALLY, the school's anti-bullying and unity-promoting student group.
"I often hear from students, 'Oh, they should just get a tougher skin, or if they don't like it, they should stay off the Internet,' " Fazel said before Tuesday's screening.
"Taking it away from sort of an abstract to a real problem in a (film) about real lives that are impacted that has a big impact on opening people's eyes."
"Everyone should see a movie like this," said Jeremiah Wade, 15, an ALLY member who said he was bullied at a previous school he attended.
"Bully," or at least its central message, could benefit younger children, as well, said Derek Taylor, a 17-year-old McClatchy High junior.
During the summer, Taylor works with 6- to 10-year-olds in a day care setting, and sees children pick on each other.
"It's not as bad" as what's depicted in the film, he said, but "we try hard to put them in their place so it stops. I think this is a message that should be heard from fourth grade on."
Taylor, Olson-Kenny and classmates Sierra Schultz and Kendall Mar who all attended the screening said they do not see visible bullying at McClatchy.
The incidents in "Bully" mostly occur in rural schools rather than large, urban high schools such as McClatchy. One vignette focuses on an Oklahoma teen who is ostracized by classmates and most of her town after coming out as a lesbian.
"There are lots of girls who are lesbians at McClatchy, and no one cares," said Mar, contrasting her school with those featured in the film.
Signs urging respect for all hang in McClatchy classrooms, the students said. McClatchy's district, Sacramento City Unified, employs a bullying-prevention specialist, Sheila Self. She also saw "Bully" on Tuesday.
Bullying is "a complex issue, so it is really important we get out the research and the information to administrators, teachers and students and parents, so we all have a common understanding of what aggressive behavior is on a school campus," Self said.
She is glad the film carries a teen-friendly rating: "I was extremely disappointed with the R rating."
Focused on victims, "Bully" contains few clear shots of or interviews with the bullies. As a result, the documentary subjects who come off worst are school administrators, particularly one Iowa woman with a pleasant demeanor and seeming inability to acknowledge the severity of the problem at her school.
It's adults who most need to see "Bully," said Lisa Ford-Berry, who founded the nonprofit BRAVE Bullies Really Are Violating Everyone after the 2008 suicide of her son, Michael Berry of Mira Loma High School in Sacramento.
Her son's suicide, Ford-Berry has said, happened after he received bullying text messages and emails, and after he sought help from the school's counseling office. (A San Juan Unified spokesman told The Bee in 2010 the district could not discuss a student's counseling records due to privacy policies, and that San Juan was continuing to implement anti-bullying education efforts.)
To Ford-Berry, the film's rating is a "nonissue."
"Kids get it" already, she said of bullying problems. "If I had a dollar for all the times I had to almost spoon-feed to adults, 'You understand why this is a problem' "
Most adults "come with their own set of experiences," she said, and do not understand bullying unless they or their children have been targeted.
Ford-Berry found understanding among other parents. She knows most of the people in "Bully," she said, as part of an anti-bullying network.
"Every law that gets passed, every change, there is a grieving parent that is dragging somebody" to action, she said.
It's adults who most need to see "Bully," said Lisa Ford-Berry, who founded the nonprofit BRAVE (Bullies Really Are Violating Everyone) after the 2008 suicide of her son, student Michael Berry of Mira Loma High School in Sacramento.