Bully (2011 film)

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Bully poster.jpg
Official film poster
Directed by Lee Hirsch
Produced by Cynthia Lowen
Lee Hirsch
Cindy Waitt
Noah Warren
Written by Cynthia Lowen
Music by Ion Furjanic
Justin Rice
Christian Rudder
Cinematography Lee Hirsch
Edited by Lindsay Utz
Jenny Golden
Enat Sidi
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Release dates
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $3,677,246[1]

Bully (originally titled The Bully Project) is a 2011 documentary film about bullying in U.S. schools. Directed by Lee Hirsch, the film follows the lives of five students who face bullying on a daily basis. Bully premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.[2][3] It was also screened at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival[4] and the LA Film Festival.[5]

Bully had its global premiere at Italy's Ischia Film Festival on July 17, 2011.[6] Bully was acquired by The Weinstein Company immediately after its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.[7] The film was released in United States theaters on March 30, 2012.[8]

On the official website the filmmakers are promoting Bully as an important advocacy tool against bullying and in facilitating an anti-bullying movement.[9] Contrary to the filmmaker's goals, the film suffered from a lack of accessibility in theatres due to MPAA rating controversy and from an extended downtime between theatre and home release. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 12, 2013 only with the PG-13 rated version.


The documentary follows students from public schools in Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma during the 2009–10 school year; it also follows the students' families. The film's particular focus is on the deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, victims of bullying who committed suicide. The film describes in great detail how the average American student cannot defend himself or herself against ridicule.[10]


The film's director, Lee Hirsch, was a victim of bullying as a child and decided to make a documentary so that the hidden lives of bullied children would be brought into the open.[11] He approached the nonprofit organization Fractured Atlas, which gave him partial funding for the film. Significant additional funding was provided by Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, The Fledgling Fund, BeCause Foundation and Gravity Films. The film's music was composed by Ion Michael Furjanic (former member of the band Force Theory) and indie band Bishop Allen.[12]

In a screening in Minneapolis in September 2011, Hirsch told the audience that his having been bullied as a child was part of the inspiration for the film.[13] In an interview with a Twin Cities news website after the screening, Hirsch continued, "I felt that the hardest part of being bullied was communicating, and getting help. I couldn’t enroll people’s support. People would say things like 'get over it,' even my own father and mother. They weren't with me. That was a big part of my wanting to make the film. It's cathartic on a daily basis." Hirsch said he hoped the film grows far beyond him, inspiring advocacy, engagement, and empowerment not just in people who are being bullied and in their families, but by those of us who all too often stand by and do nothing. He stated, "I hope we build something that’s really sustainable. I hope this takes on a life of its own."[13]

MPAA rating[edit]

On February 27, 2012, a Change.org online petition was created, directed to the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in order to reduce the movie's rating from R (due to some language as shown in the poster) to PG-13. As a former victim of bullying, Katy Butler, one of the originators of the petition, stated that "Because of the R rating, most kids won't get to see this film. No one under 17 will be allowed to see the movie, and the film won't be screened in American middle schools or high schools."[14] As of March 15, 2012, Butler had collected more than 300,000 signatures, but the MPAA initially hesitated to make the change. Joan Graves of the MPAA said that though Bully is a "wonderful film", the organization's primary responsibility is to provide information to parents about the films' content.[15][16]

On March 26, 2012, The Weinstein Company announced that it would release Bully unrated, in protest of the MPAA's decision.[10] This effectively restricted the movie to art-house and independently owned theaters since AMC, Cinemark, and many other American cinema chains have policies against screening unrated films. Despite this, AMC announced it would allow minors to watch the film upon receipt of a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian.[17] Regal Cinemas did indicate they would play the film; however it would treat it as an R-rated feature.[18]

In Canada (where each province sets their own rating), as of March 30, 2012, Bully has received only PG ratings (from six of ten provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec and Saskatchewan) with no age restrictions but warnings for coarse language.[19][20]

In April, the Weinstein Company came to an agreement with the MPAA.[21] After toning down the profanity, the film received a new rating of PG-13 (for intense thematic material, disturbing content and some strong language—all involving kids), which meant that children of all ages could watch the movie without an adult.[21] The Weinstein Company subsequently announced that the PG-13 rated version of Bully would be released nationwide on April 13, 2012.[22][23] When it was released, its widest release was in 265 theaters.


Critical response[edit]

Bully was positively received by critics.[24] Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 85% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 127 reviews, with an average score of 7.1/10, making the film "Certified Fresh" on the website's rating system.[25] At Metacritic, the film received an average score of 74/100, based on 33 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".[26]

The film was parodied in the South Park episode "Butterballs", including a scene in which Kyle asks Stan (who created an anti-bullying documentary) "If this video needs to be seen by everyone, why don't you put it on the Internet for free?" to which Stan had no answer.[27]


  1. ^ "Bully (2012)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb.com. Retrieved May 15, 2012. 
  2. ^ Coyle, Jake (March 7, 2011). "International slate heads Tribeca Film Festival". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  3. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (March 7, 2011). "Musical Couples of All Kinds on the Bill at Tribeca Festival". New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  4. ^ Vlessing, Etan (March 15, 2011). "Hot Docs Unveils Glitzy Special Presentations". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  5. ^ "LA Film Fest Announces The Bully Project Community Screening". Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  6. ^ Ianuario, Lidia (June 28, 2011). "Bullismo, un fenomeno diffusosi a macchia d'olio. Ischia riflette con The Bully Project". Ischia News (in Italian). Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  7. ^ TWC takes on Bully Project.
  8. ^ Douglas, Edward (June 17, 2011). "Scary Movie 5 and Halloween 3D are Coming!". Coming Soon. Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  9. ^ http://thebullyproject.com/
  10. ^ a b Child, Ben (March 27, 2012). "Weinsteins to release Bully unrated in protest at censors". The Guardian. 
  11. ^ "A year-long look at bullying". American Morning. October 4, 2010. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Bully Project". Tribeca Film Festival. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Itman, Leora. "On Being Bullied, and Tikkun Olam, "Bully Project" Documentary Filmmaker Lee Hirsch Weighs In". TC Jewfolk. Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  14. ^ "MPAA: Don't Let the Bullies Win!". Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  15. ^ Nudd, Tim (March 13, 2012). "Justin Bieber, Johnny Depp Pledge Support to Anti-Bullying Film". People. 
  16. ^ Miles, Kathleen (March 7, 2012). "'Bully' Documentary: Katy Butler Campaigns To Get 'R' Rating Lowered So More Teens Will See It". The Huffington Post. 
  17. ^ http://go.amctheatres.com/bully
  18. ^ "Regal Cinemas, country’s largest theater chain, will play 'Bully'". 24 Frames. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  19. ^ Vlessing, Etan (March 13, 2012). "'Bully' Continues Run of PG-Ratings in Canada". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  20. ^ http://www.rcq.qc.ca/RCQ212AfficherFicheTech.asp?intNoFilm=365691
  21. ^ a b Zeitchik, Steven (April 5, 2012). "'Bully' rating: Some, but not all, profanity would cut to get PG-13". Los Angeles Times. 
  22. ^ "'Bully': MPAA, Weinstein Co. reach agreement, documentary gets PG-13 rating". 24 Frames. Zap2it. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  23. ^ Lang, Derrik J. (April 5, 2012). "The Weinstein Co. scores PG-13 rating for 'Bully'". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Associated Press. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  24. ^ Silver, Stephen. "Movie Review: "Bully"". Technology Tell. technologytell.com. Retrieved 4/12/2012.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  25. ^ "Bully – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Bully Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  27. ^ http://splitsider.com/2012/04/south-park-recap-butterballs

External links[edit]