Harvey Weinstein checks the MPAA
Harvey Weinstein is playing the Bishop’s Opening against the MPAA.
I commented to Lainey that I thought that it was odd the way Harvey Weinstein was spending so much time fighting with the MPAA over the rating for his upcoming documentary Bully. Rated R for a scene in which school kids hurl abuse at one another, including more f-bombs than are allowed in the current rating standards, Bully was slapped with an R rating. Weinstein has been fighting ever since to have it dropped down to PG-13, stating that the R will keep kids, the target audience of the doc, from seeing it in theaters.
I defended Weinstein’s ratings fight over Blue Valentine because there was nothing in that movie that deserved an NC-17. Everything in it had been done before in R rated movies (see also: A History of Violence), but Bully is coming up against one of the few actual rules of the ratings board which states that two or more f-bombs is an automatic R. Look, we can argue the relevancy of this rule at a later date. This is not about what the ratings rules should be, but what they are and what Weinstein is doing about it. Bully is in violation of that rule, and Weinstein says he won’t cut the scene, so the ratings board isn’t going to lower the rating.
Which puts us right back at square one—Bully is rated R and Harvey Weinstein is mad. What I said to Lainey originally was that if this fight is really just about kids seeing this movie, then Weinstein has a lot of options other than “have a protracted and public fight with the ratings board”. I remember seeing Schindler’s List, which is rated R, in school and having my parents sign a permission slip so I could watch it. Ditto for Glory, Malcolm X and Saving Private Ryan, which we were bused to the theater to see as a special screening during school hours. Other options open to Weinstein: take the movie directly to schools and school boards, and arrange screenings at schools. (There is a group ticketing option on the Bully website, but you have to buy enough tickets to justify a select screening.)
I’m not sure Weinstein really cares about this movie, or the anti-bullying cause—which is important—or getting kids to see Bully. If it were REALLY about the kids seeing it, then release it on demand and/or online and let the kids watch it right now, en masse. Currently, on demand is treated like DVD—you don’t need a rating to release a movie direct to on demand. Weinstein says he may release the movie in theaters unrated, but the theatrical release of Bully is limited in theaters. Yet the target audience is kids who largely consume their media digitally these days. I’m not belittling the importance of the message behind Bully—I think it’s a very important issue. So if the point is to get it out to as many kids as possible, why not go digital with it and really make it available in a way these kids are going to consume it?
Because, again, this isn’t about getting the movie out to as many people as possible. It’s about Weinstein controlling the message and how this fight appears in the press.
Which is when I realized that Weinstein had played the Bishop’s Opening and Bully is the bishop sitting in the middle of the board. Everyone is distracted by the issue, by talking about the importance of anti-bullying initiatives and the foolishness of the MPAA standing in the way of that. What makes it such a genius play is that this issue really is timely and relevant and worth such discourse. It’s that little grain of “real” that makes it easy to swallow. And while everyone is dealing with the bishop, Weinstein is flanking his knights, moving in for the kill.
Because I think this whole thing—the meetings with politicians in Washington, DC, soliciting celebrities for support, and piggy-backing on a genuine grass-roots petition effort spearheaded by a student—is about Weinstein assuming control of the MPAA.
Take away the emotions surrounding the issue and really look at what he’s saying versus what he’s doing and tell me it’s not a power play. He’s careful not to speak ill of MPAA chief Chris Dodd, but Weinstein continues tilting directly at the MPAA, and Bully has become a battle ground less about school bullying and more about the ridiculous and out of touch nature of the MPAA. And Bully is the perfect touchstone because really, no one is going to argue against the issue, which just leaves Weinstein maneuvering behind the scenes, garnering way more political support than a ratings fight really needs (no politicians were needed for Blue Valentine).
Harvey Weinstein has a history of doing battle with the MPAA and being a vocal opponent. If anyone is capable of orchestrating a coup, it would be him. And he’s found the perfect bishop for his perfect play.