A Michigan teen who is leading the charge to change the R rating of Bully, a new film about bullying set to premiere in theaters March 30, is in Washington for a face-off with the Motion Picture Association of America.
Katy Butler, high school junior from Ann Arbor, Mich., landed at Reagan National Airport Wednesday and headed straight into a meeting to discuss her upcoming talk with the national organization that decides movie ratings. She started an online petition two weeks ago after the MPAA ruled by one vote to give the soon-to-be released documentary an R rating. She'd like to see it changed to PG-13.
"I started my petition on Change.org after I saw some of the clips and trailer for the movie Bully," said Butler after her arrival. "It had a great message to share and I wanted to make sure everyone got to see the message."
Within those two weeks, the petition spread like wildfire. More than 290,000 signatures later, and with support pop culture icons like Ellen Degeneres and Justin Bieber, Katy has now wielded the power of the masses. But she is not only an activist, she's a victim.
When she was in 7th grade, she came out to her school as a lesbian and experienced the pain of bullying firsthand. "They called me names and they shoved me into lockers and walls and one day they ended up slamming my hand in my locker and breaking my finger," she said.
The association has already denied an appeal from the production company to drop the rating, saying it doesn't limit the audience to adults only. The agency cites Schindler's List as an example of an R-rated movie that has been shown in schools.
Meanwhile, a movie that can be shown in schools is the Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying: Speak Up. It premiered at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast D.C. Wednesday, where 8th grader Camille Capozzi was in the audience. She heard about the other bullying movie through Justin Bieber's Twitter feed.
Camille seems to think there’s no point in sheltering kids from the movie.
"Well, with something like an R-rated movie, it's probably because of the language. Everyone at this school uses curse words … so we already hear it," she said. "So what’s the problem with us seeing the movie.”
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius attended the Cartoon Network film's premiere and is also aware of Katy Butler's campaign.
"I know there’s been a question about language, but frankly, bullying is often difficult language to hear, often nasty, mean speak," Sebelius said
After multiple calls to the MPAA’s Washington office, they declined to comment for this story.
But Katy isn't deterred, and is making her message loud and clear. "I love being who I am and I want other kids to love being who they are, too," she said.