Are ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Bully’ setting a precedent?
“The Hunger Games,” a movie based on Suzanne Collins’ social science fiction series, has taken the world by storm since its release March 23. Nowadays I can’t walk down the halls of HHS without seeing someone carrying one of the three books in the series. I can’t go to the mall without seeing stores full of merchandise. I can’t go online without seeing a news article about how the movie has smashed multiple box office records.
With all of this publicity, controversy sparks. The major controversy revolves around the central plot of the first book, in which Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, is forced to fight in her dystopian country’s brutal “Hunger Games,” where 24 teen-agers aged 12 to 18 have to fight each other until only one victor is left alive. Critics, many of them parents, have a variety of complaints about the movie, some ludicrous, some understandable. However, many dislike the violent nature of the series.
Around the same time as “The Hunger Games” was released, an anti-bullying documentary, aptly named “Bully,” gained nationwide publicity for its own controversy. The documentary follows the lives of five children who are victims of bullying at a time when it is being defined as a social problem and not just a rite of passage. Its purpose is to expose the intensity of this brutality as well as the apathetic response of adults in school systems. Most importantly, the goal of the documentary is an attempt to enlighten children to put an end to it. “What could possibly be controversial about this?” you might ask. Well, here’s the controversy.
“The Hunger Games,” a movie depicting teen-agers fighting each other to the death, received the rating of PG-13. “Bully” received an R rating.
The Motion Picture Association of America rated “The Hunger Games” PG-13 for “intense violent thematic material and disturbing images—all involving teens” to caution parents before allowing their children to view it but still allowing teen-agers 13 and older to view the movie alone. According to the MPAA’s website, a PG-13 rating can only be given to a movie that doesn’t have realistic, extreme or persistent violence. However, teens are killing other teens persistently and consistently throughout the second half of the movie in a plethora of extreme ways, ranging from spears and bow and arrows to genetically-enhanced wasps to hand-to-hand combat. In contrast, “Bully” received an R rating because profanity was used more than twice.
The difference between “Bully” and “The Hunger Games” is that “Bully” is a documentary depicting real people and real events, so any swear words were not planned. All the violence in “The Hunger Games” is central to its dystopian world and anti-corruption message, but it’s all planned and purposeful. This begs the question—is a movie about kids killing kids really less extreme than a few swear words?
I feel “The Hunger Games” really received its PG-13 rating so the movie could perform better in the box office. PG-13 is the sweet spot for ticket sales, and the “Bully” executives know this, too. Once “Bully” executives and fans found out “The Hunger Games” received its PG-13 rating, they denounced this unfairness and petitioned the MPAA to force them to change the rating of “Bully” to unrated in order to allow more people to see it. The MPAA also allowed a new edited version of “Bully” to be released with its own PG-13 rating as long as some of the profanity was dropped out.
Is this setting a precedent? This is similar to when “Gone with the Wind” was released in 1939, featuring Clark Gable’s famous last line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Once writers discovered “Gone with the Wind” got away with saying this, movies were ‘damning” all over the place.
I feel like these words are also going to be cut out in editing, along with this sentence, but it just supports my point. Because “The Hunger Games” was still allowed to keep its PG-13 rating with its graphic violence, other movies can use this as an example to push their own ratings down as well, and some of these movies won’t have as noble of a message as “The Hunger Games” does.
The ironic part is that with its strong messages against corruption, “The Hunger Games” may be leading a path toward that very thing. The MPAA needs to know when it’s time to stop pushing the line before the extremism goes too far.