Prop 8 lawyers threaten to sue over ‘R’ rating for ‘Bully’ documentary

David Boies and Ted Olson, the famed lawyers behind a legal challenge to California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, are threatening to sue the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) unless it changes the R rating of the documentary film "Bully."

"I hope, for heaven's sake, that they find some rational basis before we have to sue them to revise the rating system," Boies said at a screening of the film in New York on Tuesday.

Olson said the MPAA "better shape up or here we come."

Boies and Olson are two of the country's most prominent lawyers, and argued against each other in the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election.

The MPAA's Classification and Rating Administration assigned "Bully" an R rating because the F-word is used several times in dialogue. The rating means children under 17 cannot see the film without a parent or guardian.

The filmmakers, led by producer Harvey Weinstein, officially appealed the rating, saying that the film offers an important message to children about the effects of bullying, but the MPAA's appeals board denied the motion on Feb. 23.

“How ridiculous and unfair and damaging it is to have a film of this power and importance that is being censored by a rating system that has got simply no rational basis,” said Boies. “You can kill kids, you can maim them, you can torture them and still get a ‘PG-13’ rating, but if they say a couple of bad words you blame them."

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) has gathered signatures from 35 members of Congress for a letter urging the MPAA to reverse its decision. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged her Twitter followers to sign a petition opposing the movie's rating.

In a statement earlier this month, the MPAA emphasized the rating is not a judgement on the film's value. 

“The voluntary ratings system enables parents to make an informed decision about what content they allow their children to see in movies," said Joan Graves, chairman of the MPAA's ratings board. "The R rating and description of ‘some language’ for Bully does not mean that children cannot see the film. As with any movie, parents will decide if they want their children to see Bully. School districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval."

At a screening in Washington earlier this month, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), now the head of the MPAA, suggested that the filmmakers either edit the film's language or release it without an MPAA rating.

"In some cases [the rating system] is very clear; in other cases it's not as clear as it ought to be, in my view. But the ratings board made a decision on this, and my hope is we can find some way to work through this," Dodd said.