ANN ARBOR – When Katy Butler was in seventh grade; she was bullied for being a lesbian. She would cry in the mornings because she didn’t want to go to school. Each day was as she remembers them – “horrible.”
Butler endured the brutal ridicule hoping it wouldn’t get worse, but one day it did.
“A few guys came up behind me while putting books in my locker. They called me names and asked me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one liked me. I ignored them because I was scared of what else they might say and who else they might tell if I stood up to them. When I shut my locker, they pushed me against the wall. Then they slammed my locker door shut on my hand, breaking my fourth finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid,” said Butler.
She looked around and noticed about fifteen classmates that stood there watching. No one, including school staff, came to her rescue. Butler went home that day and lied to her parents about what happened for fear that their involvement would further escalate the bullying. Butler succumbed to the abuse until three years ago when she began her freshman year at Greenhills High School, a college prep school in Ann Arbor.
“I have no idea how I survived. I really don’t know how I got through it. I sympathize with the people who consider taking their own life,” said Butler, who made a tough decision to finally share her secrets with her family. “It was the Day of Silence, but I couldn’t keep quiet. I sent my mom a text message confirming what she had already figured out. When I explained to her about the bullying, she was angry and wanted to create a huge deal about it. I asked her not to because it wouldn’t change anything,” said Butler.
But taking matters into her own hands as an anti-bullying activist is changing everything.
Now a junior in high school, Butler’s compelling personal story has made national news since launching a campaign on Change.org (www.change.org). She was motivated by the Motion Picture Association of America’s decision to reject by one vote an appeal by The Weinstein Company to lower the rating of their film “Bully” to PG-13 from an R.
“Bully,” a new film by Lee Hirsch, documents the epidemic of bullying in American schools. Filmed during the 2009-2010 school year, each story represents a different facet of the bullying crisis in America and raises awareness about a widespread social issue that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic boundaries. As stated in a recent press release, the film illustrates how teachers and administrators often dismiss “aggressive” behaviors with woefully inadequate “kids will be kids” cliches. It also captures the growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is addressed in schools, communities and society as a whole.
According to the film’s website, The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Safe and Drug-Free Schools estimates that more than 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation. The film’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, had reportedly planned to screen the film in middle and high schools across America.
Butler has motivated almost 200,000 people to sign her online petition (http://www.change.org/petitions/mpaa-dont-let-the-bullies-win-give-bully-a-pg-13-instead-of-an-r-rating), which will allow people like her 13-year-old sister Kelly to see the film. The petition reads: “MPAA: Don’t let the bullies win! Give “Bully” a PG-13 instead of an R rating. Dear MPAA, Your decision, by one vote, to issue an R rating for the film “Bully” is wrong. It will prevent millions of teenagers from seeing a film that documents the epidemic of bullying in American schools. This film has the potential to change the world and change the culture of violence in many schools. But your decision to give this movie an R means that the people who need to see this movie the most — teenagers who are either bullying their peers or suffering from violence and torment at the hands of bullies — won’t get to see this film. Nor will this film be allowed to be shown at middle schools and high schools in this country. Please reconsider your decision to give Bully an R and give it a PG-13 instead. Thank you.”
In a Feb. 28 blog (http://blog.mpaa.org/BlogOS/author/Joan-Graves.aspx) Joan Graves, the MPAA Head of Classification and Ratings Administration, responded that bullying is a serious issue and is a subject parents should discuss with their children. “The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that “Bully” can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions. Unfortunately, there is a misconception about the R rating of this film limiting the audience to adults. This is not true…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.”
“I think they’re creating a cover for not wanting to show this film,” said Butler. “It’s a harsh reality, but there is nothing negative to be taken away from the film. It will show young people the affect bullying has on others, but also that things get better.”
Butler said she has felt an overwhelming amount of support since late 2011 when she and her friend Carson Borbely launched a different petition on Change.org urging the Michigan state legislature to stop the state’s “License to Bully” bill that would have created religious and moral exemptions from bullying. She collected more than 50,000 signatures and the legislature passed a modified bill that removed those exemptions.
“It’s amazing. The director of the film called me to thank me for doing this,” said Butler, who is well on her way to establishing a career in political activism as she was recently invited to speak at the Western Regional Conference 2012: Lead the Movement, Be the Change in California.
“This really has meant a lot to a lot of people. She is so brave in coming forward and is not shy about standing up for young people. People power change and it’s quite inspiring,” said Change.org Campaign Manager Mark Anthony Dingbaum. “It’s only a matter of time before the MPAA responds.”
In the meantime, the film is scheduled for release in select theaters on March 30. The Second Annual Uptown Film Festival in Birmingham from Mar. 8-10 will host the exclusive Michigan premiere of “Bully” at the Palladium 12 Theatre on Mar. 10 at 2 p.m. After the film’s debut, the national anti-bullying non-profit, Defeat the Label, will host a panel discussion featuring local students, parents, school officials, and more, to educate local audiences about the dangers of bullying and effective ways to identify and respond to bullying when it occurs. This panel is free and open to the public.
Palladium 12 Theatre
250 North Old Woodward Avenue
Birmingham, MI 48009
Mar. 10 – Movie: 2 p.m., Panel: 4 p.m.