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Bullying

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Here’s the trailer for Bully, a documentary from director Lee Hirsch (NextWorld, Amandala!) about the ways that schoolkids and their families deal with bullying. We’ve seen several cases in the past few years where bullied kids have taken their own lives, or attempted to, and this film seems intended to address the issue both as an expose and a means of support to those who are bullied.

There is a minor point of controversy, however, as the version of Bully submitted to the MPAA was given an R rating for language, and Harvey Weinstein is trying to appeal that rating before the film’s March release.

First, here’s the trailer:

In a press release sent out yesterday, Weinstein said he would appear with Alex Libby, one of the bullied children in the film, at a rating appeal hearing tomorrow. Weinstein said,

I have great respect for the work Chairman Joan Graves and the rest of the MPAA governing body do. I have been compelled by the filmmakers and the children to fight for an exception so we can change this R rating brought on by some bad language.

Director Hirsch said,

I made BULLY for kids to see – the bullies as well as the bullied. We have to change hearts and minds in order to stop this epidemic, which has scarred countless lives and driven many children to suicide. To capture the stark reality of bullying, we had to capture the way kids act and speak in their everyday lives – and the fact is that kids use profanity. It is heartbreaking that the MPAA, in adhering to a strict limit on certain words, would end up keeping this film from those who need to see it most. No one could make this case more powerfully than Alex Libby, and I am so proud and honored that he is stepping forward to make a personal appeal.

The rules for what language generates an R rating is pretty specific, so it isn’t difficult to guess that the Weinsteins might have deliberately submitted a cut of Bully to the MPAA that would garner a restricted rating. Harvey does have a thing for drumming up publicity for a film based on a ratings issue. (See: Blue Valentine.) In this case, I can’t take issue with Hirsch’s argument about the film and how it represents the language used by kids.

Bully will be released on March 30. MovieFone debuted the trailer.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Safe and Drug-Free Schools estimates that over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation. In the new documentary BULLY, award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch (AMANDLA! A REVOLUTION IN FOUR-PART HARMONY) brings human scale to this startling statistic, offering an intimate, unflinching look at how bullying has touched five kids and their families. Filmed over the course of the 2009/2010 school year, BULLY opens a window onto the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders. It documents the responses of teachers and administrators to aggressive behaviors that defy “kids will be kids” clichés, and it captures a growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is handled in schools, in communities and in society as a whole.

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As a gay man who came out at a young age—14, to be exact—photographer Ryan Pfluger was both excited and anxious about photographing the students at Milwaukee’s Alliance School, the only gay-friendly charter school in the U.S. that starts enrolling students in sixth grade. During this assignment, Pfluger, who says he grew up as “the only gay kid in a macho Italian suburb” of New York City, kept thinking about whether as a teenager he would have preferred to attend a school like Alliance, where about half the students identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but nearly all have been bullied or harassed at their previous schools. “I would have loved this at age 12 or 13 when I felt uncomfortable with who I was. I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t have people who understood me,” he says. “But looking back on it now as an adult — those experiences I had in high school shaped me to be who I am now. They made me the headstrong person I am now.”

Pfluger raises a point that is the central question surrounding Alliance and other schools like it: Is it better to let gay students self-segregate in a cocoon of tolerance, or have them suffer as mainstream schools struggle to reduce bullying? “I worry that this school is a Band-Aid for them and the reality of life is going to hit them when they leave,” Pfluger says. “That was the hardest part for me. This stuff they’re feeling isn’t going to change because they are in a special school — it’s only better when you make it better.”

Still, for some bullying victims, the school is nothing short of a lifeline. Pfluger says he could see the benefits of attending a school like Alliance most vividly when he took a photo of eleventh grader, Robbie Moore, holding hands with Jayde LaPorte, a transgendered ninth grader. “Those two were bonded in a way that was really special,” he says. “I could tell immediately how safe they felt with each other.”

That kind of support — and inclusiveness — is the goal at Alliance. Instead of being tormented, Jayde and Robbie can walk tall, in heels or whatever else they feel like wearing. Says Alliance’s founder and lead teacher, Tina Owen: “I always felt like these kids could survive in other places, but they could thrive here.”

Ryan Pfluger is a Brooklyn-based photographer. See more of his work here.

Kayla Webley is a Writer-Reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

MORE: Read the full story on the Alliance School in TIME Magazine here.

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