When I was asked to review the documentary Bully I was curious about the content, having heard so much about this documentary film that was struggling its way to its targeted audience, our youth. There was a battle and ensuing controversy around the film’s rating and it almost didn’t escape an R rating. This would have ensured that so many eyes and hearts that need to see this film never would and more importantly, that it would be difficult to use this documentary as a tool in the very schools where bullying often takes place.
I’ve reviewed a lot of films and having a minor in film studies often has me scrutinizing a little more intensely than I probably should in order to enjoy a film, but reviewing this film as a mother was more emotional. Bully is not about enjoying and it’s not about happy things with a fairytale ending. It’s raw, painful to watch at times; heavy, tear inviting, shocking and I think the most powerful aspect, real!
Bullying is alive and well in our schools and on our buses and this film does not skirt the issue and just by telling the story, makes the viewer uncomfortable right from the get go and I think this is a good thing.
During the film we meet several young people, some through photos and memories as they lost their battle, and others in active combat as bullied youth. From 17-year-old Tyler who took his own life and 11-year-old Ty, found hanging in his closet by his brother. Tyler’s dad’s words haunt, “he got to the point where he didn’t cry anymore.” Footage of Ty’s mother crying a pain that won’t go away makes me stop and pause the film. It’s unbearable yet necessary.
The title suggests that the film will be difficult to watch and in many ways it is but it’s a necessary watch. The bullied boys, from Alex who plays a central role in the film and we witness continually being assaulted on the bus, talking about his bus situation making him angry, to young Cody telling the principal that being called a faggot breaks his heart. Almost more shocking and I didn’t expect to be captured in the film was the administration’s response in some of these situations. The day-to-day dealings with ‘kids being kids’ and bullying in the halls, the classroom and on the bus not being effectively dealt with or in some cases, dealt with at all, was captured on film. At one point a Principal asks, “Tell me how to fix this? I don’t have any magic.”
Another scene follows a Vice Principal, upon prompting from her Principal, to get to the bottom of a bus bullying issue and it almost seemed at times that she shifted the blame to the bullied student. When she tells Alex he must tell someone when there’s a problem and he says he has in the past and nothing was done, she challenges him. A person in authority that is supposed to make a child feel safe poses a challenge and asks him how he knows she didn’t do anything. He seems scared and doesn’t really answer and so she continues telling him that she did talk to the student and asks if he has ever sat on his head since. Alex says no but that he has done a lot of other things since. She continues to revisit the ‘head sitting’ incident, which in itself is disappointing as it gets away from the overall problem of bullying. She seems over her head and or not grasping the gravity of the issue. It’s a poignant scene.
As a parent and anti-bullying advocate, I found this scene particularly difficult to watch. The gatekeepers themselves don’t seem to be able to handle the problems or know how or in some cases, even want to tread there. The issue of bullying travels all spectrums in the footage, from not being a problem at all to being an overwhelming and ongoing issue with no end in sight and the documentary style of the film captures this over and over.
Children shouldn’t be bullied and children shouldn’t bully. It’s happening all over and there doesn’t seem to be one fix, one cure-all. What is needed is a spotlight on this epidemic as it’s not going away and is leaving many casualties along its path. We need to talk about it and give attention and resources to the problem and Bully does a poignant job at exposing it, discussing the carnage that sometimes results and bringing voice to a 5-letter word that is often just a whisper. The Bully documentary says it out loud and that’s a start.
Watch it with your kids.
“I don’t believe in luck but I believe in hope.” Alex, 12 years old.
“Everything starts with one and builds up.” Tyler’s dad.
Bully is now available on DVD at retail stores nationwide.
About the Author (Author Profile)Guest Bloggers on OMC!
Sites That Link to this Post
- “Everything Starts With One” « Laurel E. Anderson | February 20, 2013
- Bully - A poignant film that drives it home! | Domestique Manager | February 21, 2013