THE BUZZ: A must see ‘year-in-the life’ film, Bully the Movie documents what’s really going on inside America’s schools.
THE GENRE: Documentary
THE PREMISE: Filmmaker Lee Hirsch drew on his own childhood trauma to document the hidden world of bullied children. His goal? To show the world how the average child is ill-equipped to defend himself in American schools, thanks to no help from administration, police, or even Mom and Dad.
Following students from five American States (Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma), the film explores the experiences of students and their parents, and the ineffectual actions of school and law officials in the face of relentless bullying. Especially heart rending are the profiles of the parents of two boys, Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, who both tragically committed suicide when the bullying got too tough to take. (For additional detail and a full summary of Bully: Wikipedia).
THE GOODS AND BADS: The ‘bad’ is what the film is all about: Parents, teachers and police all turn a blind eye to what’s poisoning schools and the lives of many students. The stories are horrifying and the scenes painful to watch. The only good: That Lee Hirsch exposed the truth for all to see.
THE CONTROVERSY: Bully was to have an R rating due to the disturbing and frank content and some questionable language (as if kids have never heard the word Fuck before. Please). The rating would have severely limited who would see this important film and would have removed the audience who most needs to see it from the theatres.
THE REVIEW: Bully is gut wrenching at times, extremely devastating at its worst moments. But it’s a film that needs to be seen by everyone – educators, parents and kids. Through a well-crafted piece of documentary film making, Hirsch manages to reach the hearts and minds of the victims without sensationalizing their trauma. As a result, without manipulation, you see a story unfold that you wish was fiction, but is in fact as real as it gets.
THE VERDICT: Disturbing, uncomfortable, heartbreaking, enriching. Watching this film should be part of the curriculum of growing up. We should all watch it at least once in our lifetime. As an educational tool, it should be screened in Teacher’s College, police training, at professional development workshops. Children should watch in fourth grade and then again in high school, as a reminder.
THE CAVEAT: After seeing the film, talk to your kids, ask questions, and listen. Most of all, be ready to hear things that may surprise you.
The Preach: It would have been fascinating to hear the parents of the bullies being interviewed. What would they say about about their kids’ behavior? Would they be shocked? Defensive? And there seems to be different types of adult blindness when it comes to bullying. While the school administration and police bury their heads, the parents of bullies seem invisible.
Which brings us to one of the top causes of bullying today – absent parenting, aka ‘my child would never do that.’ While we need to protect bullied children from being victimized, and to make them feel safe, that band-aid reaction treats the symptoms. Just like we prevent disease by encouraging good health, we need to preclude bullying by going to the source. By teaching children NOT to bully. By educating them about the values of kindness, empathy, and understanding in every day life, with our peers, and with those who may or may not be like us.
If you or your child are a victim of bullying, you may find the information or the help you need on these websites:
Kids Help Phone (Canada)
Kids Helpline (worldwide resource listing)
Stop Bullying.gov (US Department of Health)