Alex in 'Bully'After attending a screening of the new documentary Bully, I couldn't help but sit in my seat a few minutes after the credits started rolling, assaulted by a gamut of emotions. From sadness and hope to guilt and frustration and onto feelings of compassion, thoughtfulness, and inspiration, this film will evoke that voice in your head that says, Wow, something really needs to be done.
The movie won't win anyone over on its style or artistry, but it gets straight to the heart of the matter. Director Lee Hirsch spent about a year with children who have been bullied, as well as those dealing with the tragic aftermath -- the families and friends coping with the suicides of 17-year-old Tyler Long and 11-year-old Ty Smalley.
It's heartbreaking and difficult to watch. You'll leave the theater feeling like you've been punched in the gut. But, really, that's the whole point. That's what makes this documentary so great.
You won't see many statistics or charts or graphs or psychiatrists in Bully. You won't see any experts waxing poetic about how this has become an epidemic in our country's schools. These families' stories more than suffice.
You'll see 12-year-old Alex from Iowa, whose own family admitted he's a little weird but has a large heart, as he gets punched and stabbed and strangled on the bus. In Oklahoma, 16-year-old Kelby endured the prejudice of a small town after coming out as a lesbian. Kelby's father admitted you don't see the ugliness in others until you become the parent of a gay child. Ja'Maya Jackson was just 14 years old, and relentless bullying caused her to pull her mother's pistol on other students on a bus in Mississippi. She faced multiple counts of aggravated assault and kidnapping while her bullies were unpunished.
These kids' stories obviously tug at the heartstrings. You can't help but want to defend them, to be their friend, to make this torment just a little bit easier. But they're the ones who have to endure their own living hell day in and day out -- getting called names, being laughed at, getting shoved into lockers, having their lives threatened -- and they have no one to turn to. Parents, teachers, administrators, and the police have no answers. And to have all of this bullying take place in a school, where kids should be learning and thriving instead of simply surviving, makes watching their stories that much worse.
Still, there's no denying that all of the parents featured in the film are wonderful. All of them stand up for their children -- Kelby's parents are particularly inspiring. Tina Long bravely showed the closet in which her family found Tyler's body. Ty Smalley's father helped organize anti-bullying rallies across the country, proclaiming that he will fight bullying forever because Ty will forever be 11 years old.
The R-rating was definitely extreme -- these young kids are surrounded by this kind of language (and tormented by it) each and every day. So glad they released it unrated! And though the film focused mostly on small-town America (I wished they featured an urban family), part of the reason is that those are the kids and families who probably need to see this film the most.
As the documentary drives home again and again, there are no easy answers, there is not just one magic solution to end bullying. But this film at least gives all of us a reason to start talking about the problem. Maybe it will inspire one child to be nicer to another. No young boy should have to carry the coffin of his 11-year-old best friend at his funeral. If there's any way we can try to contain the hate and anger and violence that's becoming more and more prevalent in today's children, Bully provides a great jumping-off point. And I truly hope that everyone of all ages sees it.
WATCH a clip from the Bully premiere:
Are you going to see Bully this weekend? Will you take your kids?
Image via TheBullyProject.com