When I was asked to screen the documentary ‘Bully’ before it was released on DVD February 12 I was torn. I first heard about it on Ellen as she discussed how important it was for everyone to see the film no matter the rating (at the time the movie was unrated but was later allowed a PG-13 after editing out much of the profanity). I’ve talked openly about how sensitive I am to violence and media and to be honest I was genuinely worried this movie would wreck me. I have since watched it twice, once by myself and once with my husband, and no other movie has changed me more.
If you’re not familiar, ‘Bully’ follows the stories of five families and the often severe results of bullying. It opens on a dad staring off into space; an expression I know all too well. A look of deep seated pain and agony that shows in every line and movement on one’s face. The stories meld together perfectly, moving from one American town to another. Families, not unlike the ones that surround me every day, dealing with bullying in ways I could have never imagined as a child and that terrify me as a parent. Several of the children portrayed in the film remind me of my daughter and her friends–just little kids who desperately want to fit in but are downtrodden by others who think they are bigger and better for whatever reason.
Knowing I was going to be interviewing the director of the movie, Lee Hirsch, a thousand possible questions swirled through my head as I watched the film. I was absolutely sure hidden cameras had to be involved, but in another interview he said after awhile no one even noticed the cameras anymore and they went right along with bullying as usual. I listened in on another interview before mine and when Lee was asked how he could keep silent while filming the torment of these kids Lee responded, “I was beyond angry many times, but I knew my presence meant long term intervention for the kids involved in telling their stories.” he also said that what made him the most angry was the indifference of many of the adults he came across. “It’s just kids being kids. This stuff happens on every bus, in every school, everywhere, every day.”
No. It doesn’t. And even if it does or did it is unacceptable.
No one should go to school in fear. No one should be led to believe that it’s okay to be punched, stabbed, hit or verbally abused.
At one point in the film a man in law enforcement talks about Ja’Maya, a bullying victim who brought a gun on the bus to scare her assailants, he said, “To me, there’s nothing, no amount of bullying, or teasing, or picking on, or whatever. There’s nothing unless someone was actually whipping on this girl every day, unless someone was hitting this young lady in the head and being physically brutal to her, there’s nothing to me that justifies her taking a gun on the bus, I don’t care what it is.” We are past the point of sticks and stones, words can and do hurt, sometimes even more than physical abuse. David Long, father of Tyler Long, a boy who took his own life as a result of bullying said, “Did Tyler ever come home with blood on his face? No.” And yet he was still driven to a point by bullies where he believed he was worthless enough to end his own life.
These are kids. Kids being called faggots, pushed into lockers, choked, and having their heads sat on by other kids. When Alex said, “They push me so far that I want to become the bully,” my heart stopped. Here is a miracle baby who loves his family, takes care of his little sister and wants nothing more than to have a friend, feeling as though he has no other option but to become the bad guy.
“He handed me the microphone and said ‘Go. Go and make your film make it as fast as you can and save as many lives as possible.’”
One of the questions I was able to ask Lee was about which moment was the most emotional for him after witnessing so much. His response was the Ty Smalley funeral, which wasn’t originally going to be a part of the film. Lee said he was in Ft. Worth filming another story when he heard about the Smalleys, and his producer was able to get in touch with the family through the funeral director and gain permission to film the funeral. “I’m not a journalist, I’m not the type who just rolls up and starts filming with a camera. So for me that was really hard.” Lee said he had almost no contact with the family until the dad, Kirk Smalley, handed back his microphone at the end of the day. “He handed me the microphone and said ‘Go. Go and make your film make it as fast as you can and save as many lives as possible.’”
Until now ‘Bully’ was only available in a theatrical setting, but with the release of the DVD new opportunities open up as far as who the movie is accessible to. Hirsch is hoping that communities and families will gather to watch the movie together and begin a discussion about bullying. The full time staff behind The Bully Project are hoping that the film will help parents open up to their children about their own experiences with bullying as well as help educators gain better insight as to how to help their students and schools become a haven free from bullying. Lee’s hope is that the film can become a medium to motivate change and inspire hearts to make a difference in the bullying epidemic moving forward.
I have already passed my copy of ‘Bully’ onto my neighbor with plans on making sure everyone I know sees the film. The Blu-Ray version also includes a specially edited version of the film for younger viewers as well. One night we will sit down and watch it with Addie and discuss ways she can stand up to bullies and support her friends in fighting back as well. At this moment, days before the DVD release, just over 250,000 kids have seen the film and pledged to be a part of the change in the The Bully Project. I’m interested to see that number go up, hopefully to the projected 1 million. Can you imagine? One million kids inspired by and forever changed by a movie.
That’s the kind of media I can get behind.
Have you seen ‘Bully’ yet?
Read more about how you can help curb bullying from the “Bully” filmmakers themselves.
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.