I was in a sparse theater this morning as the documentary movie Bully debuted in Columbus. Fewer than twenty were in attendance at the Drexel Theater, including the team of four from the local ABC affiliate who were audibly disappointed with the turnout, though I’m unsure of their own personal reviews of the film.
Before I go on, know that I’m going to talk about the film and YOU MUST make seeing it a priority.
The film follows the lives of a handful of adolescents from Oklahoma, Missouri, and Mississippi who are victims of bullying by their peers for having the nerve to be “different” from everyone else. The storyline isn’t new, though I was honestly shocked at the extreme nature of the violence afflicted on these children. All of these children received violent threats from bullies and nearly all experienced document acts of physical harm that is not for the faint of heart. I can only say that this movie was horrifying to me on multiple levels.
If I was a reporter writing up the story of this film, I would rip the public education system for a failure to protect these children. And that’s the narrative we can realistically expect to see from the media. And that narrative would be categorically incorrect. It is true that the majority of the bullying that was filmed took place in public school-related settings, much of it on a school bus. But if you step back for a minute and put that in its proper context, the school setting is the place where children are in contact with other students who are not in their circle of friends. So if bullying is going to occur, it’s going to be in the school setting.
I left a part of myself in the theater in addition to the tears I shed for the children experiencing pain inflicted by their peers and the adults in their lives who have no answers. While some of the children are still trying to cope with their pain, two of the children, ages 11 and 17, took their own lives, leaving their families agonizing over how to prevent this scene from replaying itself in the lives of others. Sadly, they don’t have answers either.
Only one young man has seemingly found the answer to stopping the violence from his days as an undersized victim. He figured out that by fighting back against his tormentors – using violence against violence – he would be left alone as other “weaker” kids were targeted. How many times have you heard or doled out such advice Alex, a young man in the film who you will want to rescue from his daily ordeal, heard such advice about sticking up for himself from his father and mother before the documentary filmmakers decided to go against typical protocol and intervene by sharing the video of the abuse on the bus with his parents and school officials. His mother as beside herself as she never could have even imagined the images of her son being pounded as the bus rolled on.
And when one young woman exercised her right to defend herself by brandishing her mother’s handgun on the bus to stop the bullying was she rewarded for her forceful implementation of the advice we so readily hand out to our children? You mean vigilante justice is only something we will applaud in our motion picture heroes? She was arrested and charged with counts of assault and kidnapping (22 students on the bus) and the administrator shared with the viewing audience how that girl had “no excuse” for her actions and how such a move might only be tolerated if those other kids actually engaged in physically attacking her, but even then it might be too much.
At the end, we learn that none of the people in the film have answers for us. Not the school, not the sheriff, not the parents. In fact, the children in this film are undoubtedly smarter than the adults — educators, parents, or other officials you might encounter in your everyday lives. Adults like you and me.
You must see this film…
Because this isn’t a movie about schools or parenting. This is a movie about our society. This is a movie about living in a world where we promote violence as a means of power and authority.
Because this is a movie about our present and our future.
Because this is a movie about intolerance of those who are different.
Because this is a movie about hate.
Because this is a movie about us.
All of us.
Go to The Bully Project website to learn more about the children from the film.