Katherine Prudente is doing a guest-blog series, "Beating the Bully: Cope with Bullying At Any Age" at PscyhCentral.com. We will be re-publishing her blogs here. This second entry was originally published on April 5, 2012.
‘Bully’ Shows the Unfortunate Cruelty of Adolescence
When I heard on NPR that the film, ‘Bully’ was going to be released in New York and Los Angles without a rating this weekend due to the language in it (which I will address in another post) I got to the theater as soon as I could. ‘Bully’ directed by Lee Hirsch, produced by Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen follows several teenagers and their families who have suffered due to bullying.
I initially wanted to write yet another review of the film but my emotional response that was shared by everyone in the audience seems more salient. Why?
My firm belief is that in order to stop bullying, we have to feel all the feelings that the victims do, increasing our capacity for empathy to incite intervention…and that is what the film does best. This post is part review, part response. To read some wonderful reviews see the New York Times review by A.O. Scott or Crystal Bell’s on Huffington Post.
In the opening minutes we meet Alex in Sioux City, IA who, in an attempt to make a friend, asks a boy on the bus, “You’re going to be my buddy?” The teenager replies in a contemptuous filled diatribe describing how he would sodomize him with a broom stick.
It was sickening to hear as it is for me to recall as I type.
We then meet Kelby, a star basketball player from Tuttle, OK. Once Kelby came out as a lesbian her home community turned her back on her. Touring her now former school, Kelby walks through various rooms sharing her story. At the gymnasium she heavily sighs,”This is where it was the worst …I could have had a scholarship.” Kelby recalls that the homophobic rhetoric came from students and from teachers. Appalling.
The disappointment felt by the victimized children bleeds through the screen as we watch Ja’Meya’s ordeal unfold. At 14, she was taunted on her school bus so much that she hit a breaking point, bringing her mother’s gun to scare the bullies. We meet her in the local Juvenile Justice facility, awaiting a hearing. A local police officer states that no amount of bullying or verbal taunting justifies Ja’Meya bringing a gun on the bus, listing the 40+ counts she could be charged with.
Lastly, the director weaves in the stories of the Long and Smalley families who sons, Tyler 17 and Ty 11 respectively, both committed suicide after years of bullying. Ty’s best friend shares how he was the biggest bully in 2nd grade but by 4th or 5th grade he realized how hurtful he was and began to get along with everyone. “If I were King of the United States…” there would be an end to bullying declares the devoted boy.
While watching the film we are witness to various school and law enforcement officials who feel helpless, attempt to minimize the viciousness of bullying or seem to feel that this cannot ever be stopped. In particular, the attention to Alex’s plight highlights this; I was fortunate enough to see the film and followed by a Q and A session with Ms. Lowen. Ms. Lowen shared that she and Mr. Hirsh were the crew of the film. Over the course of two years, they seemed to fade into the background and became bystanders. Compelled to protect Alex, they shared some of their footage with his parents and school officials. Several audience members shared my sentiments – that the response by the school officials was minimal. It’s important to note that school officials in Alex’s school did reprimand the bullies eventually.
To reflect on the enormity that creating this film took is mind-blowing, especially getting a signed consent form from every parent of every child that is depicted in the film. That Mr. Hirsh and Ms. Lowen were able to receive consent from the parents of the bullies was a sliver of hope after watching the film. Ms. Lowen shared that the parents of the bullies were horrified by their children’s behavior and agreed to have their children viewed in this light, being held accountable for their actions.
As Alex’s Assistant Principal states in the opening minutes, “Tell me how to fix this,” what the parents of the bullying children did is it – having students become accountable for their behavior.