Saturday, April 14, 2012

Disturbing documentary ‘Bully‘ will anger, inspire

By Steve Crum

There is nothing I had not seen before in Bully, a stark documentary about the sad reality of kids being picked on by fellow classmates in our public schools. No, I had not actually witnessed anyone committing suicide after being bullied, but haven’t we all read and heard about said cases over the years? Undoubtedly, the fact that children have been killing themselves due to persistent harassment has been a reality since the dawn of time. These days, however, we hear about it more often, and more specifically, due to mass media.
As a retired teacher in a major public school system in the midwest, I have witnessed bullying, but seldom acted upon it, unless it was so overt or blatant or inflammatory to result in physical harm to the victim. I am being honest, and not proudly admitting such. The culture of society during the time of my 35 year tenure (and long before) viewed bullying with a shoulder shrug, accompanied by, “Oh well, boys will be boys.” Similar adult response is seen in the movie, Bully. But as the film expresses, that attitude is finally changing, for the better. At last a proactive campaign of awareness and action to defeat bullying is afoot. This documentary has already been lauded as a step toward that goal.

In Lee Hirsch’s straight forward, compelling Bully, there is a school principal who actually dismisses bullying in her middle school by giving the parents of a continually harassed student the tired boys will be boys line--which is a non-solution. Then the principal is audacious enough to pull out pictures of her grandkids to share. This occurs during a parent conference requested by the mom and dad of a young boy who has been called names, punched, and once nearly crushed under a seat on a school bus by fellow students. (Much of this is seen in the film, caught on tape via hidden camera on the bus.)

Not all bully targets are males, as the film shows. Since a 16 year-old high school girl came out as a lesbian, her school life has often resembled a living hell. The one time star athlete was forced to quit her team, and even move to another city, due to homophobic slurs and threats by both students and teachers. A 14 year-old young lady, once on the brink of gaining a sports scholarship, was incarcerated at a juvenile facility after bringing a gun on the school bus in retaliation of bullying. Her future is dim now.

Bully surveys the lives of five students, from 11 to 16, who have suffered varying degrees of social pain. A 12 year-old, Sioux City boy endured the daily angst all his life, but as he grows into teen years, things have gotten even worse, beginning at the bus stop each morning.

After years of abuse by his classmates and indifferent school officials, a 17 year-old of Murray County, Georgia boy hanged himself in his bedroom closet. A bullying-related suicide also claimed the life of an 11 year-old, Ty. His parents then spearheaded a campaign against bullying, aptly named Stand for the Silent, which is the focus of the latter part of the film.

The central character of the film, however, is the 12 year-old, Alex (pictured), an extremely likable, humorous, lonely boy who desperately wants to be accepted by fellow classmates. He just wants to fit in, as we all do.

We also see and hear the loving parents of these five kids, and the terrible stress that has befallen them over the years. Sometimes they do not make the right decisions, like the scene of one mother chiding her bullied child, “Why do you put up with this?!”

Sorely missing from the foray are the faces and voices of the bullies themselves, including their parents. (Faces of the bullying kids on the infamous bus scene are blurred out.) Do they care that their behaviors have triggered suicides? Do mamma and daddy have a handle on the reality of what cruelty their sons and daughters are inflicting? Obviously not...or maybe not so obviously. No doubt legalities prevent interviews and clear images of the perpetrators and/or their parents.

The conflicts are clearly depicted in Bully. However, the resolutions are not there yet, but hopeful, thanks to awareness through organizations like the inspirational Stand for Silent. Viewing Bully should both anger and provoke one to positive action.
GRADE on an A-F Scale: B+
Here's the Bully trailer:

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