Every kid on the planet has either heard or said that old phrase “sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt me“. Well, turns out, it’s not as true as our parents and educators led us to believe. Just like those sticks and stones, words do hurt and sometimes they cut very, very deep. Throughout the making of this powerful film and its ongoing ratings battle, The Weinstein Company has backed director Lee Hirsch’s eye-opening documentary about bullying in schools. Kids have always been self-conscious and nervous about fitting it but Bully explores stories about individuals and their families to show that bullying is a real problem that’s not just confined to the school yard.
Bully plays like an anthology of affected children/families who are all dealing with some form of bullying. The important distinction that the documentary makes is that bullies may come in one general form but the victims come in all shapes and sizes. Hirsch’s film gives us glimpses into the lives of nearly 10 children ranging from 11 to 17. They all come from different backgrounds, differnt races even different sexual orientations but they all lead and live with damaged lives as a result of bullying. But it’s not like this is going on unnoticed. Many of the kids have told their parents who in turn have told the educators but the problem remains. The doc even show actual conversations between parents and teachers about the bullying, so this is not something that’s kept in the dark.
The stories really get at your emotions. One of the children, Alex (pictured atop the post), having dealt with being bullied his whole life, has become numb to it all. He thinks it’s a game and laughs as he gets repeatedly gets punched and has his head rammed into the bus seat. Rightly the parents are outraged and still he seems OK with it. Alex laughs it off but later the mics pick up something the cameras don’t, his nervous breathing as he walks to the bus stop on the first day of school. For him the day of the week is irrelevant as he’s a target no matter where he goes. Another child, Ja’Meya was bullied so persistently the she retaliated and took things a little too far. For bringing a gun on the bus simply for her own protection, she got 45 felony charges (that’s the equivalent of 2 counts of kidnapping per every child on her bus that day). Sure due to the severity of her actions she should be reprimanded but what kind of message is broadcast when it’s made to seem that you’ll get in trouble if you stand up for yourself. Can you really blame her for taking such a drastic action to trump her bullies?
Many times in the doc it’s made to seem like bullying is being blown out of proportion or on the flipside, is being downplayed as educators try to sweep things under the rug. What Bully trys to show the audience is that bullying is so abundant and damaging that it is nearly considered an epidemic. Throughout the documentary we meet children who have been ridiculed and are no longer in school because of it. Others still face this torment on a daily basis and in two tragic cases we see only the parents of the children. Two children were both pestered and taunted so much that they took to heart the suggestions of the bullies and ended their lives. Schools blame the parents and the parents blame the teachers, meanwhile the the kids fall in the gaps and don’t receive the help they need. If someone spoke up or took action, or at least tried to help then perhaps two of the kids in this documentary would still be alive today.
Documentaries are made to get a message or idea out in the open. Even typing the stories of these children in the film is enough to get blood boiling. Sure there’s plenty of phrases adults are likely to spout, like “kids need to toughen up” or the cliched “it’s kids just kids being kids“. Well, do kids tell each other to kill themselves or stab them with pencils for “fun“? Not in the least. Bully makes a good case for private school but realistically, ugliness is everywhere. Even though these events are depicted in public schools this whole documentary is a chilling wake-up call. Lives are ruined by something that could have been avoided or at the very least toned down before they got to extremes.
Without pointing fingers, the pic actually points fingers at everyone; educators, parents, bus drivers and the kids. Bullying thrives because it either is underestimated or conviently gets a blind eye turned towards it. While you’d laugh at the use of a quote from The Boondock Saints, but it is fitting to think that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing“. While watching this you start to rapidly lose much faith in the educators of today’s youth.
The other thing that effective documentaries do beyond stating the sometimes harsh or sobering facts, is rally people to the cause and possibly start a movement toward change. Bully, more akin to a PSA, shows us that this is not something that’s going to be wrapped up by the time credits role. Nor is it going to put a phone number up in those credits telling us where we can pledge to end bullying. Bully is a call for us to stand for the silent. Further it shows the audience that to change the violent mindset of all these offenders and to begin treating everyone differently. Seek someone out, speak up and help those who can’t help themselves.
Bully offers a wide palette of grief in an attempt to both shock and recruit the audience. There is unequal focus on the children and their families but if you got the least bit agitated watching Bully, then Hirsch looks to have accomplished what he set out to do. Everything starts with an idea and the idea that bullying is wrong is taken to new levels thanks to his documentary. Unfortunately, even though it tugs at your heartstrings and certainly gets you riled up, it really doesn’t point you in a direction to attempt a fix things or start a coup/revolution. Even though you can’t change this wide-spread problem over night, the lack of direction for change may be the sole and also the most defeating outcome of this multi-faceted cry for help.