Bully victim Alex Libby, 12, featured in the “Bully” documentary. Photo courtesy of Alliance Films.
Samantha Samuel The Signal
Bullying is one of the oldest, most traumatic aspects of childhood. In the past, bullying has been dismissed as simply “kids being kids.” This indifferent attitude is now being challenged in the new documentary “Bully.”
“Bully” directed by Lee Hirsch, released March 30, serves as a call to action against the abuse of students by their own peers. The documentary follows the lives of three children throughout the course of one school year and tells the stories of two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter whose torment led her to bring her mother’s pistol on a school bus.
The film explores the reasons why bullying remains a serious problem, one of which is fear. It is common for adults not to handle such situations thoroughly, leaving the victim fearful of retribution and left to deal with the consequences for “tattling.” Although bullying normally takes place in the absence of adults, it has become even more common for bystanders, both child and adult, to not intervene.
Bullying does not always come in the form of physical contact. Joshua Klein, psychology major at UHCL, was verbally harassed throughout his childhood and adolescence.
“I was the freak, or at least that is what I was told every single day,” Klein said. “I would go to school dreading the day that would follow because barely anyone, teachers included, ever had anything nice to say. It started in fourth grade when I was about 10 and continued all the way until I graduated. I was never hit or pushed into lockers; most of what I went through was psychological. I was called any bad name you can think of almost every day of the year. Two of the more popular ones were ‘faggot’ and ‘freak’.”
Regrettably, bullies do not always stop being bullies once they reach adulthood points out Julie Smith, coordinator for women’s and LGBT services for UHCL, who says that bullying is not something that people easily grow beyond.
“Unfortunately, high school follows us where ever we go,” Smith said. “There is a new kind of power as an adult bully. These adult bullies are the same people that harass people at work or abuse their wives and children at home.”
Smith helped launch a program at UHCL called the Safe Zone Program “designed to help create a safe and supportive campus environment for all members of the UHCL community.” The program was created to specifically address the unique needs of those members of the community who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The producers of “Bully” received a huge victory when the Motion Picture Association of America agreed to change the film’s rating from R to the less-restrictive PG-13, allowing the film to reach its target audience and to be shown in schools. The decision for the original rating was based on strong language. A petition on Change.org demanding that the MPAA change the R-rating received more than 500,000 signatures.
Petitioners argued the documentary has the potential to both change and save lives.
Smith wholeheartedly supports having the documentary shown in schools saying the movie addresses several problems that need to be discussed.
“Bullying puts limitations on both bullies and victims and prevents them from reaching their full potential,” Smith said. “It can be pure torture, disruptive to society and distracts [students] from learning. At some point in his or her life, something happened to make that person a bully. Showing this documentary in schools can be a good learning experience for bullies and their victims; they might learn to open their hearts and minds.”
“Bully” was produced by Sundance Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists. Patricia Finneran, managing producer at the Sundance Documentary Film Program, states that Sundance supports documentaries that promote social justice and “Bully” does just that.
“This documentary helps create a movement for social justice and change,” Finneran said.
“Bully” contains an emotional plea to respect the victims of bullying who chose death as their only escape by encouraging people to think of ways to help the living.