I’d already had some experience with bullying when I saw Lee Hirsch’s documentary, Bully. In eighth grade, one of the students at my middle school was making fun of my hair, threatening to hurt me and shoving me in the hallways. When I complained to my principal, he said that he didn’t think that suspending the bully would help because he might go home and play video games. I felt like my school, a place where I was supposed to feel safe, wasn’t on my side. I was eager to see Bully because I wanted to see if other schools were handling bullying differently. This powerful, dramatic and emotional movie was difficult to watch at times, and I felt frustrated when I saw that like my old school, the schools in the movie did not make a big enough effort to protect their students.
The movie follows five teenagers from across the country. Twelve-year-old Alex endured hitting, taunts and threats on the school bus, 14-year-old Ja’Meya brought a gun on her school bus because she was tired of being bullied and 16-year-old Kelby was hated when she revealed she was a lesbian. Two of the students profiled, 17-year-old Tyler and 11-year-old Ty, committed suicide.
Although all of the stories were extremely sad, Tyler and Ty’s stories were heart-wrenching. I cried when Tyler’s mother, teary-eyed, stared at the closet that she had found her son in and said, “All I can see when I come in here is him hanging there.” Bully shows a scene of Ty’s parents crumpled up on the carpet after their son’s funeral. The parents look so alone, helpless and sad, just like their son must have felt.
Alex’s assistant principal serves as an example of how schools aren’t doing enough to tackle bullying. When Alex’s parents complain about the mean kids on Alex’s bus, she says, “I’ve ridden on [that bus]. And let me tell you, those kids are as good as gold.” Later, she talks to a middle school bullying victim who says that bullying “breaks his heart.” To that, the administrator responds, “Tell me how to fix [the bullying].” I wanted to grab her by the arms and knock some sense into her. Why was the administrator even hired when she just sat back and asked a young kid how to do her own job? I got even angrier when she told a boy who wouldn’t shake hands with his insincere bully that “you are just as bad as he is if you don’t shake hands with him.” The entire theater booed this administrator during each of these examples.
This movie was controversial at first because it was given an R rating for language used on Alex’s bus. The filmmakers released it as “not rated” because they didn’t want to take out the language so the film could get a PG-13 rating. I’m glad that the moviemakers did not censor the film because getting rid of the language would not accurately show how terrible the bullying was. The problem with a “not rated” movie is that kids under 17 years old need a permission slip to see it. I wish that this movie could still include the language and be released as PG-13 so more teens can see it. High schools and middle schools are very cliquish, and if more teens could see this film, they might realize how much damage they do when they exclude an unpopular kid or gossip about others behind their backs.
Over and over again, this movie showed how harmful it is when observers don’t do anything in a bully’s presence. Kelby explains that one day at school, all of the students in her class got up and moved away from her. She was left sitting alone in the last row of desks. Nobody came to sit with her and nobody broke away from the crowd. Her teacher later used derogatory terms to talk about gays and lesbians and everybody laughed. On his bus, Alex was being shoved and kicked while kids looked on. I was angry when I saw these examples because Kelby and Alex did not deserve the treatment they were getting and their supposed “friends” weren’t doing anything to help them. I understand that peer pressure is everywhere in schools, but when someone is being hurt, everybody needs to stand up to bullying.
It definitely isn’t easy to stop this problem. There have been times where I see a fight in the hallway and don’t do anything about it. Seeing this movie made me realize that I need to take a more active stand against bullying. The next time I see bullying, I will alert an adult or offer my help to someone who has been bullied.
Bullies, victims, parents, administrators, teachers and students should all see this film and discuss what happens when we don’t stand up to bullying. If this movie sparks discussion in schools about how to reform their bullying policies, then it has done its job.
Reviewed by David Garcia, 16, Monrovia HS
I thought Bully would be like one of those sad documentaries about eating disorders or drunk driving they show in health class. Everyone stares with glazed eyes, feeling uncomfortable. Movies like that never seem to make an impact because they feel unrealistic or overdramatic. But Bully demands your attention, showing the truth about bullying in a direct way that makes it impossible to ignore.
The documentary follows the lives of five bullying victims, each affected differently by bullying. A 12 year old is constantly beaten up by his “friends” on the bus. One Mississippi girl brought a gun with her on the school bus to intimidate her bullies, only to find herself facing charges of attempted kidnapping and assault at age 14. Two families are also featured, both having lost a child to suicide. The victim I really sympathized with was an Oklahoma girl who had come out as a lesbian. She was shunned by her community, tormented by kids at school, even mocked by her teachers. I thought of the gay and lesbian kids at my school who can be openly gay without too many problems. I felt like inviting that girl to L.A., where being gay isn’t looked down on as much as in her small Oklahoma town.
Another issue the movie raised was the lack of resources bullying victims have. More than once in the movie, teachers and principals turned a blind eye to problems at their schools. They were constantly telling parents, students and their communities, “We are going to do everything we can to fix this problem,” which most of the bullied kids and their parents understood as, “We’re not going to do anything.” To me, that was the movie’s goal: to show that victims of bullying need help from people, like principals, who should be able to do something about it. If I were bullied, I hope that my school would be able to help me more than the schools in the film. It made me wonder if kids and families at my own school had been treated similarly.
I had heard that Bully was rated R, so the production company decided to release it as an unrated film. After seeing the movie, I was surprised there was any controversy. The movie clearly did not deserve to be rated R. Although there was some cursing, it was nothing kids don’t hear every day at school. At most, the film should have received a PG-13 rating. There isn’t one kid at my high school who couldn’t handle it.
Teens see bullying every day, at school and online. I don’t bully but I haven’t helped victims either. The movie made me think that I should but I probably won’t. I could get bullied if I defended someone who was being bullied, which I think keeps a lot of teens from standing up to bullies. I hope the movie also shows adults that this is really going on and that they need to do something.