Review by Pete Mason
The documentary “Bully” is an impressive and powerful film, aimed at the students and their parents and thanks to the Weinstein company forgoing a rating (the MPAA sought to rate it PG-13 for a few swear words) and should be required viewing for all student grades 4-12.
While bullying has been around for ages and will not go away due to this film, the reality of the impact of bullying is seen in two suicides, an incarceration in a juvenile center, a student withdrawing from school and two students who stuck it out, despite numerous continued instances of bullying in school and on the bus. To discount the message that “Bully” sends is to throw hands up in surrender and accept bullying in schools, in society and as a unstoppable constant in our lives.
Directed by Lee Hirsch and featuring students across the south and Midwest in middle and high school, the film jumps around to each student during the movie, rotating in their stories, sharing the details of their lives. Alex is called “fish lips,” stabbed with pencils on the bus, pushed into lockers and is scared to admit to his parents what happens. Only the documentary footage proves the unspoken.
Then, the cast of administrators steps up to the plate to turn a blind eye to ever strike like Mr. Magoo umpiring a baseball game. The principal is dismissive, says she cannot do anything and resorts to the now-tiresome ‘kids will be kids.’ In reality, kids that bully without repercussions grow into adults who bully in their lives, their homes and their workplace, so the principal passes the buck to an assistant principal who seems to do her homework and talks to kids on Alex’s bus and suspends one from riding the bus the rest of the year, but Alex is held to be guilty of retaliation, ultimately lessening his case and making the discipline wholly ineffective. When the bullied is treated the same way as the bully, the level playing field benefits the bully.
Alex is just one of the six profiled in the story. Two committed suicide because the bullying would not stop. Their parents have turned the tragedy into a campaign to end bullying in school, so that this doesn’t happen again. But in reality, until school administrators stop using zero-tolerance policies and act to involve parents and students in an effort to end bullying and educate those who continue to inflict physical, emotional and mental abuse on others, it will be a struggle more than a campaign.
The sad story of these students is uplifting, knowing that the effort to curb bullying is growing, and if enough parents start to realize their children are being bullied or bullying others, the propensity of children taking their own lives will decrease and students can focus on their education in school and not fear coming to school each day.