This was a tough one. I went into it knowing that due to the subject matter it would be a difficult documentary to watch. Sometimes in life difficult things are essential and after having come through watching (and shedding some tears) Bully by Lee Hirsch (Amandala! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony) I think that it should be obligatory watching for high school kids. Or maybe even younger.
Bully is a look at bullying at different schools through the United States. It is told from the point of view of those being bullied. A stat has been bandied about in the marketing of the film that each day in the United States 13 million kids will be bullied. Shocking stat. Despite this huge number it is an issue that remains largely ignored. Kids that are being bullied seem to realize that they are the only ones who can make the abuse stop and that they cannot rely on the schools to step in. Unfortunately the way they react is with an equal or greater amount of violence.
One young girl Ja’Meya, a star basketball player and an exceptional student, had enough of being bullied by a group of 8-10 kids on a daily basis, so she brought her mother’s gun on the school bus and brandished it during the drive to school one day. Instead of the authorities realizing that this was not a dangerous offender rather a young girl at the end of her rope they proceded to lock her up like she was the criminal. She did what she felt was necessary to make it stop because the adults in her life seem incapable.
The documentary actually begins with the father of Tyler Long, David speaking about how his son, aged 11, was so brutalized on a daily basis by the bullies at his school that he took his own life. How sad is it that an 11-year-old felt that the only way to end his pain was to hang himself. Sadly, this is not the only case in the film where a young person resorted to taking their life in order to put an end to their pain. A concrete illustration of how we, as adults, have failed these kids.
Kids lives are changed forever at such a young age. The effects of bullying will last their entire lives. They don’t deserve this. One teenage girl in a small town in Oklahoma was being bullied and ostracized simply because she came out as gay. The bullying was being perpetrated by young people and adults. Her whole family was being shunned by the community.
Bullying seems to happen because a young kid is a little different. Alex was born 14 weeks premature. His mother was told he would not live 24 hours and now he is 13-years-old. Yes, he looks a little different. But don’t we all? The bottom line is that Alex is a sweet kid. That doesn’t seem to matter on the playground, school hallways or schoolyard. On a daily basis he is bullied. He is hit, threatened and even stabbed with pencils everyday on the school bus. The bullying has become such a part of his life that he doesn’t even tell anyone about it and, even worse, he makes excuses for those bullying him. He says they are just “fooling” around. The abuse has become normal to him. At one point when talking about it with his mother he wonders out loud if he feels anything at all anymore. Scary and sad.
What I found most shocking was the non reaction by those working in schools. In one scene an assistant principal berates a young boy who was a victim of bullying for not shaking hands with his bullier. The bully was let off the hook whereas the victim was revictimized. And this time at the hands of an adult. Who can they turn to? The principal at Alex’s school accused him of not letting her know what was going on and then saying that she had spoken to a boy who had physically attacked Alex on the bus in grade 6. To which Alex said the bully just continued on doing different things to him. Her reaction was silence.
The footage that Hirsch and his team were able to get is amazing and hard to watch. The bullies are not deterred at all by the cameras. The physical abuse and threats continue. You want to stop what is happening and gather these kids up in your arms protecting them. I thought about how the film only shows a small sampling of their lives and the abuse had been going on before the cameras started rolling and will probably continue afterwards.
Bully gives us a clear picture of what happens on a daily basis all over the United States. And if it is happening there don’t kid yourself into believing that it doesn’t happen in Canada. It is a global problem that something has to be done about. School is a place where parents send their kids to five days a week and expect that those working at schools are keeping them safe. Sadly that is not the case.