Running Length: 98 minutes
Cast: Alex, Ja’Maya, Kelby, David Long, Tina Long, Kirk Smalley
Director: Lee Hirsch
Cinematography: Lee Hirsch
Kids are bullied in schools every day. Teachers turn a blind eye, unable or unwilling to get involved or stop it. For some kids, the daily torture becomes too much to bear and they take their own lives. Or others.
Bully doesn’t offer any insight into why kids bully one another. It doesn’t offer the bullied any strategic moves to avoid being bullied. What it does do is put a face to the millions of kids for whom going to school each day is an ordeal.
Filmed in various American states and towns, Bully follows several children as they struggle through the school year. There’s sweet, gawky Alex, a middle-schooler who gets called Fish-Face by his peers and is subjected to painful humiliations on the bus to school each day. There’s Kelby who came out as a lesbian and now faces harassment and hatred from her whole small town. And there’s smart, talented Ja’Meya whose daily journey to school became so traumatic she held a gun on the entire busload of kids and wound up in juvenile prison.
The adult figures presented here are shown to be ineffectual or uncaring. They can’t see what is going on under their noses and if they do see it, they only see a tip of the iceberg, not the full extent of the problem. When Alex’s parents go to the school to complain about his treatment on the bus the administrator claims she’s ridden the bus and the kids are model citizens. No one challenges her with the fact of course the kids behave when they’re being watched by an authority figure. It’s when they aren’t being watched the problems arise.
It’s hard not to feel for these kids, and the parents who speak here about the loss of their kids after the bullying forced them to do the unthinkable. I had tears in my eyes when I heard about 11-year-old Ty taking his own life. An 11-year-old shouldn’t even know what suicide is, let alone feel desperate enough to use it.
But I don’t think this film went far enough. Showing bullying and its consequences is not enough. Real, practical solutions for stopping it need to be investigated. And for this to happen, school administrations need to acknowledge that it is going on. The film makers state they want this film to be used as a tool in schools, but I can’t see how, without offering anything but portrayals of bullying, and parental grief, the film has any role to play except in raising awareness of a problem most kids are already all too aware of.