Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Bully


USA, 2011
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.



  1. I've really been meaning to see this movie, but now I'm disappointed that it offers no practical solutions to the problem (what's the point then?). Instead it will probably just make me sad and angry, so I guess we'll see. Thanks for the scoop :)

  2. Sounds worth a watch but a shame that it's all about awareness raising and not more substantial in terms of creating a change.

  3. I avoided this film because this is the kind of pain it hurts to watch, and if it's just a shockumentary with no solutions offered...I think I'll continue to avoid it ~_~


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  4. Sounds like something I need to watch, as a parent and a teacher. Maybe a discussion with kids at the end about how to solve the problem would provide insight and be more powerful for them to come up with their own solutions? (I need to watch the film to decide if that's a viable option). Thanks for sharing.

  5. This just sounds tragic. It's one thing to start to get bullied in high school -- you have just four years and then you're free. But for it to start on kids this young ... it's horrible. I agree that an 11 year-old shouldn't know about suicide, let alone want to use it. It would've been nice if the movie could list some practical solutions.

    The saddest part is that bullying is a known problem and has been for a while now. Yet little has changed.

    Great review.

  6. This is such a vital subject. It's a shame that the film didn't offer any solutions. Thank you for this post.

  7. This movie was famously the subject of bullying itself, when the ratings board threatened it with an R, which would have prevented its target audience from even seeing it...

  8. I totally agree. I'm an advocate of cameras in buses, hallways, and campuses. In fact, on every street and in every apartment hallway. if everywhere on earth was watched by a camera, I think 90% of crime would stop. Considering how small cameras can be now and how inexpensive digital recording is, I'm very surprised that they're not utilized by more towns and companies.

  9. I've not seen this yet.
    The reason they don't offer any solutions is that no one knows what to do about this, and the biggest issue is that e solution is individual to the person...

  10. I wish the film offered solutions. I have a feeling many administrators do nothing because they have no idea what to do.