Thursday, April 12, 2012
Parents Take Note of "Bully"
“Bully” a Stern, Emotional Warning About the Dark Side of Childhood
By Skip Sheffield
If you are a parent, “Bully” could be the most important film you see all year.
“Bully” is a documentary film made by award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch over the course of a school year in five different locations, focusing on five victims of bullying.
Bullies are nothing new. Facing a bully is considered a rite of passage by many. The biggest problem is that when you are born different or you develop in a less than conventional way you can become a target.
All five of the five subjects are different in different ways. The most obvious example is a kid named Alex, 14, from Iowa. He wears thick glasses and has a flattened nose, receding chin and protruding buck teeth. Alex freely admits the kids call him “Fish Face.” He seems resigned to a life of ridicule and harassment. We learn in the course of the film that Alex was born prematurely after just 26 weeks of gestation. He wasn’t expected to live more than a day.
In a fair and just world people would be understanding and sympathetic to such a challenged, strange-looking boy.
The world is not just or fair, and children can be the cruelest of all.
Alex is one of the stronger ones. Seventeen-year-old Tyler Long of Georgia and 11-year old Ty Field-Smalley of Oklahoma committed suicide out of despair. We see them only in home videos.
Ja’Meya, a 14-year-old Mississippi girl, became so enraged by the constant bullying on her school bus that one day she stole her mother’s pistol and threatened to shoot her tormenters. She was charged with 26 felony accounts.
Kelby is an openly gay 16-year-old girl from gay-unfriendly Oklahoma. Her way of coping is to hang out with outsiders like her.
Director Hirsch was granted amazing access to school rooms, halls and most notoriously, school buses. No one looks forward to a long bus ride. That’s when tempers flare and bullies go about their dirty work. We see kids harassing, hitting and insulting other kids in full view of the bus driver’s rear-view mirror.
Perhaps something has broken down since I had to ride a bus every day from Boca Raton almost to Boynton Beach. If any rough-housing went on, the driver would pull over immediately and threaten the perpetrators with reprisal. In case after case in “Bully” we see teachers, principals and bus drivers turning a blind eye, or minimizing aggressive behavior.
There will always be bullies. This is a sad fact of life. What “Bully’ does is show it has reached a new level of epidemic. My favorite kid in the film was a little guy who said you just have to face a bully, even if you get beat up.
It was a lesson I learned as a wee lad. Bullies are by nature cowards, and they act out of feelings of inferiority. If a child, regardless of age or size can muster the courage to call their bluff, it can work wonders. Meanwhile, this film serves as a warning something is wrong, and we can’t just ignore it.