“Bully”: Kids Will Not Just Be Kids
~Abbey Grant, ’14
A heart wrenching and infuriatingly real look at the affects of bullying – at school, at home, and in the community – ”Bully” is a new documentary by Lee Hirsch that leaves us questioning our perceptions of our schools and communities.
“Bully” tells the stories of several young students who have suffered at the hands of bullies; two, Taylor and Ty, have committed suicide, and Taylor’s suicide is the blunt fact that opens the movie, as his father tearfully reminisces about Taylor’s childhood. Things only intensify as other children are added to the mix. One of the main story lines is about Alex, an awkward and sweet 14-year-old boy who is consistently bullied, both at school and on the bus, to the point of strangulation, without the school doing anything to really stop it. His parents remain out of the loop and unsure of where to turn. Wishing for a friend, and confused about what to do, Alex unsurprisingly admits to the camera that “[the bullies] push me so far that I want to become the bully”.
Ja’Meya, who’s story has less focus, has the same sentiments when she, sick of being picked on, brings a gun on her bus and brandishes it. Even without shots being fired, she is charged with over 40 felonies. What the adults failed to see was the fear, the psychological abuse she had endured from those kids, that led her to bring the gun in the first place.
Another girl, Kelby, is shunned in her small, religious town, for being a lesbian, and, although you don’t see her being bullied, she recounts disturbing events of teachers condoning and even participating in the bullying. Her parents stand behind her, but are hurt by the reactions of their friends and neighbors, and by the school’s tolerance for Kelby’s isolation.
The deceased students have their tales told by parents, friends, and photos: Ty committed suicide at 11, leaving behind distraught parents, and an insightful best friend, who used to be a bully himself. Taylor, bullied since he was a kid, hung himself at 17. Both families have since fought to bring about change, which is incredibly inspiring, despite the sad circumstances, and another reason that this movie needs to be seen.
“Bully” isn’t just about the stories – it’s about the similarities and differences between them. How do families and communities handle it? Kelby’s town turns against her, but Tyler’s comes together to demand that their schools do something to stop bullying. Rather than focusing on the actual acts of bullying, Hirsch looks at the psychological effects on the victims, and how their parents and schools react to the complaints of bullying. This purpose makes the movie incredibly disturbing, as some characters are obnoxiously oblivious, hiding behind “kids will be kids”. An assistant principle calls the kids on Alex’s bus “good as gold” even after learning that Alex has been continuously abused by them. While upsetting, the purpose is also portrayed in an uplifting way, because you see how the people filmed have come together to raise awareness about bullying, honoring those who have killed themselves in an movement called “Stand for the Silent”.
Hirsch’s film shows both the depressing and the inspirational, with a message for everyone watching – schools, parents, and kids – and a strong purpose. Even though the film jumps from story to story in an occasionally confusing way, and focuses heavily on some stories (like Alex’s) while only showing other tales in one or two scenes, all remind us that, to stop bullying, we need to come together, be committed.
Everyone should see this movie; the cinematography is both beautiful and heartbreaking; the kids are adorably real – arguing with siblings, laughing with friends – but also a tragic reminder that those so young can suffer too; the parents are bittersweet with their support and confusion; the schools are frustrating because of their denial and unwillingness to truly stop bullying. You leave asking yourself what you would do, how you would deal. How should the kids react to bullying? What is the community’s role? I hope that Manchester will take this amazing opportunity to see this movie, and use it as a starting point for discussions. On top of raising awareness in Manchester, let’s use “Bully” as a chance to unite our town in efforts to stop bullying, because, as Kelby reminds us, we’re the ones “in this town [who] can make a change”.