The adage “boys will be boys” has always been a means to ignore aggressive behavior. The documentary film Bully illustrates what happens when what can be waved away as harmless horseplay becomes something way more serious, frightening, and tragic.
The film is about the new (?) phenomenon of bullying in America’s school system. New, because this sort of thing didn’t happen to the tune of approximately 13 million U.S. kids being bullied per year “back in the day” (20-30 years ago). Bully doesn’t explain how things got to this level. Maybe it can’t. What is does show, at times in heart-rendering terms, is the effects it has on kids, their families, and friends.
Shot during the 2009/2010 school year, Bully follows the lives of 3 kids and the parents of two other kids who committed suicide as a result of constant verbal and or physical abuse by their classmates. Co-writers Lowen and Hirsch do a wonderful job of letting the kids speak what they really think, one of them 12 year old Alex, figures his “friends” are just playing around when he tells his parents that he gets choked, punched, and slapped on the schoolbus almost daily. Hirsch, who also directed the film, lets the camera roll when all this is taking place. He also let’s the chips fall where they may when Alex’s parents go to his school to ask his principal what, if anything can be done to prevent their child from being harassed. When another couple whose son hung himself confront the school district officials at a town meeting, you might scratch your head or shake it in disbelief at the response.
It should be noted that Bully was initially rated R, because of the candid, colorful language the kids were using. Yes, kids actually do swear. After a huge outcry from parent groups, teachers, and Hollywood types, it was given an “Unrated” label. Still pushed, the MPAA finally gave it a PG-13 rating. And for good reason, because it gives more access to kids. Bully is not a perfect documentary. Some of the kids and families portrayed are introduced later or are not given as much screen time. That may have given it more of an emotional impact. The issue of ‘cyberbullying” is never touched upon or girls bullying each other. It’s rather male centric. However, this is the kind of movie that everyone involved in the lives of kids and kids themselves should see.