May 14, 2012
GO SEE THIS MOVIE!
Bully is a documentary that tells the story of 5 kids who are victims of bullying. The kids range in age from 11 to 17. Viewers never get a chance to meet two of the kids, who committed suicide as a result of their victimization.
This is a powerfully produced movie. It has been the subject of some controversy due to the producers’ struggle with the Motion Picture Association of America over the final rating of the movie. MPAA originally chose to rate the movie as R, which unfortunately makes it more difficult for children to see. The producers had to choose to either go with that rating, or release the movie unrated, which would have caused many theaters not to carry the movie. After a long fight with the MPAA, a compromise was finally reached allowing the movie to be released with a PG-13 rating. (The mild-mannered Canadian rating group gave the movie a PG rating.)
This is a hard movie to watch. Wait, that’s not quite true. This should be a hard movie to watch, and it was for me. But we need look no further than Mitt Romney’s news clippings for the week to realize that some bullies won’t ever be willing to acknowledge the wrongs of their past, or even understand the depth of those wrongs. There are some who just won’t feel the impact of this film.
There is heinous behavior aplenty in this movie. It’s not just people talking about what’s been done to them. You see some of the abusers in action, which is one of the reasons the MPAA cited for the R rating. As is often the case with a documentary, it’s surprising how the photographers are able to capture real-life. You’d expect that people, even kids, would moderate their behavior while being filmed, but they don’t.
But the true villains in this movie are not the bullies, they are some of the adults. One assistant principal in the film admits that the school’s buses are “not necessarily safe places.” Two minutes later when she says “I’ve ridden that bus, those kids behaved like angels” I was ready to have a serious bullying moment of my own with her.
“Kids will be kids.” It’s said a number of times in this film, and I can attest from personal experience that it’s in regular use in school. And it simply is true. Kids WILL be kids. Kids are learning their place in the world. We all have the capacity for cruelty within us. Kids will test limits, they will see what they can get away with, and we needn’t blame them for that. It is their role in the world, especially pre-high school.
The problem occurs when adults in a position of authority use “kids will be kids” to absolve themselves of the corresponding notion that “adults should be adults.” When kids cross a line, they should be corrected. When a child just learning to walk reaches for a hot stove, we stop them and we correct them. We realize that this is new knowledge to them, and it may physically or mentally harm them to obtain this knowledge without our stepping in. No reasonable person would stand by and watch a toddler touch a hot stove, and yet in this movie we’re treated repeatedly to film of the bus driver watching in her mirror as children hit the young Alex, poke him with pencils and slam his head into the bus seat. And we know, from news story after news story, that this kind of thing happens every day, in every school. And we know that some of these kids will commit suicide, and some of them will be scarred in ways that impact their lives well into adulthood as a result of their treatment. We need desperately to develop an understanding that bullying is abuse and it is wrong for an adult to stand by and watch it happen.
In closing (for now), I’ll say two things. One - go see this movie! It’s a story that we should all see. It’s knowledge that we should all have. Second, I have to say a huge thank you to the kids and families who agreed to let their stories be told in this movie. I’ve no doubt that as a result of the movie these kids have suffered even more abuse. I think it shows incredible courage to welcome cameras into your life and share your story the way these families did. But these stories need to be told if people are to begin to understand the impact of bullying. This movie has given me a push to start writing some of my stories, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more in this blog in the coming months.