If you’ve been living under a rock, you need to know that Bully’s an important film. Lee Hirsch’s heartbreaking documentary on the torments suffered by public and middle school children by bullies, shows that everyone bears some of the blame.
The most egregious example of failure in protecting children from other children in this film is a school Vice Principal who clearly doesn’t understand what she’s seeing and hearing or she’s in full balls out denial. Her motivation may be to show her school in a good light “They’re good as gold” she smiles, about kids riding the school bus.
However, Hirsch shows us horrifying footage of youngsters physically, verbally and emotionally bullying young Alex.
He’s stabbed with pencils, sworn at, kicked, hit, derided and threatened with torture and death. It happens every day. Poor kid thinks it’s normal. The Vice Principal’s been told about the bulling on the buses. No, she says. The kids are good as gold. She’s ridden the buses.
She then forces another terrified and frustrated victim to shake the hand of the boy who’s been bullying him all term, a hollow gesture if ever there were one, and continues to bully the poor kid by saying he wasn’t shaking his tormenters hand and meaning it. The police had had to intervene and she implies the victim is the problem.
She tells Alex’ parents there’s nothing she can do about the problem and as good as kicks them out of her office. If the woman is still working in that school, or anywhere with children, there is no justice.
That’s the worst part of the documentary – the betrayal of adult caregivers to look after their charges, to fail to act with decency and wisdom, to deflect responsibility in the face of hard evidence that she’s wrong, and a bully. It’s breathtakingly awful.
Added to which parents hold a town meeting on bullying attended by concerned parents, children, the police force and not a single representative from the school.
The child victims of bullies Hirsch follows, Alex, Kelby, a lesbian forced out of school by bullies, Ja'Maya who was bullied into a senseless act and others are probably typical of a good number of students anywhere you care to look. And bullying is getting worse these days, with electronic devices making it a snap to hurt someone or destroy their reputation by hitting a button or even urge a fragile child to hang himself.
The subject matter is truly heartbreaking, maddening and frustrating. Is it that hard for a school to come to the aid of children riding the buses or hiding in their homes to avoids trouble?
The parents are doing their best, encouraging them to stand up for themselves, be strong, etc. and there is a suggestion that a victim “gets used to” being bullied and accept it as normal.
The police can’t be around all the time to force bullies to keep away from others. It’s a dizzying and complex situation that is finally getting some loud play in the popular media thanks to this film.
It may not be the best documentary ever, or the best film. But it’s hard to look at it from a critical point of view because it’s so compelling in and of itself. It should anger audiences who will want to get behind various anti-bullying projects in their areas, and learn more. And that would be great.
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Written and directed by Lee Hirsch
Opens April 6
MPAA: check your local ratings