The cameras focused on an everyday story of overcoming hardship.
The fear that maybe editors had cut out a lot of the most awful footage — the footage of bullying at its worst — for the sake of propriety, gave a lot of expectant moviegoers a sense of trepidation. I remember the struggle that occurred with the Motion Picture Association of America over the original R rating that the documentary, “Bully,” was given. After months of grappling with the film’s content it was eventually brought down to PG-13.
As it turned out, they had very little to worry about. “Bully” tells the separate stories of five children who’ve endured taunting, teasing and sometimes physical harm in and out of school. The movie opens on the father of 17-year-old Tyler Long. David Long tells of his son’s “infectious” joy amid clips of home videos taken when Tyler was a baby. A student at Murray County High School, in Murray County, GA, Tyler committed suicide in 2009.
As the film progresses, it alternates between this story and those of Alex Libby, who was often stabbed with pencils and strangled on the bus ride to school; Kelby Johnson, whose openness about being a lesbian left her an outcast in her small Oklahoma town; Ty Field-Smalley, who also took his own life in 2010; and Je’Meya Jackson, who nearly went to jail after bringing a gun with her onto her bus in an effort to “scare” her hecklers.
I think it was generally very moving. The movie shows a very real picture of bullying in America—real, but somehow incomplete. The film shows how it happens, but not really why it happens. Honestly, what makes kids treat each other so awfully?
I was treated horribly in elementary school, and my mother used to tell me that kids gave me such a hard time because they were jealous of me. I was a smart, light-skinned black girl who spoke proper English (therefore, might as well be white). So since I was in an all-black school, yet talked more like my teachers than my classmates, I set off the green-eyed monster in every peer I’d had since second grade? Sounds like I really hit the jackpot! I’m not sure it’s that simple, though — even if my mother did — and I’d have a very hard time believing someone who did.
There’s also the question of how to deal with it, which is a notorious problem for the schools, parents, and students. Victims tend to complain that the people in charge don’t do anything with lasting effects. Of course, this isn’t to say that this claim isn’t valid — indeed, many say that it’s nothing to worry about; just kids being kids. But it’s usually, if not always, the complete opposite. Even some parents are losing faith in these officials.
However, some faculty members say that they can’t do anything, and who knows what that could mean — not just in the literal sense, but in the metaphorical sense? What does this supposed inability to curb bullying mean for the people who perpetrate it and the ones who endure it?
Overall, “Bully” is a fairly well-made documentary with stories that tug at you, especially if you yourself have been bullied. It would’ve been absolute gold if there had been at least any theories on why it happens, and any halfway solid solutions on how to handle it.
I think we should have stronger anti-bullying policies in schools, and encourage students to report any bullying they might see. It would also be good to have school-wide rallies that ultimately send the victims a message: they’ve done nothing wrong — they can’t help who they are or what they look like. Someone does care for them, and they want to help them in any way they can.
As it is, though, “Bully” is off to a good start when it comes to getting the conversation going, and I think that’s admirable.