COURTESY OF THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY
Thirteen million children are bullied each year in schools across the country.
Exposing the gravity of this problem is the goal behind the moving documentary “Bully,” a film that takes statistics and humanizes them by presenting five tragic cases of bullying.
Inspired by director Lee Hirsch’s own experience of being bullied as a child, the film follows five families whose lives were touched dramatically by the consequences of bullying.
Viewers meet middle school student Alex Libby, who, at just 12 years old, appears more world-weary and defeated than a man five times his age. Punched, strangled, sat on and stabbed by his “friends” on the school bus daily, Libby just shrugs into his favorite oversized Steelers jersey, reverting deeper within himself as his only line of defense. Taunting, threats and name-calling compound the physical abuse.
Exasperated, Alex’s mother wonders why he continues to hang around such cruel children, telling him that real friends don’t behave this way.
“If you say they’re not my friends, then what friends do I have?” Alex asked.
Alex receives little help from inept school administrators, who fail to see there is a problem.
“Boys will be boys,” insists Kim Lockwood, the assistant principal at Alex’s middle school.
Through its subjects, the film highlights the cycle of violence perpetuated by bullying.
“They’ve pushed me so far that I want to become the bully,” Alex said in a moment of desperation.
Indeed, for some victims, it’s only a matter of time before the harassment becomes too much to take.
In Yazoo County, Miss., cameras followed 14-year-old honors student and bullying victim Je’Meya Jackson, who has spent the past few months in a juvenile detention center after drawing a gun on a bus full of students. Before the situation escalated, another student tackled Je’Meya and secured the gun, ensuring that no one was hurt. Now, Je’Meya faces 45 felony charges, including 22 counts of kidnapping.
In countless other cases, bullying victims have tragically turned on themselves. Tyler Long was 17 years old when he committed suicide, Ty Smalley just 11. Heartbreaking interviews with their parents reveal the devastation of such an unthinkable loss.
While the film certainly does not sanitize the gravity of the issue, the makers of “Bully” are also adamant in stressing this message: within tragedy, there always lies hope.
Kelby, a gay teenager living in the Bible Belt of Oklahoma, faced relentless persecution from students and teachers alike after she came out.
Now, surrounded by supportive friends and family, Kelby has given up a past of self-injury and turned to advocacy on behalf of bullying victims.
“Maybe all it takes is for one person to stand up,” Kelby said.
This is the idea behind Stand for the Silent, an organization started by Ty Smalley’s parents in the wake of his death. Along with the parents of victim Tyler Long, Kirk and Laura Smalley work to end bullying and save lies with their rallying cry, “Everything starts with one.”
Clocking in at just 90 minutes long, the film only scratches the surface of this complex issue. “Bully” fails to address why some students are motivated to harm others, or what school administration needs to do to fix this problem.
But with stories as powerful as those told by Alex, Kelby, Ja’meya and the families of Ty and Tyler, the perspectives of the victims hold more than enough emotional weight to carry the film.