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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bully-Film Review

In recent weeks the movie maverick Harvey Weinstein has gone on a PR blitz fighting the powers that be (here, the MPAA) over the R rating the documentary Bully was saddled with.  He argued, and correctly, that kids of all ages should see this film.  Buses continue to be places of angst and torture for the weak.  School lots are often the stage for hazing and mental stresses.  Kids curse, in many cases with F bombs and other foul words.  Lockers are meant as much for throwing kids into as they are storing supplies.

It really is the same old story.  As long as Darwinism has existed so too has Social Darwinism.

Bully, the documentary made by Weinstein Company by fillmmaker Lee Hirsch, examines some modern cases of the tormented and their tormentors.  And lest we think the bullies are solely other kids in the playground, think again.

School officials, administrators, police and parents themselves share in the epidemic.  Add to that the pervasive social media that inundates a childs life these days and its clear the stakes are higher.

It is noted (on the films website, not film itself) that 13 million school kids will be bullied this year.  Hirsch and his camera follow Alex from Sioux City, Iowa.  He is a gangly kid who is referred to as "fish face" by his peers.  He stays quiet about his abuse.  He desperately wants to fit in.  He has a long road ahead of him.

There is Kelby, the 16 year old lesbian from Tuttle, Oklahoma.  Since she came out her tiny bible belt community has shunned her.  She wants to stay and prove them all wrong.  "We can co-exist, right?" she asks to deaf ears.  She quickly realizes she can not do it alone.

Hirch also features David and Tina Long from Murray County, Georgia.  Their son Justin hung himself in 2009 (at age 17) due to relentless bullying.  Kirk and Laura Smalley had a similar experience with their 11 (!) year old son Tyler.  They live in Oklahoma too.

Finally there is 14 year old Ja'Meya from Mississippi.  She brought a gun on her bus in an effort to stop the madness.  The bullied becoming the bully as it were.

These are all families from rural parts of America, or at best small mid western cities.  All of the kids profiled are in the public school system.  All without wealth and prestige.  And every cliched story fails to educate or enlighten the viewer as to the potential of thing getting better.  There is more pessimism than optimism, although that cannot be the filmmakers intent.

Candlelight vigils will not stop it.  Petitions won't either.

And by the way, this is not a rural and/or poor man's problem.

Are we to believe this type of bullying doesn't exist in prep schools?  In LA and NYC?  Does Weinstein and/or Hirsch view this Nation of ours as blue versus red?

Seems that way judging by their slanted and one dimensional film that's for sure.

A camera is covertly mounted on a bus and it captures physical and emotional abuses.   Out of touch Assistant Principals are ever so eager to pass the buck or ignore situations altogether.  Town Hall meetings are either poorly attended or ill conceived.  Parents of kids who are bullied can be heard loud and clear.

What of the parents of the bullies?  They never seem to show up.  Aren't they themselves bullies?  Are they the ones passing bills to not raise taxes or mandate women's reproductive health?  Or warning us of imminent global change and pending race wars?

Probably yes to all of that.  And citing case studies of bullying will not solve the problem.

Teaching your kids (and enforcing it at home) right versus wrong is the logical start.  Trusting in your educators and other parental figures to lead by example will certainly help too.  Acknowledging it happens in urban areas and places of wealth might be worthwhile too.

Kids should be able to see the film for sure.  But they should also see Larry Clark's Kids, and a few episodes of Degrassi, and remember the golden rule.

Somewhere in Bully is good intention and the makings of a good movie.

The finished product, unfortunately, fails to deliver it.

For more:

LA Times piece on the Ratings controversy

Editors Note:

To date the film was only playing in NYC and LA.  As Easter/Passover and wide release beckon the MPAA has just announced a reversal and will give the film a PG-13:  MSNBC report

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