I am not a movie critic. I am a moviegoer. As such, I thought director Lee Hirsch’s powerful new documentary, Bully, is one of the most intense and beautiful films that I’ve seen in years.
More significantly, as national director of the Anti-Defamation League, I believe this is a movie that needs to be seen by as many people as possible—teachers, students, parents for sure—but even those who don’t fall into any of these categories.
Because the truth is, bullying is not only an issue for the schools and the home. The impact of unchecked bullying is one that carries over beyond the school years and affects the behavior of adults and the entire society. As the movie so ably shows, it takes a whole community to allow bullying to go on, and it takes a whole community to make sure it doesn’t.
In a direct, visceral way, the film lets us see that whole community at work. We see the victims, the scars that could last a lifetime from the humiliation and suffering. We see the extreme cases of victimhood where the individual can no longer bear it and sees no way out other than suicide and we see examples of young people coping and overcoming the torture to create normal lives despite it.
We see parents struggling to get a handle on what is happening to their children. Some wonder what’s wrong with their kids. Other are frustrated as they watch school administrators rationalize bullying activity among their students. Some of the most powerful scenes show school administrators absurdly and horrifically trying to be even-handed between the victimizers and the victims.
We see the bullies themselves trying to establish their superiority at the expense of the bullied, and not ready to acknowledge the seriousness of what they are doing.
And we see the bystanders, who probably would not engage in bullying themselves, but who either do not have the courage to stand up to the bullies or may even feel protected by the fact that they are not the targets of the bullying.
One of the most intense scenes in the movie is a community gathering after a series of bullying incidents that led, among other things, to a suicide. The outrage of residents, including some who didn’t appear to be parents of bullied children, shows that a community can be mobilized to take the issue seriously. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to wake them up.
The film is so important because it is a crucial vehicle for waking people up before a tragedy strikes. Yes, there has been much discussion in the media and in legislatures and in the White House about the phenomenon. And organizations like ADL have developed training programs, curricula and model legislation to combat bullying.
But in our society, nothing can be as effective in getting people to take the matter seriously as a well-done, entertaining, (yes, entertaining) movie like this one.
The Weinstein Company, which is distributing Bully, rightfully released it without a rating after the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board declined to give it any rating other than an “R,” which would have meant that far fewer young people would have been able to see the film. (The MPAA decided to give the documentary a PG-13 rating, the company announced Thursday.)
I dare anyone to see this movie and not walk away with a different perspective on bullying. If you grew up accepting it as a rite of passage in the growing-up process, never will you think that way again.
If you grew up thinking it was a subject better left undiscussed, you won’t believe that any longer.
If you thought that there’s not much that can be done about it, that will be over.
For those of us who believe the education of children is the most important thing in producing a healthy society, dealing with the issue of bullying, including its new and sometimes more lethal variety, cyberbullying, should be a centerpiece.
We at ADL, committed to building a society free of prejudice, have been taking it very seriously for a number of years. This new film will be a major asset in this process. Every school, indeed every home, should have viewings of this remarkable movie.