The term "bully" stirs up fear and memories of torment for those who have experienced this form of abuse. It is probably why documentary filmmaker Lee Hirsch decided to title his latest film simply, Bully.
Known for his documentary features that highlight the need for human rights, (Amandla! A Revolution In Four Part Harmony) Hirsh joins the bully awareness movement by revealing the grim realities of this epidemic. Being a victim of bullying himself, Hirsh always wanted to make this film. It was the suicide of bullied victims, Carl Joseph Walker and Jaheem Herrera, both 11-years-old, that prompted Hirsch to fully focus his attention to the completion of this project. In Bully, we meet three inspiring kids who agree to share their experiences.
Alex, called by his bullies, "Fishface," is a 12-year-old boy who has endured bullying for most of his life. Without being too intrusive, Hirsh was allowed to use a small camera to document Alex's first year at a Sioux City, Iowa middle school. The bullying went so far at times, Hirsh had to stop the camera to step in. Hirsh even showed the footage to his parents and school officials. Alex's family persistently sought help from indifferent school faculty and their attempts proved futile.
Bully is an aggravating display of many schools' perception of bullying. The notion of "kids will be kids," seems to be the accepted motto and Hirsh drives this point home. Sixteen-year-old Kelby of Tuttle, Oklahoma, was forced to give up her athletic dreams due to the ridicule of her peers and teachers alike. Kelby shares her experience as an open lesbian in a small community.
The film also explores the consequences for those who try to stop the bullying. Ja'Meya from Yazoo County, Mississippi made headlines when she waived a gun on a school bus at her tormentors. As a result, Ja'Meya was incarcerated in a juvenile detention center and charged with multiple felonies.
The most extreme and heartbreaking reality is shown through the grieving parents of Tyler Long (Murray County, GA) and Ty Smalley (Perkins, OK). The teen boys took their own lives after years of abuse from their classmates, and the passivity of their school officials. We witness the launch of Kirk and Laura Smalley's anti-bullying organization "Stand for the Silent," in memoriam of their son and to help prevent similar incidents.
Bully outlines the urgent need for change. Hirsh brilliantly encourages the necessary conversation parents should have with their children. For kids who fall prey to bullying, the film builds a bittersweet connection that they do not suffer alone. It is a must see for both parents and their children. The R-rating that Bully received from the MPAA is being challenged by Hollywood heavyweights Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and singer Justin Bieber. To ensure the film reaches its target demographic a petition has been launched to appeal for a PG-13 rating. With nearly 300,000 signatures and counting, the petition can be signed at Change.org.
Bully opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 30.