Director: Lee Hirsch
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Studio: The Weinstien Company
Director Lee Hirsch’s harrowing, empowering documentary Bully exposes the devastating consequences of ignoring our nation’s epidemic of kid-on-kid terrorism. With the tragedy of gay teen suicides in the news and suicide ranking as one of the three leading causes of death in people age 15 to 24, here is a story that has long needed to be told. Emmy-winner Hirsch (Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony) somehow managed to finagle one year’s unhindered access to five kids and their families that are coping with relentless physical and psychological taunting, harassment and violence on school buses and playgrounds, in gym classes and beyond. The film documents how this abuse goes largely unchallenged by politicians, parents, bus drivers, teachers, school officials and the police.
Where else can these under-siege kids possibly turn? We meet a lonely, sweet-spirited14-year-old Iowa boy named Alex who suffers death threats and becomes a human punching bag by schoolmates who consider him “weird." Then, there's a 16-year-old lesbian named Kelby who naively, but bravely, hopes to challenge widespread homophobia in Oklahoma and a 14-year-old Missouri girl named Ja’meya whom authorities threaten to imprison for life because constant school attacks provoke her into protecting herself on a school bus by brandishing a gun.
The case is made quietly and devastatingly by Hirsch’s well made, clear-eyed, non-judgmental documentary that only occasionally rambles and loses focus. But its subject is so compelling and complex that Bully raises issues that demand to be heard—and dealt with. The film’s brave subjects tell raw, unfiltered, heartbreaking stories, none more so than that of a gifted, beloved 11-year-old Georgia boy so emotionally tormented by bullies that he hangs himself in his bedroom closet; in the aftermath, some classmates mock him by arriving at school with nooses around their necks. That the all-pervasively insidious culture of bullying must end is obvious. With a strong grassroots movement growing, a day may be coming when there is the public and political will to finally stop looking the other way and making excuses.
“Tell me how to fix this,” asks a school principal. The movie supplies no simple fixes but the urgent dialogue and controversy it may help provoke should grow louder and louder by the moment.