‘Bully’ documentary reveals painful reality

By Acacia DiCiaccio

MCT

From the national spotlight to Amherst Cinema, “Bully” has been all over.

“Bully” continues to gain recognition due to its riveting trailer and controversy over the film’s initial R rating that would prevent it from being shown in schools.

Amherst Cinema is currently showing “Bully” under its newly awarded PG-13 rating, which allows it to be shown in high schools. The cinema also presented a question and answer period with writer and producer Cynthia Lowen after the film’s showings on Sunday, April 22. Lowen attended Amherst Regional High School and mentioned all of the familiar faces in the audience after receiving a standing ovation. Lowen created this film along with Lee Hirsch, a Hampshire College graduate.

The film opens with a video montage of a young and happy Tyler Long. Long took his life in 2009 because of alleged incessant mental abuse that he faced every day at school from his peers. The documentary interviews Long’s parents as they struggle to cope with the loss of their son as well as attempt to change the school administration’s irresponsibility towards bullying as a whole.

The main focus of the film, however, is on 12-year-old Alex Libby, who endures both physical and mental abuse from his peers on a regular basis. Libby is considered a “geek” because he enjoys learning and does not fit in socially. Even within the first few minutes of the film, viewers see children casually threatening his life.

Libby attends public school in Sioux City, Iowa. The film reveals the shoddy administration in the Sioux City school district that is unequipped to handle instances of bullying. Kim Lockwood, assistant principal at Alex’s school, adds to the problem of overlooking the severity of bullying. When asked about Lockwood’s reaction to the film, Lowen replied it was not until she saw the reactions of 17,000 people at the “Bully” screening in Sioux City that Lockwood thought she had done anything wrong.

“Bully” also follows other students from all over the country that encounter bullying on a daily basis. Sixteen-year-old Kelby Johnson has been ostracized for coming out as a lesbian in “Bible Belt” Oklahoma, and kids have even gone so far as to strike her with a moving vehicle.

The film shows 14-year-old Ja’Maya Jackson who was so fed up with bullying that she brought a gun onto the school bus in order to scare off her perpetrators. Jackson was charged with 22 counts of kidnapping and attempted assault, while her bullies received no punishment whatsoever.

Some of the footage of kids’ bullying, as well as the way that Lockwood approaches her school’s problems, can be shocking. The poisonous mantra “kids will be kids, boys will be boys” is prevalent among the attitudes of the interviewed school administration. And although the children understand that they are being filmed, it does not stop them from beating on Libby on camera. Lowen did say that Libby reported worse bullying when the cameras were not around, and once when the filmmakers were out of town, Libby’s parents found him unconscious in their yard after school one day.

Lowen also spoke about how easy it was for the filmmakers to obtain releases from every parent of a child that bullied on camera. Lowen recounted that one mother broke down and had to turn away when screening the footage, and declared that she wanted her son to be accountable for his actions caught on tape.

During the shooting of the film, Libby’s abuse becomes so concerning that the filmmakers decided to reveal the footage to his parents and teachers. The reaction of Lockwood proves to be disheartening.

The film heartrendingly displays the effects of bullying on its victims. At one point when Alex’s mom asks him how it feels when he is bullied, he replies, “I’m starting to think I don’t feel anything anymore.”

The strength in this documentary is Lowen’s ability to evoke emotions in the revelation of the hidden bullying epidemic among school-aged children. For those that often overlook the severity of the situation, she places the horrid reality directly in front of the viewer.

The Stand For The Silent movement, founded by parents of an 11-year-old boy that committed suicide due to bullying, adds to the film with empowering speeches by the parents of these children and hopes to end bullying through teaching kids to stand up for their peers.

When asked how Libby is doing in school now, Lowen replied that he has become an “outspoken ham” and that in an airport in Washington, D.C., a flock of girls came up to him begging for his autograph. One can only hope that the film can inspire kids like Libby as well as bullies, students that witness bullying, parents and school administrators to do something about this horrible epidemic.

To learn more about the film or what you can do to stop bullying, visit www.thebullyproject.com.

Acacia DiCiaccio can be reached at [email protected]