Bully opens with home movies of baby Tyler crawling around, his father looking into the camera; morose, wet eyes, somber. Tyler’s dad does a voice over as various scenes from Tyler’s life flashes on the screen. He talks about the love he has for his son, the promise of his future, snuffed out like a candle. Tyler was the victim of bullying. At the tender age of 17, Tyler decided to put an end to his torment.
Tyler committed suicide to escape.
There was a kid in Middle School named Nemesis. He was pudgy, had a horrible hair cut, and an unassuming personality. The perfect target for bullying. Another kid, Mark, honed in on Nemesis from day one. I can recall Mark in his powder blue turtleneck with powder blue corduroys pants and matching vest, forcing Nemesis to his knees and riding him like a horse around the school yard during recess. When I recalled the story to Queenie, she was appalled, but also thought it was kind of funny.
I used to think it was kind of funny until I became a parent. When The Teen was in Middle School, I monitored her email daily. Usually messages were from Queenie, Sleeping Beauty or something Nickelodeon. One day, I saw a message from an anonymous girl telling my baby that she smelled, was a “ho” and was dumb. Another message was from a boy named “W” who described ways he would hurt her. I deleted both messages, and immediately called the school to report this incident.
The school was little help. Other than the hollow slogan “Bears Don’t Bully” I wasn’t given any concrete way to help my child. In fact, the blame was placed on HER. It was suggested that The Teen make herself less of a target, by making friends and trying to fit in. Back then, The Teen was more cerebral, preferring her thoughts to those around her, adjusting to being an older sister and learning how to deal with being wrenched from the warmth of a Friends school to the real world of Public “Everyone Attends” Education.
Not wanting The Teen to follow the advice I was given: “Twist their titty (if it was a girl) or balls (if it was a boy), until they screamed”, I tried constructive ways to help with her self esteem. Activities ranged from ballet school to joining the Girl Scouts. The Teen has since blossomed, and casual perusals of her Twitter, Facebook Page, and email show that The Teen has learned how to hold her own and knows how to avoid bullies.
The Boy, on the other hand, has bully potential. As one of the youngest and immature in his class, he still doesn’t know how to find his way to fit in. I stress to both of my kids to be leaders, but sometimes that lesson is forgotten when faced with peer pressure. A child he plays with is now being called “faggot”, “gay”, and a “jigaboo”. Not wanting to stand out from the crowd, The Boy laughs and recounts the stories to Bubbles! while I listen in during the drive home from school. I always interrupt and tell both of them that they need to be the change. They need to stand up for the kid getting picked on, they have a duty to be the voice in the crowd. Standing alone is lonely, but if we don’t stand for something, we fall for anything.
That is the message from Lee Hirsh’s movie, Bully.
Bully is a documentary that follows five families affected by bullying. As one kid explained to a vice principal about being bullied: “It breaks my heart.”
Watching the children and the way they are affected because of bullying is heartbreaking. When the children and parents attempt to get assistance from the school, they are ignored or blown off, their concerns dismissed as over reaction. I don’t think the family of 11 year old Ty Smalley can be placated with a “Boys will be boys” shrug. Ty also had enough and killed himself because of the bullying.
Not to place blame squarely on the schools. Parents also have a responsibility to advocate for their children. The parents of 13 year old Alex, probably out of frustration, grill him when the filmmakers show disturbing footage of Alex being bullied on the school bus. Alex doesn’t see anything wrong with the treatment he receives, insisting the boys picking on him are “just messing around.” It was difficult to watch a scene where Alex’s head is repeatedly slammed into the seat in front of him. If this was done in the presence of a camera crew, what type of behavior isn’t captured on film? How many other children are being victimized this way and don’t have a camera crew to show proof to parents and school administrators ignorant of their child’s turmoil?
The families in the film are all from the rural/small town areas. I don’t know if it was a deliberate attempt on the filmmakers part to show that bullying goes on everywhere or if the epidemic is no longer a big city issue, but one that affects people no matter where they choose to go for refuge.
I would be remiss if I didn’t express my disappointment that the one person of color was a girl who pulled a gun on a crowded school bus to get relief from her bullies. She was charged with 45 felonies because of her actions. My anger at the inclusion of Je’Maya’s story was that once again, a Black woman is shone in the light of this tough shell, ready to ride or die at any costs.
Bully ends on a somewhat positive note. The families of the two boys who killed themselves organize rallies for others, refusing to let their child have died in vain.
The Bully Project Website offers additional information about how to combat this epidemic. Visit this site and become one of the voices to combat this growing issue.