Saturday, 18 August 2012

Bully

WRITTEN BY: Lee Hirsch, Cynthia Lowen
DIRECTED BY: Lee Hirsch
STARRING: Alex, Ja'Maya, Kelby
RATING: 4 stars

I shed more than a few tears watching Bully. It broke my heart and made my blood boil. According to the film-makers, more than 13 million American children will be bullied at school, online, at home and on the streets, making it the most common form of violence among young people. I imagine, based on media reports and talking to teenagers, the statistics are probably equally as devastating in Australia and elsewhere in the world. This film is hard to watch. It's confronting and frustrating, but it's also important for everyone to see and learn a valuable lesson. Let's face it, we've all had a connection with bullying, whether we have been victims, perpetrators or those on the sidelines ignoring what we see.

Filmed in “middle America” during the 2009-10 school year, Bully presents audiences with three children. Alex is friendless and is called “Fish Face” by his classmates, Kelby is harassed by her school and the wider community for being a lesbian, while Ja'Meya was so horribly bullied on the school bus that she threatened others with a loaded gun and ended up in juvenile detention. We also meet the families of two children who committed suicide as a direct result from bullying.

The most startling and devastating aspect of the film is how clueless the adults are. Whether it's parents not realising how difficult their children’s school life is, police not getting involved, or teachers and school boards completely ignoring the issue because they feel like there's nothing they can do about it. There were several infuriating scenes, including an emotional town meeting and a deputy principal who needed a serious wake-up call.

Unfortunately, the film is one-sided in its presentation. We don't really see any bullies or learn anything about them or why they bully other children. We also don't meet their parents to gain any context about them. Obviously, it's a film documentary, not a news story, so it doesn't have to be balanced. However, I think it would have helped send a stronger message if it explored the issue deeper. There is no solution provided. All we feel is sympathy and sadness. How do we make a change?

The target audience for the film is children and teenagers, but I wonder if they will learn anything from this film. A bully is not likely to identify with anyone and realise the error of their ways. I don't want to get on my soapbox about this issue, but since this is a documentary, I think it's fair for me to make this point. Parents need to take responsibility for teaching their children about prejudices against class, race, religion, ethnicity, gender and anything else. If bullying comes from a place of hate because a child is reacting to someone being different to them, then we need to teach that child to not only accept all differences, but to also embrace and learn from them. I hope this film makes a difference to at least one child's life. That will be enough.





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