Bully – Infuriating and Heart-Breaking
Lee Hirsch’s documentary titled, “Bully” (2012) tackles a growing problem in the globalized world: bullying. It is tough to think of anybody who has not been bullied in school – or been a bully herself/himself. According to some statistics, bullying has grown into an epidemic in US and has been commonly mitigated by the view: “Kids will be kids.” The documentary chronicles this aggressive behavior, much of it unchecked by administrators, parents or any adults. “Bully” isn’t only about statistical figures. It puts a human scale on the data, by offering an intimate and upsetting view of how bullying has defined the lives of certain children.
Lee Hirsch has shot this documentary in the school year 2009-2010 from different parts of America’s heartland. A father in Georgia talks about his first-born son, Tyler and watches the home movies of him, when he was a smiling child. But, the smiles and joy later vanished only to be replaced by taunts and head-smashing. The excessive bullying made Tyler, aged 17, to hang himself in his bedroom closet. Alex, 12 years old, lives in Soiux city, Iowa. He is a sweet-natured, awkward seventh-grader. “I feel kind of nervous about going to school. I like learning, but I have trouble making friends”, says Alex, whose nickname is ‘fishface.’ The film-makers have surprisingly obtained access to use cameras (not hidden) inside Alex’s school bus. He is jabbed with pencils, choked, punched, and endures lot of abusive words. (“I’m gonna fuck you up. Know what I’m saying?” a boy says) But, Alex, who wants to fit in, misguidedly consider their attention to be something closest he can get to friendship.
When Alex’s parents take this matter to school administration, they remain clueless and are mostly imploring the fact that it isn’t serious problem. In Oaklohama, Kelby, a 16 year old lesbian is banished along with her family by everyone. She routinely gets humiliated by the teachers. She later takes refuge among a small circle of tolerant kids, after having survived three suicide attempts. In Mississipi, baby-faced Ja’Maya, 14 year old, was stuck in a juvenile system. She brought her mother’s gun on the bus and threatened the students, who bullied her. Ty, aged 11, from Oklahoma City has committed suicide and his parents Kirk and Laura Smalley has launched an anti-bullying organization to create awareness about the unacceptable dimensions of this crisis.
In most of the educational system, the bureaucrats are the biggest bullies. They officially deny the existence of bullying or rather retreat to comforting words like: “Kids will be kids.” After seeing Alex’s video inside the bus, an affable middle-aged assistant principal simply says: “We can put him on another bus.” Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen’s script demonstrates how internet plays a vital part in bullying. Benefitted by social network sites and text messages, the bullies have extended their taunts outside the school halls and buses. At the same time, Hirsch also concentrates on the advantageous side of internet campaigns. The two families, who have lost their children because of bullying-related suicides, have set up social-media forums to publicize the problem and to explore solutions. Hirsch’s documentary doesn’t offer any solutions to bullying but connects all those lonely voices to a growing network of like-minded people.
“Bully” has some problems structurally, which seems too repetitive. Ja’Maya’ story is not so effective. Her story is used to emphasize the point that what might happen when a child is pushed too far. However, that segment looked too dragged out. Also, the five kids shown are all from rural centers and except for one boy (African-American), all are white. The urban school districts and Hispanic or Asian kids face more problems than the ones shown here. Barring these minor faults, for the most part, this documentary gives entirely relatable, deeply affecting stories.
“Bully” calls for an immediate change from this calculated malice and ignorance. It is primarily for teenagers and their parents, whether they be victims or perpetrators of bullying.