Thursday, September 12, 2013
This past April, the documentary Bully was released. Last night, I finally got the chance to watch it. While the stories in the documentary were not "news" to me, it was very difficult to watch. The movie follows the lives of five different children in four different states: two, seemingly middle class, white children; a white female, who came out as gay in middle school; an African-American female, who was an honor student and basketball player; and a white middle school boy, who had been born premature and had some physical effects as result (I am not sure whether they would qualify as disabilities). The two middle class kids had committed suicide. The white female was subject to physical assault, and verbal harassment by both teaches and students. The African American female had apparently be subjected to harassment, but her story focuses on her response, which was to bring a gun to school to stop the harassment (prior to the documentary). The other white student was subject to severe verbal harassment, threats, and physical violence.The documentary's primary glue is its revelation of school districts that are unwilling or claim they are unable to stop the harassment. Its poignancy comes from the unique ways in which each child suffers from and responds to the harassment. I found the gay student's story compelling in this respect as she was clearly unwilling to buckle to the harassers and was fighting for her own place, as well as others' place in the world. For much of the film, however, we see how utterly alone and helpless these children are. In fact, one child's parents all but blame him for the harassment he suffers. That cold depiction of these children's isolation and real time fear for them is the hard part to watch. In fact, the filmmakers, at one point, stop being observers and felt the need to intervene by showing the harassing video footage to the parents and school officials. The film, however, counterbalances this day-to-day reality with coalition building, which ultimately brings them together.