NEWS: A review of the Bully Movie

Bully: The kids aren’t alright
by Joeseph Bélanger
full article here on 

By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the controversial new documentary Bully. This important film does not spend its time forcing statistics in its audience’s face, like how 13 million kids will be bullied this year in North America, or how 3 million kids will skip school to avoid being bullied. No, instead Bully does something that for some reason has been absent thus far in the bullying conversation; it gives a voice to those who know how it feels firsthand, and that voice is both eye opening and heartbreaking.

“It is amazing to me that there has been so little done on this issue,” director Lee Hirsh tells me when we meet just a few hours before a screening and town hall discussion on the topic. “To me, it’s such a connective piece about the human experience. Everybody has a story. Everybody has a connection to it. This film gives a lot of people a voice.”

Hirsch, a Long Island, New York native, began making what was originally entitled The Bully Project in 2009, when he started following the lives of five different young people throughout their school years. Given the sensitive nature of the subject, Hirsch believed his own experience with bullying made him an ideal choice to tackle the daunting topic. “Part of it was that I was bullied, so it was part of my own narrative. I felt like I could do it, like I had the emotional space and connection to be able to tell this story and be in that world. I just saw it in my head because of that.”

After premiering to triumphant reviews at the Tribeca and HotDocs film festivals last year, Bullywas picked up by the Weinstein Company for distribution. Hirsch never expected a major movie company to pick up the film to begin with, so the attention the film is receiving now, thanks to a widely publicized battle with the Motion Picture Association of America over an R rating, is beyond anything he ever imagined. “The rating argument certainly gave us a lot of energy. We never could have bought that publicity or awareness for such a small film.”

In order for the film to be given a PG-13 rating, a rating it has widely received here in Canada across the provinces, there can be no more than one usage of the word “fuck.” Bully has six F-words, hence the R. An R rating means that the audience the film is intended for cannot see the film without parental permission. It also means the film will not likely screen in schools, where it should be mandatory viewing. Hirsch embraces the controversy though. “It is a blessing in disguise because it rallied people to the film. That’s the stuff of movements and that’s really exciting.”

Since meeting Hirsch for this interview, the Weinstein Company has cut three F-words from the final cut and the MPAA has made a special exception for the film and lowered the rating to PG-13 just in time for its wide American release.

Now, many more will hear the plight of these kids, whose experiences are varied and not so dissimilar to what most victims go through. Simply opening up this dialogue is impressive considering the shame that looms over bully victims. Hirsch elaborates his view on this, “It seems there is a stigma when it comes to talking about bullying. But there is a moment, a shift, when victims feel like they have agency to talk about it. Then the floodgates open.” The film points its most accusatory finger at school administrators and authorities for this. “With bullying, you’re going against existing beliefs that ‘kids will be kids’ and ‘everybody goes through this.’ That shuts people down.”

The goal now that people are talking about bullying is to make change. On some levels, Bullymay be preaching to the converted, but if the right people see it, and if it’s shown in schools, then the people who need to see it will see it, and suddenly change is possible. Hirsch offers this advice for a more peaceful future: “You don’t have to get involved with government to do something about bullying. You can just make little choices. You can act with empathy, step up for somebody, talk to your kids more. Small acts do add up. That’s change.”

With more young people killing themselves because of bullying, this particular change is long overdue.

Opens April 4 at Bytowne


The B Word: Jer’s Vision

“There’s so much [more] to the word ‘bully’ than what has been depicted in that movie,” claims Jeremy Diaz, the executive director at Jer’s Vision, an Ottawa-based countrywide organization leader in anti-bullying and anti-discrimination programs, which hosted a pre-screening of the documentary earlier this month for community leaders and local high school activists. “As a movie, Bully comes with a lot of challenges, the main being that it depicts a single point of view. The movie fails [in] explaining the causes and solutions to bullying. I think the audience will feel stressed out, [and feel] empathy towards the victims, but it doesn’t offer a clear analysis of the social aspects of bullying. Bullying is homophobia, racism, transphobia, sexism…” He concludes, “A student went to me at the end of the showing and told me, ‘If they really wanted to make a difference, they should’ve released it free of charge on YouTube.’ The student had a point, right?”