Lee Hirsch’s documentary “Bully” has been all over the news because of Katy Butler’s petition drive (successful, after minor cuts were made) to get the rating lowered to PG-13 so schoolchildren can see it. It opens April 13 at Atlanta’s Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas.
While the film might have been a well-intentioned mess, it’s actually surprisingly good. It also shows up the hypocrisy of the MPAA and their obsession with “the F-word.” You can see the F-words that really hurt are “fag” and “faggot” (and in one boy’s case, “Fishface”), not “fuck.”
The stories of five bullied children are told, two of them posthumously because the boys involved committed suicide. David Long of Murray County, in northwest Georgia, opens the film telling about his son Tyler, who hanged himself at 17. “They said he was a geek and a fag and they didn’t want to play with him,” his father says.
The other fatality, Ty Smalley only made it to 11.
Kelby Johnson became a pariah when she came out as a lesbian at 16. She’s attempted suicide three times but has a circle of friends, straight and gay, and a good attitude: “Maybe all it takes is for one person to stand up,” she says hopefully.
We don’t learn why Ja’meya Jackson was bullied. Her mother shows off her athletic trophies and says she was an honor student, but one day Ja’meya had enough and pulled out a gun on the school bus.
Getting the lion’s share of screen time is Alex Libby, 12, who is slightly disfigured, probably as a result of being born prematurely. He puts up with a lot of bullying before speaking out.
School administrators issue pathetic denials of bullying or a “kids will be kids” defense, but it’s true that there’s no simple solution to the bullying problem.
The Longs and the Smalleys have started awareness campaigns and the film’s publicity has led major celebrities to take stands against bullying. If the majority of young people will stand with the bullied rather than the bullies (as in the “21 Jump Street” movie), bullying will no longer be cool.
Then maybe kids, gay and straight, can go to school to learn, rather than to suffer or inflict pain on others. Maybe “Bully” can help make that happen.