Opening scene: a man speaking directly to the camera about someone named “Tyler”. Sentences sounded like “he was…” and “he did…” but never “he is.”
As the film’s title suggests, Bully focuses on the epidemic that is bullying and the consequences it can cause- suicide being only one of them. For Ja’Meya, 14, it resulted in an incarceration and being sent to a psychiatric ward. While bringing a gun with her to scare off her bullies on the hour long bus-ride to school was a pretty bad mistake, I don’t really think 44 felony counts and 22 kidnapping charges were really needed. I mean really, what did they even tell the bullies she’s been victimizing(what does this mean) on the bus all year? That it’s going to be okay and that she won’t hurt them anymore?
Bully, originally titled The Bully Project, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011 , and was released globally in March of 2012. It was then that some tribulation rising from the Motion Picture of Association of America (MPAA), the release was delayed due to the MPAA giving the film an R-rating. But it wasn’t for too long, as a fellow teenager started a petition to get the rating changed to PG-13 with great success. The film follows the story of five people and their experiences related to bullying and the consequences that may arise from it.
For Alex,12, life hasn’t been too kind either. It seems like bullying had been following him around like the plague. And starting the seventh grade really didn’t make it better. “I’m going to end you,” are words that Alex hears regularly. Alex’s story is a special case- a prime example for the need to communicate about these issues. He’d been called names, stabbed with pencils, and strangled. His parents didn’t seem to try to help too much either. Upon telling his father that some kids were harassing him on the bus, his dad asked him why he didn’t stand up for himself.
But here comes a huge problem: the administration. “They are just kids, they will grow out of it,” is the common response. No they won’t, and no, you really didn’t try helping him when Alex came out and asked for help. The principal in Alex’s school came across as villainous; ignorant in her understanding of the situation, and arrogant on how to handle it. If I ever got face to face with that woman, I would definitely have a few words to say.
Kelby, another kid having their story told, is my personal favorite. She’s 16 when the movie is filmed, and she lives in the small town of Tuttle, Oklahoma. She’s sweet, she’s funny, and she’s got a smile almost every time you look at her. But to the townspeople she’s different, she shouldn’t be spoken to, she’s a pariah, she deserved to be run over by a van full of teenagers. Because, as we all know, being gay is the worst thing a person can be. Coming out to her parents wasn’t really a hard thing, as they did all the work for her. Kelby’s mother asked her straight out if she was gay, and Kelby’s instantaneous sobbing and pleas for her mother to not stop loving her was taken as an affirmation.
Kirk and Laura Smalley. Two people, two advocates for the bullying cause. The founders of the Stand for the Silent anti-bullying organization. Two parents who also lost their son to suicide. A son, as Kirk Smalley said, who will now be 11 forever. His wife hardly spoke a word. Only stared into space, or leaned on her husband for support in their walk out of the church and to the spot where their son will be buried. Ty Smalley’s coffin was small in size, and white. I can only imagine the feelings these people felt at that moment- the moment where their son started to move ever so slowly into the ground. The moment when they realised that the place where Ty spent most of his life in, his school, did nothing to stop this from happening.
Towards the end of the movie, a vigil is held in memory of the children lost to suicide from bullying. Names are written on baby blue balloons with black marker. Kirk Smalley is speaking to the crowd that has formed in the town center, encouraging people to understand that this is not just some problem that we can fix and suddenly it gets better- we have to make it better. Candles are lit come night-time. The balloons are released- flying upwards to the seemingly never ending blue and white sky. It’s an image that came across as striking.
Ask yourself: does bullying happen at our school? Think really hard. Statistics show that about 85 percent of reported bullying cases, “no intervention or effort” is seen to be down by any teacher or school official (bullyingstatistics.org). It’s almost ridiculous that this film went through such a hard battle to get to theaters. Katy Butler, 17 years old, created a petition on change.org to get the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to change the films rating from R to PG-13. 500,000 signatures later, her goal is achieved.
This movie needs to be seen by anyone and everyone. Period. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been bullied or had a kid who died from it- because the bottom line is that there are millions and millions of people all around the world that come across it. The information was laid out for you in clear manner, the cinematography done beautifully. The voices heard.
And if that doesn’t convince you, how many balloons do you picture floating up into the sky because everyone decided to ignore it? Score: 8/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor