Tyler Long, 17, hanged himself more than two years ago after being teased and bullied. He joined countless others and more since who have been pushed to the limit and taken their own lives. Bully, which premieres Friday, chronicles the lives of Long’s family, along with five other children tormented on a daily basis.
Bully shows students who are mocked for their sexual orientation both by peers and teachers; they endure beatings on school buses; they have profanities hurled at them—which earned the movie an “R” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.
MPAA’s decision sparked protests and petitions from anti-bullying groups and eventually made the Weinstein Company, which produced the documentary, release the film unrated.
I watched the film. Bully disturbs me on a basic human level—but not because of the profanity (which is probably fairly mild to the average teen). Bully disturbs me because it is real life. It disturbs me because I have younger brothers the same age as some of the students in the film. It disturbs me because it’s happening in the lives of our children all around the country.
All of us—especially the preteens and teens the R-rating excludes—need to be disturbed.
The point of a film like Bully is public awareness. A few bullying-related deaths over the past few years have shone a light onto the problem, but director Lee Hirsch told NPR’s Diane Rehm that it’s probably more common.
“I often wonder, you know, if this has been happening with the same frequency and we just never attributed it to bullying before,” he said.
One of the most poignant points in the film shows Kirk and Laura Smalley—whose son Ty, 11, killed himself after being bullied—sitting amid the keepsakes in his room.
“We’re just a couple of simple people. We’re nobodies. I guarantee you if some politician’s kid did this because he was getting picked on in a public school, y’know, there’d be a law tomorrow,” Kirk Smalley said.
“We’re nobody, but we love each other and we loved our son.”
Since their son’s death, the Smalleys have been speaking with Stand for the Silent, a campaign aimed at students, warning them of the implications of bullying.
The Smalleys understand that changing things begins with the children. Clearly shown in the film, teachers, bus drivers and principals have little-if-any impact on the violence and torment that abounds in their schools.
As the principal in the documentary tells the parents of bullied teen Alex Libby, “I wish I could stay I could make it stop, but I’m not going to lie to you; I can’t.”
It is likely that every child is either a bully, one of the bullied, or a bystander. For things to change, they need to understand the consequences of their actions.
If you are a parent, I strongly recommend going to the film, hand-in-hand with your child.
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Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. Follow Sandi on Twitter @Sandi.