Sunday, 12 August 2012


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

Not so much a film as a campaign, Lee Hirsch's doco Bully wants to raise awareness of the seemingly endemic occurrence of student-on-student bullying in American schools. And he does. Following various kids and families affected by bullying – from kids beaten while riding the bus, or ostracized for their sexuality, to the parents dealing with the suicide of a child who couldn't take it any more – Hirsch effectively captures the horror and heartache of the problem.

He also captures the ineffectiveness of one school administrator to recognise the problem, or deal with it effectively (boys will be boys, kids can be cruel, it's just a phase), even when she's presented with filmed evidence of her pupils' monstrous behaviour towards one particular boy on the school bus.

That would be Alex. Born prematurely, and perhaps physically awkward as a result (his glasses and large lips have his classmates dub him 'Fish Face'), Alex has no friends and bears the brunt of his fellow students' physical abuse on a daily basis. Sadly, Alex has almost become accustomed to the abuse, even immune to it: negative attention is better than not being noticed at all, right?

When Alex's parents meet with said administrator, they're met with sincere smiles and a promise to do "something". But you just know this woman (who says she's ridden that same bus route as Alex and those kids are "just as good as gold") has no idea about what's really happening, what's at stake or what to do if she did.

Bully is designed to make you angry, and it does. And it should. But what it doesn't do is offer alternative points of view – why do these kids bully? what do their parents think? – or anything much in the way of a solution.

Other than concerned parents and citizens organising nationwide, and international anti-bullying rallies through social media (an area which is not addressed by Hirsch for its facilitation of bullying), there are no suggestions as to what to do to stamp out the problem at its root cause, or indeed what those causes may be.

And there is no counter-story to the depicted school administrator's ineffective means of dealing with (or even recognising) the bullying taking place in the corridors and on the buses. A look at a school successfully implementing an anti-bullying program, and how it deals with bullying behaviour would have made a nice change from the sadness of unheard children and incompetent authority figures.

(It must be noted that none of the children or families in Hirsch's film are from major American cities but middle America, where God is great and outsiders (or anyone "different") are not readily welcomed.)

Bully would be an excellent documentary to screen in classrooms; to hold a mirror up to the students' behaviour and its disturbing consequences. A classmate shouldn't have to drop-out of school because her sexuality unsettles others; one shouldn't have to resort to taking her mother's handgun on the bus to keep her tormentors at bay; and one shouldn't have to fashion a noose from an item of clothing and hang himself in his bedroom closet because the idea of going to school the next day is simply too much to bear.

Those examples are just three of the stories covered in Bully; Lee Hirsch effectively giving a human face to the anecdotes and statistics. Here's hoping it's not just the kids who heed the lesson.


  1. As a bullied kid, this was certainly a very difficult film to watch. It also meant that I had no wish to know anything more about the bullies. That kid in me just wanted it stopped.

    On the other hand, I agree that Hirsch narrowed his focus to the detriment of the film. It could have been so much more.

    There are several programs that do bring bullies and their victims together here in Chicago. It amazes me that even with all the knowledge out there and the subsequent programs that there are still so many woefully ignorant administrators and parents. They blindly choose to believe that bullying will sort itself out.

    Middle school and high school in America is a battle ground, total social Darwinism. You either bully, tune out or become a victim. I knew a girl who hung herself my sophomore year. Completely persecuted for no other reason than being a little different. I tuned out because I had my own tormentors to deal with and didn't need her pain. She haunts me to this day.

  2. Thanks for your honest and personal comments, Mel. I appreciate your candour.

    Although I can only go by movies and TV, American high schools have always seemed to me like a special kind of Hell; so many cliques and clubs, prom king and queen.

    I went to school in a small town, and despite being a bookish, non-sporting boy (where all boys were supposed to play sport), I was never really bullied. Teased sure, but never victimised. Of course, that could have been completely different had I had the bravery (or stupidity) to come out as gay while still going to school.

    I think we all do our best to get through high school unscathed and that may involve ignoring, or even participating in inflicting, someone else's pain. I certainly don't condone the latter but I can understand the former.

    And I doubt anyone would judge you, Mel, for doing what you felt you had to to get through. The fact that you still care about what happened to your classmate, even feel guilty, means you are a good person.

    If those who were doing the bullying don't feel that same guilt or shame, or even think of that girl from time to time, then they are the ones who should be haunted.

    Have a great day, Mel :)