Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review of ‘Bully’: If You Can’t Handle It, Why Do You Expect Kids To?

Bullying on IRFE by Diego Grez (2007, Wikipedia)
I rarely make general film recommendations, but Bully will have to be one. Yesterday, the Newport Beach Film Festival and the Orange County Film Society hosted a screening of what promised to be one of the most important documentary films made this year. Sitting in the historic Regent Lido Theater, one thing kept running through my mind: How can “mandatory reporters” like school administers, teachers, and bus drivers ignore the student-on-student abuse that goes on right under their noses?

The filmmakers of Bully caused a big upset when the MPAA slapped an R rating on their film. But the positive effect is that this film’s content can’t be ignored. Censored language and violence would just perpetuate the myth that bullying is temporary, normal behavior within the public school system, and nothing to get paranoid about. I appreciated the opportunity to see and hear what real children suffer each day. Their parents are frustrated by their children’s continued withdraw from the world and by the school and law-enforcement’s constant refusal to address the situation. Teachers, counselors, and principals make the behavior acceptable with weak punishments for the perpetrators and their own style of bullying victims into accepting false apologies and excuses.

What was extremely troubling was seeing how devalued these children’s lives really were. Day after day, they get punched in the head, pushed into walls, stabbed with pencils, and verbally abused. I’m not talking about “just” calling someone names. These kids say things that would raise the hairs on the back of your neck. When one repeatedly-tormented girl (from my grandfather’s birth county, actually) took matters into her own hands, the local sheriff charged her with numerous counts of kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon. Apparently, no amount of verbal abuse and threats against one’s person justifies self-defense in the eyes of the law. When parents, teachers, and the police don’t make an effort to protect children, then they’re essentially sending the same message as the bullies: “Go hang yourself.”

I going to come out and order you, dear reader, to see Bully. And be prepared to cry. It’s not a perfectly made film, since the hidden and hand-held cameras method guarantees cinematographic and production issues, such as bouncy footage (I’m sure that’s the proper term!). There are a few sound balancing problems, but I thought the editing was good. Unfortunately, the ending was a huge disappointment. Everyone, including the after-movie panel participants, seems to expect kids to collectively rise above and against this social problem. If adults won’t stop abuse within their gangs for fear of retribution, if adults won’t stop the oppression of other people out of fear of the police and state, why should adults expect kids to stand up for each other against an enemy that been proven unbeatable? Bullying continues to remain a problem, not because the child victims and bystanders tolerate it, but because adults do.