The documentary Bully, which follows a year in the life of bully-victims and their families, opened in New York and Los Angeles at the end of March. Every week since, Bully has been released in more states throughout the country.
The White House screened the film on April 20th for 150 people, including leaders of organizations such as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Change.org; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); National Coalition for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and Facing History in hopes of increasing awareness, as well as support for two crucial bills that will protect students from bullying.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would ban harassment in public elementary and secondary schools based on a student’s actual or perceived LGBT status. Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would require schools to adopt anti-bullying codes of conduct and submit data to the Department of Education on bullying.
“This film is a powerful call to action,” Valerie Jarrett, senior staff to President Obama, said in a statement on The White House website. “We must do everything we can to work toward the day when no young person or family suffers the pain, agony and loss caused by bulling in our schools and communities.”
Bullying isn’t new, though cyberspace has certainly added an extra layer of harassment to the age-old practice of torturing and teasing students. The film, however, focuses on students who bully – and are bullied – the old-fashioned way … on school buses, the playground, in the hallways.
Emily Long, Director of Communication for The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project), a non-profit organization bringing media literacy training to youth, parents and educators, took issue with the film’s failure to address cyberbullying. She attended the premiere at the invitation of the United Federation of Teachers.
“Leaving the theatre where I saw Bully, I felt sad for the tormented children and their families, angry with the adults who blamed victims while ignoring pleas for help — and deeply disappointed in the filmmakers,” Lamp writes. “Of course, I wanted to walk away and fiercely advocate for a film raising awareness about a serious issue plaguing millions of young people every day. But how do you make a movie about bullying in the 21st century and ignore the role of media and technology?” Read the rest of Long’s thoughts on The Lamp blog.
“The biggest takeaway I had from the movie is that the adults (teachers, parents, administrators, law enforcement) seem to have no idea what to do. That puts it back on kids to figure it out for themselves,” says Bernadette Merikle, Director of Equity & Family Engagement, Highline Public Schools.
“If kids see this movie and earnestly discuss it and it impacts them the way I saw it impact adults in the theater, then yes, this documentary could make a difference. If it is left up the adults, the documentary didn’t show anyone having a breakthrough moment or droplet of genius so not much will change. It might actually get worse with adults thinking well, at least I’m not the only one without a clue. “
Many others have taken to the blogosphere to share their thoughts on the film … whether it will help the problem of bullying and how it can be used to start much-needed conversations in communities. For example for author Jackie Townsend Bully served as a kickstarter to her memory.
“The documentary Bully is a painful reminder … of what has always gone on in schools, still goes on, and will likely go on forever,” Townsand writes. “Who doesn’t recall that horrible bus ride? My situation was on the tame side. For some kids the bullying goes on for years, and, seeing themselves with no way out, they take matters into their own hands. In some cases this means ending their own lives. The film wasn’t so much an eye-opener for me as it was a reminder. There is no such thing as an outcast, and you can’t survive without at least one friend. Be nice. Help out. Stick up for people. Go say hi to the new guy. Smile.”