MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By The Weinstein Company
Directed by Lee Hirsch. Documentary
Everyone knows what it’s like to encounter a bully at school. I ran into quite a few when I was a kid, and occasionally I find a few hanging around the church these days. (I chase them away with a broom.) I have been blessed with a strong sense of humor, which has been of great value to me, since my personality type often irritates some mean-spirited people. I have learned to survive and come out okay.
But there are thousands of youth who aren’t so fortunate. Bully is a straightforward and clear-eyed look at five families in four states with kids who are regularly intimidated and pushed around. It is also an examination of school systems and administrators who are overwhelmed and often ineffective in changing this destructive behavior.
To its credit, the film doesn’t document very much torment onscreen, but you can see the pain in the faces of the youth and their families. One family has lost a son to suicide after relentless bullying. Another family has a hard time convincing their son that his mistreatment is harmful to his personality; like many people in abusive relationships, he has simply come to accept his abuse as normal. Another family with a daughter who is lesbian eventually decides to move to another town since there doesn’t seem to be any hope without a change in location.
Because this film spends so much time with the kids, this would be worth showing to children in middle schools around the country. In fact, this is the only way you could get youth to watch it, since no one pays to watch documentaries anymore. The MPAA had given this film an R rating, due to language;. The Weinstein Company tried to appeal the rating and lost; they then decided to release it without a rating. By the time the film arrived in theaters the rating was changed to a PG-13.
Bullying hurts kids. Every child in this film is a child of God. Bully does an admirable job of helping us care for these youth. As I think about my school days, I can imagine my group of friends making fun of kids as different as the ones in this film. Faith calls us to behave differently.
The film isn’t the last word on this problem. All of the families in this film are midwestern middle class. But bullying is extreme (and often gang-related) in urban areas, and rich kids are often the most fluent in online torment of others (read some blog posts and you will see how pervasive this is). There are also bullies who are mean to everyone; this film just focuses on the easy targets.
The film reminds us that our best defense is a strong community of people who decide that they aren’t going to stand for anything less than an inclusive world where all people are appreciated and loved. That sure sounds like the church to me. We have work to do.
Four halos: A simple yet persuasive plea for compassion for all children.
Three pitchforks: For the act of bullying; sins of omission; strong language that is realistic and usually provoked.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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