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LOS ANGELES — The It Gets Better project. The Born This Way Foundation. These high profile movements powered by celebrities like Lady Gaga aim to reduce bullying in schools. And while statistics tell compelling stories, we often need film to illustrate the challenges. And film can tell us the stories of ordinary individuals outside the limelight.
Bully, a new film directed by Lee Hirsch, follows the lives of five families whose children have been bullied in school. It starts with the Long family of Georgia, whose son took his life after suffering extensive abuse at school. It’s tragic opening for a film that explores the complexities of bullying.
“Suicide is the ultimate consequence of bullying, so yes, we did know early on that we wanted to tell the stories of parents whose children had committed suicide due to bullying,” said filmmaker Lee Hirsch in a press release. “We wanted people to be aware of how high the stakes are and to dispel the notion that bullying is just ‘kids being kids.’”
We continue to meet other families and children, including an out lesbian in Oklahoma shunned by her peers, a young woman in Mississippi who pulls a gun on her fellow classmates and a boy in Iowa who endures profanities, pokes and taunting every time he boards the bus. I would have liked to have seen stories from kids in urban areas, as the film can give the impression that this only happens in small towns, but the stories remain powerful and relevant.
The dark opening — a suicide — ends with possibility. We follow the work of the Smalley family, who launched Stand for the Silent after their son took his life. It’s an internet story: the Smalleys talk about how they organized their efforts using Facebook, with an active group of nearly 19,000 members. Indeed, the film itself is part of a larger movement known as The Bully Project, which is advocating for change in schools.
“Schools need first and foremost to be willing to look at their own climate,” continued Hirsh. “Far too many parents are marginalized and ignored when they try to advocate on behalf of a bullied child. What should be a simple intervention often escalates to a combative situation where the student continues to suffer. Families need information regarding strategy, and about their rights and recourse before the law.”
Bully premieres March 30 in select theaters.