I’m a sucker for a documentary. Really. I’ll watch a documentary about almost anything. How black women “get their hair did”, sushi chefs, the effects of DMT, high school football, graffiti artists; I’m up for whatever subject the director seems to think is interesting. So, even though I have fairly high standards for films, I usually let lousy camera work and poorly done voice-overs slide when I’m watching a documentary as long as the whole experience is enlightening or humorous. Despite all of this, I did not enjoy Bully. and not because it exposed the truth about the henceforth unknown problem of bullying in schools, or tugged at my heartstrings. I myself was a student not so long ago, and remember exactly what it was like. I don’t think I know a single person who has not been bullied, or who doesn’t think that bullying is a problem. Before the widespread campaign against bullying, it was an issue that everyone was aware of, but I think somewhere along the way our process for coping with it changed. The problem with Bully is not that it’s too honest, it’s that it seems to offer a lopsided perspective on the entire issue it claims it focuses on. And before you read on, let the record stand that I do think Bullying is a problem that people in today’s society do not know how to handle. Children deny they are being bullied out of shame, adults offer lame excuses like “it’s normal” and “it doesn’t happen that much”. My beef here is not with the importance of the issue of bullying, but with the way in which the film goes about showing the “truth” about it.
To begin with, the administrators in the film handle the problems that come their way in a very poor fashion, or at least it’s made to appear that way based on the editing work done by the film crew. It seems as if every adult in the film, really, is totally clueless about what is going on around them, and completely inept in dealing with it once it’s revealed. At a public hearing in the film, board members and administrative professionals can offer nothing but upturned palms and blank expressions as a number of students stand up and incoherently string their stories of bullying into the dialogue, and parents jump on the finger-pointing bandwagon. It’s as if they came to the meeting without preparing at all. This administration knew what the meeting was about, and that it was being conducted by the parents of a young boy who killed himself as a result of bullying, yet they put together no statements or plans to offer a potential solution to the issue at hand. In the middle school of the student who serves as the film’s focal point, a principal offers only one solution to a pair of distraught parents whose son is being abused on the bus ride home; “we can put him on a different bus, but there’s no guarantee it won’t happen there too,” followed by a half-hearted “you’ll just have to trust us”. The parents left the school feeling as if their principal would do nothing to help, and who can blame them? My concern here is thatBully will leave its viewership believing that all administrators behave in this manner. It may be true that poor bus monitoring is a situation that cannot be easily remedied, but I find the pill of “just trust us” hard to swallow, and I can’t imagine the competent administrative professionals that I know shrugging off a concerned parent in such a fashion. Throughout the film we see decision after bad decision coming from the people who are supposed to be leaders in an educational setting. Never does the film show educators making positive decisions, or trying to help. It’s as if they left that entire perspective out. Either the schools portrayed in the film are really full of teachers who chastise bullied children for not accepting the apologies of their bullies with a hand-shake, VPs who let unrepentant and unmoved children leave their office having learned no lesson at all, and parents who want take no responsibility for their own children’s behavior as well; or, Weistein (the producer) wants us to think that this is the general fair among public schools. If anything, Bully is simply proof that education is really a system of both the home and the school, in which neither can be lacking if the desired outcome is ever to be met. Having known people who do not understand the simple concept of home to school unity, and I mean grossly misunderstood it’s necessity, it seems that Bully is just a film to add fuel to their fire, and allow them to continue in their unjust blaming of the educational system alone without constructive dialogue or action.
Furthermore, the pool of students chosen to film were not the best choices.
1. The primary student in the film is not an example of an ordinary student. He has particular needs that are guaranteed to cause him unwanted negative attention, and on top of this he goes through most of the film without telling anybody what is happening to him. If anything, the campaign surrounding him aught to be teaching children to speak up when they are being treated wrongly. Of course, the lowest of individuals would say “well he’s weird, he deserves it”. My response would be that all types of people are bullied. This is not a phenomenon saved for only the meek and socially inept, and I would like to see that aspect represented on film, so that the ignorant people who make these sort of claims might finally understand WHY this problem is so very real. Not because this one kid, a kid who cannot defend himself at all, gets bullied every day; but because all sorts of kids get the same treatment. On top of this, it seems to me that whoever did the casting for this documentary chose this boy in order to illicit a specific reaction from viewers. Of course we will feel bad for him, he’s “socially disabled”, but this does not mean that his problems validate the agenda of the filmmakers who are following him. I doubt he even knows the true agenda of the filmmakers who are following him. From my viewpoint, all this film does is support the age old concept that nerds are bully fodder, and use a confused young man as a tool for their propaganda.
2. One student said “it got so bad that I finally had to stand up for myself. Then the bullying finally stopped”. Well, yeah you big dummy. I understand why physical reactions are frowned upon in a school setting, but I firmly believe that there are other ways for an individual to stand up for themselves, and I don’t think there is a thing wrong with it. Otherwise, what are we teaching our youth? To put up with something unjust until someone else notices and fixes it? Sometimes a savior does not show up, and this creates dire situations. It’s important to know that sometimes we do have to stand up for ourselves. This film; however, cuts in the young man’s admission in a way that makes it sound as if nobody ever tried to help him. For all we know, he never truly spoke out for assistance, or the bullying he is describing may have been the result of his own negative actions. We cannot see one sentence of a novel and be able to summarize the entire plot as a result. Likewise, we cannot hear one claim from someone’s life, and know all aspects of the situation at hand.
3. Another student represented was a middle school aged girl who brought a gun on her bus. Okay, yes, lets perpetuate the concept that troubled children will all eventually bring a gun to school. Dare I suggest that if her mother had kept a closer eye, maybe her daughter wouldn’t have stolen the pistol from her closet. There is a bigger issue here than bullying, which is why gun control is such a hot topic right now. I’m not here to argue gun control, I just wish to point out that this was a strategic choice in subject for the director. Clearly, they have an agenda to push, and felt that including the segments concerning gun violence would resonate with an audience who is currently very concerned with that very issue. We heard very little in the way of the bullying that happened to this girl, or what was potentially done to remedy it. We only see security camera footage of her waving a pistol, short interviews with the already repentant tween, and cut shots of her crying in her mother’s arms. This is an ENTIRELY different issue from the rest of the film, when you think about it.
4. One of the students who was followed by cameramen was a lesbian in a small town that doesn’t accept lesbians. Now, I felt bad for her. I did. I hate to see anyone get hassled for their sexual preferences, especially a teenager who has no real idea of who they actually are yet. This girl though, her parents offered to move or homeschool her, and she turned them down claiming that she could “make a difference if (she) took a stand”. Nope. You can’t fight a town with one person, and her parents should have made that decision for her. As adults, we have the experience needed to change a situation like this one. Furthermore, this girl had friends who supported her, unlike the feature boy of the film. People she could rant to about how her teacher supposedly singled her out in class, and who tell her they love her. There is a world of difference in being a kid how has nobody, and being a kid with a cause to rally behind, and friends who believe in them. Once again, this also really a separate issue, and a topic that is a point of contention among those of us who frequent documentaries. The lack of acceptance of homosexuality is not a far cry from bullying issues, but really it’s a situation that has to be handled differently. The reason that “weird” kids are bullied, and the reasons that homosexual youths are bullied are not really comparable. Once again, the film makers are trying to get at us with subjects that cause an emotional reaction.
Unfortunately, the lemming viewers out there would not take note of these differences, nor would they consider the message the director wanted to support; although, they would be affected by it. It is frustrating for me when I see the public opinion sway under a fallacious premise, and I think that Bully may well be the source of such chaos. Were I weaker minded, I may proclaim “That’s what wrong with the world. Our schools let this stuff happen, and bullying causes people to bring guns to school and commit murder.” I am here to tell you, there is a hell of a lot more to it than that, and we cannot begin to fix our issues with a film like Bully. Instead of serving to confuse general audiences with suggested blame, and a lack of call for mutual responsibility concerning the current generation of youth, I’d like to see a documentary that explores the need for the security net of a safe home and a safe school working together. Unfortunately, this is an ideal situation that for many students can never happen.
P.S. The background music was annoying and predictable.
TL;DR – Harvey Weinstein is playing you for a fool by using an actual pertinent issue to make money and push his political ideals.