Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Standing for the Silent: BULLY

Disclaimer: This review is more a call to action. This film truly had an effect on me and I think that more people should hear its message. 

Over 13 million children are bullied each year, it's the most common form of violence experienced by youth. Bullying has varying definitions but most instances of bullying include; an imbalance of power, bullies seek to control and victims of bullying are often unable to defend themselves. Bullying also includes an intent to harm; whether that is verbal, cyber, emotional, or physical abuse and almost always includes repetition; bullies tend to single out and destroy the same kids over and over again. Bullying in schools has become an epidemic and students, parents, and schools have been ill equip to combat bullying on a national scale. As of now, there are no federal mandates to punish, correct or prevent bullying in schools. Each school system has to foster it's own effort to stop bullying on their campuses and most schools find themselves without the resources to do so.

Lee Hirsch's second documentary film, Bully, follows the stories of five kids (two of which committed suicide after years of tormented bullying) ranging in age from 11-17. Each child's story deals with a different facet of bullying and its effects in their school, their neighborhood, their home, and their own head. Hirsch allows the stories to unfold directly from the families and kids dealing with bullying; he lets them tell their own experiences in a way that speaks to them. This film is built around these testimonies and attempts to tackle bullying and its pervasiveness in all areas of the country with kids in differing in age, economic class, and social status.

Hirsch was granted unprecedented access to a single school system in Sioux City, Iowa for a full school year and was given permission to shoot on buses, in the lunchroom, and in the halls. Hirsch follows one young boy, named Alex Libby, age 12, as he moves through his daily routine from home to school and back home again. Hirsch very quickly noticed that Alex was set apart from the general population and was suffering from bullying. He had been ostracized on a daily basis by his fellow peers.  Hirsch sought to give Alex the voice he so desperately needed. He followed many children in their daily routines at the school and although initially caused a stir with his camera, he quickly became just another person around the student population. Hirsch was careful not to single Alex out to encourage more mistreatment.

One of the most interesting facets of Hirsch's film explores the relationship that Alex Libby and his parents struggle with at home. Alex found that after so many years of torment and confusion about why bullying was occurring at school, was having trouble confronting his parents with the truth about his school environment. His parents knew that Alex was being tormented everyday but unsure of the emotional toll the bullying had taken on him. After witnessing several serious instances of bullying, comprised with Alex's lack of communication with his parents and teachers, the filmmakers intervened to bring light to the danger in his life. After finding out about the horrible bullying occurring on Alex's bus, his parents brought the issue to the school, only to be turned away and told that the school would take care of it. Alex and his parents were made to feel as though they were hyperbolizing the issue. Schools are facing a major challenge to combat verbal and physical violence in their halls but turning a blind eye to the issue is only causing more pain and suffering for the children being bullied. Solutions that abound at schools in the film, were "making up" with the bully, staying home to avoid to bullying, talking honestly with advisors and administration only to have nothing happen. In all of these instances the victims are made to feel ashamed that they "let themselves" be bullied and the bully walks away with an increased sense of power over the victim. Change will only occur when schools, students, and parents find constructive ways to manage, discourage, and eradicate bullying from occurring on campuses.

This film was made with the intention of starting a wild fire. Hirsch and the film's producer Cynthia Lowen, believe that bullying cannot be ignored and the families who shared their stories will not be silent any longer. I do believe that the film doesn't necessarily leave the viewer with a catharsis but it enrages the audience to make a change, to become part of the solution. Bully doesn't offer the audience a way to conquer bullying but it does encourage people to fight the problem, to stand up and fight for those who can't fight for themselves. The Bully Project's website offers the tangible solutions that the film urges students, parents, teachers, and advocates to explore. The website is an extension of the film and offers infinite resources for those being bullied and to those who know or love someone being bullied. This film serves as a call to action and its voices will be heard.

To learn more about THE BULLY PROJECT please visit: 

This website offers numerous resources for parents, students, teachers and advocates to fight against bullying. 

To learn more about STAND FOR THE SILENT please visit:

 an organization to combat bullying and encourage kids to stand up to bullies was started by Laura and Kirk Smalley, after their 11 year old, Ty, took his own life to end the bullying he experienced everyday. 

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