They say something like “they are just kids”, but we should not forget that bullying is a cruel thing to its helpless victims. Lee Hirsch’s documentary “Bully” presents us five kids as its painful examples and it shows us how hard it is or was for them to go to their schools every weekday. Following their respective stories, we see some of them get the help and support they need, while others did not, unfortunately.
In case of Taylor Long, a boy living in Murray County, Georgia, he hang himself in the closet in his room after being tormented by the bullies in his school for a long period. It was a shock to his family, and his parents want the teachers and the authorities to do something about bullying problem, but it seems they don’t do anything. Yes, they recognize their education system is not perfect when asked, but they do not take any particular measure to prevent bullying in school.
When we meet a 12-year old boy named Alex Libby in Sioux City, Iowa, we can instantly discern that he is an ideal target of bullying at his school. He is a scrawny kid with distinctive features including his face and his voice(in his school, he is frequently ridiculed that his face looks like fish). He is a nice kid, and he is not mean to anybody, but attending his school by bus is the first part of his hard school life. At one moment, the camera actually captures the other student annoying him with pencils. In the other scene, Alex tells his dad that how one high school boy bullied him, while pretending as if nothing serious had happened to him.
He has a nice family who love him and care about him. Alex’s parents are frustrated about the teachers at their son’s school. When they meet one of them, she keeps making an emphasis that she cares about Alex’s problem and will take care of it. But, while she looks like a good educator on the whole, the documentary shows that she does not handle bullying problem well. When she tries to deal with the problem between two kids in one scene, she does not see that the one behaving nicely in front of her is actually a bully. She keeps saying to a tormented kid that he should get along well with him, even while he protests that he has been constantly bullied by that mean kid.
Another sad case is a high school girl named Kelby Johnson. Because she came out as a lesbian, she quickly became a pariah in her conservative town in Texas. We hear a lot from her about how she has been treated in her school because of her sexuality. She was a good basketball player in her team who could have gotten a college scholarship, but she left the team after being ostracized by her team members as well as other students at her school. In addition, even the teachers did not hesitate to hide their prejudice in front of her and other students. Whoever they were, I felt the urge to tell them that they do not deserve to be called teacher while listening to her bitter recollection about them.
It is really fortunate to Kelby that she has good friends who stand by her and do not give a damn about what the others say about her or them. Through their daughter’s pain, Kelby’s parents saw how ugly the people can be because of prejudice and ignorance; after Kelby’s coming-out, they have been avoided by many of their neighbours who were once close to them.
In case of Ja’Maya Jackson, this unfortunate young girl got herself in a very serious trouble when she decided that she had to take some action to stop the other students from tormenting her. Her action was unwise: she took her mother’s gun and wielded it in front of 22 students on the school bus. Never did she imagine that she was attempting a legally serious crime – now she is facing the possibility of the heavy prison sentence because more than 40 felony charges can be applied to her case according to the criminal law.
We also hear about another tragic case of a young boy named Ty Smalley, who killed himself with a gun at his home. His close friend tells us how Ty was bullied at his school, while also telling his personal story about how he came to learn that he was not good to other students and then has been nice to them after that realization.
While it also shows how the parents of bullied kids try to deal with this matter, “Bully” does not discuss a lot about how to solve the problem it presents. This is a hard and complicated problem, and I understand that the educators at schools have their limits in case of controlling their students, but should it have thought more about why bullying happens? While watching it, I thought of the movies dealing with the same subject more vividly in their fictions. “Welcome to the Dollhouse”(1995) remains one of the best films about being ostracized at school, and recent South Korean film “Bleak Night”(2010) was a complex teenager drama where the lines between the abusers and the victims are ambiguous.
Anyway, “Bully” is a well-intentioned documentary which serves its purpose well. I do not know whether it will really help other bullied students and their families, but, at least, it may tell them that they are not alone. The documentary honestly tells us how hurtful bullying can be to its victims, and it came to my mind that we also frequently hear the similar news about bullying at schools in South Korea on these days. I guess bullying is universal human cruelty which reminds us that we are still animals who can be harsh to the others different from us.