Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend a press preview screening of The Weinstein Co.’s powerful documentary “Bully.”
During the 2009-2010 school year, director Lee Hirsch and his crew followed five families affected by adolescent bullying, including two whose children committed suicide after suffering bullying.
Although it has no Oklahoma release date yet, seeing “Bully” should be a particular priority here, since two of the five bullying victims portrayed in the documentary are from the Sooner State.
Here are the stories told in the documentary:
Since 16-year-old Kelby came out as a lesbian, she and her family have been treated as pariahs in
their small town of Tuttle. The one-time all-star athlete, Kelby has faced an
outpouring of hatred from classmates as well as teachers, and has been forced to leave her sports
teams by attacks. Refusing her parents’ offers to leave Tuttle, the gutsy teenager is bolstered by
her adoring girlfriend and a few staunch friends, resolving to stay in her town and change a few
Kirk and Laura Smalley
Following the bullying-related suicide of their 11 year-old son, Kirk and Laura Smalley of Perkins are determined to prevent other children from suffering Ty’s fate. As schools around the country
prepare for the start of a new academic year, Kirk launches an anti-bullying organization, Stand
for the Silent, coordinating a series of vigils (including one at the Oklahoma Capitol) that underscore the high stakes of America’s bullying crisis.
David and Tina Long
In October 2009, 17-year-old Tyler Long of Murray County, Ga., hanged himself after years
of abuse at the hands of his classmates and indifference from school officials. As his parents,
David and Tina Long, mourn the loss of the son they tried to protect, and demand accountability
from the school that failed him so miserably, his death has sparked a war in a community forced
to face its bullying demons.
For 12-year-old Alex of Sioux City, Iowa, the slurs, curses and threats begin before he even
boards the school bus. A sweet-natured kid just starting middle school and wanting more than
anything to fit in, Alex assures his worried parents that the kids who taunt and hit him are only
“messing with him.” But bullying has trailed Alex thorough life like a shadow, and as his
seventh grade year unfolds, the bullying only escalates.
In Yazoo County, Mississippi, 14-year-old Ja’Meya was picked on every morning and afternoon
of the hour-long bus ride between home and school. On the morning of Sept. 1, the quiet,
unassuming girl had had enough and brandished a loaded handgun she’d taken from her mother’s
closet to scare off her tormentors. Incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility and charged with
multiple felony counts, Ja’Meya fearfully awaits the outcome of her case, supported by her
Hirsch and The Weinstein Co. is embroiled in a battle with the Motion Picture Association of America, which has assigned “Bully” an R rating because of the language used by bullies captured in the acting of bullying. The MPAA denied their appeal, in which Hirsch and The Weinstein Co.’s co-chairman Harvey Weinstein asked for a lower PG-13 rating and made a solid argument that the R would limit opportunities for the advocacy film to reach its target audience: middle and high school students.
A grassroots effort has arise to get the rating changed to PG-13: Michigan high school student Katy Butler, who has been a victim of bullying, has launched a petition urging the MPAA to give “Bully” a PG-13. To view the petition, which has been backed by TV personality Ellen DeGeneres and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and has already earned 300,000 signatures, go to www.change.org/petitions.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted Monday that she supports Butler’s effort to lower the film’s R rating to PG-13. Gerry Lopez, chief of AMC Theaters, also added his name to the petition, according to the Associated Press.
Actors Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep also have joined the fight, the AP reports.
“Bully” producer Cynthia Lowen recently took to the Huffington Post to make a rather eloquent argument on asking the MPAA to give the film a PG-13 stamp:
Bullying is ugly, it is painful, it is hard to hear and watch, and we cannot ignore the consequences. This language belongs in a film about bullying, because this is what bullying sounds and feels like. To take away this language, or prevent kids from hearing the words that reflect their own experiences, is to look the other way, to gloss over the suffering and to continue to perpetrate the myth that has allowed bullying to become so entrenched in our communities. To pretend this language doesn’t exist denies bullied kids who wake up day after day, and get on that bus, or walk through the halls of their schools, knowing the gauntlet of harm they’re likely to face, the dignity and acknowledgement of bravery they’re due.
This language exists in this film because it does not belong at the bus stop, on our school buses, in the halls of our schools, on our kids’ social networking pages, or anywhere in our communities where we strive to make kids safe. The language in this film is their reality. Instead of protecting kids from the language of the film we need to work together to protect them from bullying.
To read my column about “Bully” and the ratings controversy, click here.