I had planned to do a write-up about the film, Bully, earlier this morning. Then I woke up with just enough time to throw on yesterdays outfit and make it to the car before street sweeping hour came (avoiding that nasty ticket is worth the risk of looking like I didn’t come home last night), walked into the office, received emails from execs written in large, 42pt, bright blue Comic Sans script, notice of a death, followed by an upcoming birth notice, and decided I couldn’t work another second without coffee. Then I opened a Twitter app and read about the Oakland school shooting in progress (with solid reporting from Reuters Deputy Social Media Editor, Matthew Keys).
It’s funny in that unfunny way of how much you can block something out. I came across a quote on the Go Into The Story blog from Ann Beattie that said, “People forget years and remember moments." There’s much of my school years I don’t remember. I attended enough schools to make every face and teacher and class impossible to keep in memory, but what I do remember, without a single blur? Walking into my theatre class on my first day at the small town high school I ended up (barely) graduating from, and a girl taking one look at me and saying, out loud, "Freak".
This isn’t a post about my school days, though, or whether or not I was bullied. It’s about the fact that in a theatre only about a third full, a grown man sobbed as a kid listened to his sister tell him people at school teased her, because he was her brother. It’s about a mom in the row behind us who loudly voiced her disgust at a teacher who asked a boy on camera to shake the hand of his attacker who had threatened to kill him - and criticized the boy when he wouldn’t shake hands, because the other boy “said he was sorry”. It’s about a woman who cried when a counselor asked a young boy how he knew if she had disciplined the kids who bullied him - had they smashed his head with a seat since? No, the boy admitted, they hadn’t. Right before the screen fades to black he mumbles they had just found other ways to torture him, instead.
The film received an “R” rating for ‘language’. For ‘language’? How about giving an ‘R’ rating for the teachers and school administrators shown left and right failing children the rare moments they do reach out for help? The ones who are looking parents in the eye and telling them that they don’t know where complaints about bullying on the school bus are coming from, because when they ride the bus, the children are as good as gold? Or, to every single person on that ratings panel who will give a PG-13 rating to a film that shows a young teen girl giving up her life so a boy will love her, or to a film about young kids forced to battle to the death, but then turn around and tell kids they aren’t old enough to see a film that could show them they’re not alone in the world, that there are people who are trying to help them survive - because of ‘language’. Possibly because of a moment in the very beginning where a boy calls another boy a ”mother-f**ker”, out of nowhere. Or, when another student threatens to kill another boy by shoving a broomstick… does it really matter where? Isn’t the death threat enough to showcase these kids need help? How about when that same boy gets strangled on the bus?
You think if kids don’t see that on screen, MPAA, then it won’t happen ‘in real life’?
These kids are already living an ‘R-rated’ reality, according to your classification. How is keeping them from a film they’re already living protecting them? They’re experiencing worse, every day.
Alex, one of the young boys featured, shares a wisdom he shouldn’t yet have for his age towards the end of the film. He was 12 years old during filming. At one point—right after a conversation with his mother in which she realizes he’s been bullied so much, he doesn’t even recognize it as being bullied—he speaks with the filmmakers. “I don’t believe in luck,” he says. “But I do believe in hope.”
The man in the row ahead of us audibly sobbed once more. The mothers behind us followed.
See Bully in theatres. Call your local theatre and request it, if they aren’t yet screening the film. Ask if they’ll consider allowing young kids who need to see this film with a permission slip, as AMC has been reported to allow. Take your siblings. Bring it up at the dinner table. Talk about it on Twitter. Start a discussion on Facebook. Get people talking about bullying, and what we can do, as individuals, to help kids feel safe.
(People has since reported an update on Alex. It’s worth giving a read.)
Have you seen Bully? Will you?