Bully (2011 film)
Official film poster
|Directed by||Lee Hirsch|
|Produced by||Cynthia Lowen
|Written by||Cynthia Lowen|
|Music by||Ion Furjanic
|Edited by||Lindsay Utz
|Distributed by||The Weinstein Company|
Bully (originally titled The Bully Project) is a 2011 documentary film about bullying in U.S. schools. Directed by Lee Hirsch, the film follows the lives of five students who face bullying on a daily basis. Bully premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. It was also screened at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and the LA Film Festival.
Bully had its global premiere at Italy's Ischia Film Festival on July 17, 2011. Bully was acquired by The Weinstein Company immediately after its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. The film was released in United States theaters on March 30, 2012.
On the official website the filmmakers are promoting Bully as an important advocacy tool against bullying and in facilitating an anti-bullying movement. Contrary to the filmmaker's goals, the film suffered from a lack of accessibility in theatres due to MPAA rating controversy and from an extended downtime between theatre and home release. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 12, 2013 only with the PG-13 rated version.
The documentary follows students from public schools in Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma during the 2009–10 school year; it also follows the students' families. The film's particular focus is on the deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, victims of bullying who committed suicide. The film describes in great detail how the average American student cannot defend himself or herself against ridicule.
This documentary is about five teenagers and the varieties of bullying or harassment that they went through. The film jumps from each teen and describes their lives in parts. The film starts off by telling the story of Tyler Long and how he died. Tyler’s father speaks to us about his son’s certain social issues and how he knew early on that Tyler may be a subject of bullying. Mr. Long mentions that kids took his clothes when he showered, forcing him to leave naked. They shoved him into lockers and demoralized him vocally as well. This is what was said to have lead Tyler to his action of suicide in 2009 at the age of 17. The mother found him hanging in his closet with a note on the bed and then proceeded to call the family in. Alex is thirteen years old, he is being interviewed about his family and how nervous he is to return to school, as he has issues making friends. The cameraman follows him to the bus stop and onto the bus, where the bullying begins and doesn’t stop. The boy sitting beside him on the bus is seen violently threatening him.At school, the camera captures instances of bullying that do not directly pertain to Alex, but do show the principal of the school noticing and simply saying the children should get along but doing little to put an end to it. A boy named Cody is pulled from class to discuss being bullied at lunch, but pulling him out of class was simply a move by the school to give the appearance of attempting to address the issue at hand. Kelby is a young teenage girl has come out to the town as a lesbian. She states that she is not welcome anywhere in the town, due to the town’s religious standpoints and ideas of cultural society. Kelby states that as she was walking in the road a group of boys hit her with a minivan, not slowing down, knowing it was her. Kelby admits that she used to cut and has tried to commit suicide three times now. The family mentions that when Kelby’s sexuality came out even the people they were close with had stopped talking to them as well as her. During the school year kids would harass and bully her or sometimes they would just outright ignore her. She mentions how even the teachers would bully her and disclude her from events and even categorize her in a separate roll call list. Her parents have offered to move several times, but Kelby disagrees stating that, “If I leave, they win.” After Tyler’s family found him hanging, they decided to repaint and redesign the layout of his room as a way of coping. They also took down the shelf Tyler hung himself on. Alex’s mom reveals that he was born prematurely, at about 26 weeks and that the doctors said Alex wouldn’t live more than 24 hours. They later on show Ja’Meya, a 14 year old teenage girl who lives with her mother. She went to school in Yazoo County Mississippi. Ja’Meya was an honor student who had many awards in basketball as well. The children harassed her mentally and picked on her for quite some time. As this was going on Ja’Meya was planning on going into the Navy to help out her mother. Ja’Meya stated she finally had enough and took her mother’s gun onto the bus. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, just to scare them enough to leave her alone. She was eventually tackled to the ground by another student, who retrieved the gun from her. The police took her away and she was sentenced to juvenile justice. Tyler’s parents used their son’s death to focus on the issue of bullying at the schools in their town. They held a town meeting, trying to find a way to fix the problem and a way to show the schools and the officers that it was a serious problem. The administrators often stated that “kids will be kids” and the teachers shrugged it off, not really taking a stance on the problem even if they knew of bullying in the classroom. During the town meeting Tyler’s family arranges another child speaks up about the bullying issue and how the teachers don’t pay attention. His name is Devon. Devon had finally taken the chance to stand up for himself and the bullies left him alone and treated him “like another kid” in the hall. Later they show that all the charges against Ja’Meya had been dropped, if she would be held in a psychiatric hospital for 3 months. After that she was allowed to go home, unless a doctor stated otherwise. While at home, Alex’s father asks what had happened that day at school. Another student strangled him, and was verbally abused as well. He believes these kids are his friends. His younger sister is afraid she will be bullied as well when she attends school. Ty Smalley is a younger child who was bullied relentlessly until he committed suicide at age 11. The school officials claim that bullying wasn’t a factor, even though his friend could state otherwise. Trey, his best friend, claims that Ty was extremely sad the last time that he saw him; he said he was crying. They show pieces of Ty’s funeral and his parents are “tucking in their baby one last time.” Trey is overcome with emotion and is crying at Ty’s casket. Trey assists adults in carrying Ty’s casket. Trey speaks to us on how he used to be a bully when he was in second grade, but as he got older he realized the harm and hurt that he did to people. Eventually Trey had stated that he wants to be friendly with everyone. He also says that when he would try to stand up for Ty, he would always tell him that, “they aren’t worth it,” or, “don’t be like them,” getting Trey to back down. We later see Mr and Mrs. Smalley together and Mr. Smalley is expressing their pain and how they miss their son. We see Kelby rather happy talking about the rain with her current girlfriend. She claims she would not be here, or be able to go to school, without her friends and girlfriend. She refuses to let her bullies “win”. Alex is shown being bullied while on the bus. He has been stabbed, punched, and had his life threatened. He claims to not feel anything anymore. The filmmakers, worried about Alex’s well-being, showed the footage to the administrators and his parents, and when his parents confronted the administrators, they claimed that there was nothing they could do to help. Other students are shown lying about what happened, Alex is told to tell someone if he is being bullied again. Alex claims he doesn’t because in 6th grade he told adults and nothing was done. We see a few months later Ja’Meya arriving at home with her mother. She is excited to be home again and states how different everything looks. It is Alex’s last day of school. Other students are shown being friendly toawards him, signing t-shirts and laughing with him. He makes a comment about how girls are like candy, and you never know what you want. Kelby’s parents pulled her out of school because on her first day back, everyone moved their desks to be away from her, showing that nothing had changed at all. Tyler’s family is later shown hosting rallies to gain awareness for the other children around the world who committed suicide to due bullying. Eventually the father starts and they started an online group and meet others who had children of a similar fate. They started a memorial service called “Stand for the Silent” to help reach out to children and adults alike to be together on the bullying problem. Kelby, while also in attendance, stands for the support of the fallen children as well. Ty’s parents set off groups of balloons to symbolize the lost lives throughout the country. They also give out wristbands to help gain awareness for their cause. Ty’s father stands before the crowd giving a speech, in which he states that he will forever fight against bullies everywhere because, “[his] son will be 11 years old forever.”
The film's director, Lee Hirsch, was a victim of bullying as a child and decided to make a documentary so that the hidden lives of bullied children would be brought into the open. He approached the nonprofit organization Fractured Atlas, which gave him partial funding for the film. Significant additional funding was provided by Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, The Fledgling Fund, BeCause Foundation and Gravity Films. The film's music was composed by Ion Michael Furjanic (former member of the band Force Theory) and indie band Bishop Allen.
In a screening in Minneapolis in September 2011, Hirsch told the audience that his having been bullied as a child was part of the inspiration for the film. In an interview with a Twin Cities news website after the screening, Hirsch continued, "I felt that the hardest part of being bullied was communicating, and getting help. I couldn’t enroll people’s support. People would say things like 'get over it,' even my own father and mother. They weren't with me. That was a big part of my wanting to make the film. It's cathartic on a daily basis." Hirsch said he hoped the film grows far beyond him, inspiring advocacy, engagement, and empowerment not just in people who are being bullied and in their families, but by those of us who all too often stand by and do nothing. He stated, "I hope we build something that’s really sustainable. I hope this takes on a life of its own."
On February 27, 2012, a Change.org online petition was created, directed to the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in order to reduce the movie's rating from R (due to some language as shown in the poster) to PG-13. As a former victim of bullying, Katy Butler, one of the originators of the petition, stated that "Because of the R rating, most kids won't get to see this film. No one under 17 will be allowed to see the movie, and the film won't be screened in American middle schools or high schools." As of March 15, 2012, Butler had collected more than 300,000 signatures, but the MPAA initially hesitated to make the change. Joan Graves of the MPAA said that though Bully is a "wonderful film", the organization's primary responsibility is to provide information to parents about the films' content.
On March 26, 2012, The Weinstein Company announced that it would release Bully unrated, in protest of the MPAA's decision. This effectively restricted the movie to art-house and independently owned theaters since AMC, Cinemark, and many other American cinema chains have policies against screening unrated films. Despite this, AMC announced it would allow minors to watch the film upon receipt of a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian. Regal Cinemas did indicate they would play the film; however it would treat it as an R-rated feature.
In Canada (where each province sets their own rating), as of March 30, 2012, Bully has received only PG ratings (from six of ten provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec and Saskatchewan) with no age restrictions but warnings for coarse language.
In April, the Weinstein Company came to an agreement with the MPAA. After toning down the profanity, the film received a new rating of PG-13 (for intense thematic material, disturbing content and some strong language—all involving kids), which meant that children of all ages could watch the movie without an adult. The Weinstein Company subsequently announced that the PG-13 rated version of Bully would be released nationwide on April 13, 2012. When it was released, its widest release was in 265 theaters.
Bully was positively received by critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 85% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 127 reviews, with an average score of 7.1/10, making the film "Certified Fresh" on the website's rating system. At Metacritic, the film received an average score of 74/100, based on 33 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".
The film was parodied in the South Park episode "Butterballs", including a scene in which Kyle asks Stan (who created an anti-bullying documentary) "If this video needs to be seen by everyone, why don't you put it on the Internet for free?" to which Stan had no answer.
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