“Bully” documentary fails to examine

By Kristen Fiandaca

A poster for the movie “Bully.”

The scene opens with home videos of a toddler named Tyler Long. Images are shown of a young boy running, playing and laughing; seeming to have all the attributes of a normal child. Although, everything changed once Tyler entered grade school, says his grief stricken father. He didn’t fit in well with the other kids. He was brutally picked on and harassed by his classmates, who told him he was “worthless” and to go “hang himself.” Tyler took his life at the age of seventeen.
“Bully” is a 2012 documentary, directed by Lee Hirsch, which runs for one hour and 34 minutes. While the film highlights the problem of bullying, shares heartbreaking moments and sheds light on a major flaw in our school system of how they handle bullying, it doesn’t go far enough.
Throughout the course of the film, the audience follows: Alex Libby, a quirky twelve year old boy who deals with physical and verbal abuse on a regular basis, especially on the bus; sixteen year old Kelby Johnson who has become victimized by her school after coming out as a gay teenager; and fourteen year old Ja’Meya Jackson, an honor roll student who was sent to juvenile prison after bringing a loaded gun onto her school bus because she became so fed up with the torment inflicted on her by her peers. The film also follows the families of seventeen year old Tyler Long and eleven year old Kirk Smalley, who have both lost their children to suicide because of bullying.
By the end of “Bully,” we are left with school officials telling us “kids will be kids” and a bunch of upset parents but no answers.  And maybe that’s what the film set out to do – to give us a real picture of what’s going on in our schools – but it fails to examine further. It doesn’t attempt to answer any big questions or offer solutions to the problem through analysis. The audience really isn’t shown anything new because many of us can already acknowledge that bullying has always been a problem in our school system. The question is: how do we combat it?
If there’s one thing “Bully” highlights, it is that our school system is inept in dealing with bullying and their methods for doing so are ineffective. In one scene, the principal steps in while two kids are fighting and makes them shake hands.  She reprimands the boy who was bullied because he refused to accept the other boy’s fake apology, which doesn’t seem to solve anything. In another scene, the same principal tell Libby’s crying mother that there’s nothing the school can do about the boy being bullied on the bus and moving him to a different bus will not change anything. The film leaves you with a feeling that the school system doesn’t actually know how to combat the problem.
One step to take in preventing this problem from spreading more is to examine the root causes of bullying and finding a way to do so. Documentaries are not only supposed to provide comprehensive information on an issue but all sides of an issue. This film only portrays the victims’ perspectives; it doesn’t spend any time talking with any of the bullies and their families which could lead to some answers. “Bully” is definitely standing for an important cause; unfortunately the filmmakers just aren’t going about the issue in the right manner.