Lee Hirsch’s independent film “Bully” made its grand entrance to the Sacramento market on Friday, April 13 after a small premier screening on Tuesday, April 10. The film is a realistic portrayal of the bullying phenomenon that our children are experiencing in the schools today. It shows what happens when parents, teachers, administrators, and other adults aren’t looking—the truth of peer abuse that is driving so many children and youth to suicide. The film has received a great deal of media attention for the controversial film rating that was recently reduced to PG-13 after the producers edited out a few profane words. However, even more controversial than the film’s rating is the disturbing truth about the hostile social environment that today’s youth must navigate on their way to adulthood.
Five stories of bullying are explored throughout the film. Kelby is a sixteen year old high school student who came out as a lesbian to her small town community; and was subsequently shunned. Twelve year old Alex is a social misfit who is the target of multiple bullies. He believes that the kids abusing him are his friends and that they are just “messing around” with him. Ja’Meya is a fourteen year old girl who was arrested and charged with forty-five felonies after pulling a gun on a bus full of her bullies. Also featured are the families of Ty Smalley and Tyler Long, both boys committed peer abuse driven bullycide; Ty at the age of eleven and Tyler at the age of seventeen.
At one point in the filming of the documentary, the producers became concerned about the escalating abuse that Alex experienced while on the school bus, and shared the footage with both his parents and school administrators. His parents’ reaction was a combination of shock and concern. The viewers were treated to a disturbing meeting between Alex’s parents and Alex’s principal—disturbing because the principal did very little to change the circumstances on the bus. At one point she stated that switching him to another bus might not be effective because he would be subjected to the same behaviors on any bus. Then a few moments later she stated that she rode on all of the bus routes and that the kids on the bus “were golden.” How can there be so many “golden” kids on unsafe bus routes? And where was the bus driver during the physical and verbal attacks on Alex? The principal was more interested in sharing photos of her new grandchild than in improving Alex’s experience at school—the school that she is tasked with keeping safe and secure for ALL students who are enrolled.
Alex’s principal also exercised poor judgment when talking to an unnamed boy and his abuser after a recess period. The boy stated that law enforcement officials had ordered the bully to stay away from him at all times; but that the bully continued to attack him at recess. The principal asked the boys to shake hands, at which point the abusive child immediately stuck out his hand with a charming grin on his face; a picture of compliance and sweetness. The other boy exercised his right to not befriend his abuser simply because an authority figure ordered it. Instead of seeing this as a victim finding the strength to be empowered and stand up for himself; the principal admonished him for hurting the perpetrator’s feelings.
Frequently, when administrators do not understand the social power struggles between peers, they avoid seeking solutions like the principal in Alex’s school. However, there are schools in our community that are doing some things right. Andrew Carnegie Middle School in Orangevale, California has a school culture that does not allow for the negative effects of peer abuse.
After the Sacramento, CA screening of “Bully” on April 10, a panel of local students administrators, teachers, and peer abuse advocates discussed some of the bullying issues affecting local teens. Andrew Carnegie Middle School sixth grader Alexandra Rodriguez talked about some of the things that her middle school is doing differently from her elementary school to prevent bullying, “I have teachers and principals that really care about what is going on with the students. It helps me to feel safe from bullies at school.”
For more information about peer abuse and bullying visit the B.R.A.V.E. (Bullies Really Are Violating Everyone) website at www.bravesociety.org.
Jennifer M. Rodriguez is a native Texan currently living in California. She has worked with children in a variety of roles since 1990, and recently founded a non-profit organization dedicated to serving children, youth, and families.
Her passion for art and creative expression began at a very young age and has had a major impact on her and her children’s healing after escaping a near-lethal domestic violence situation. To learn more about Jennifer or her charity please go to www.jennifermrodriguez.com or www.frannyshouse.org.
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