Published Apr 05, 2012Even if you've never suffered so much as a taunt from a schoolmate, prepare for an emotional wallop with The Bully Project. As the first step in a war against America's bullying epidemic, this thoroughly engrossing documentary will provide hope to those who have suffered at the hands of misguided youth, vindication for those who have moved past it and a thoughtful examination for those who have perpetrated it.
This reviewer hasn't heard so much teary sniffling in a theatre since The Passion of the Christ. The footage of verbal and physical abuse is astonishing, unlike anything seen in a major documentary. Shot by director Lee Hirsch while in schools and on buses, barely hidden and out of view, the film focuses on different cases and levels of bullying, and the painful reactions of the victims.
The Bully Project opens with the suicide of a teenager due to years of unremitting bullying, a theme revisited later with another set of mourning parents. Hirsch also follows an openly gay 16-year-old girl, who stands proud in her Oklahoma town until the continual verbal, physical and even sexual abuse she receives forces her to consider leaving for a bigger city where she has a greater chance of acceptance. Another girl retaliates with a weapon and faces grave felony charges. The feeling of helplessness is so terrifying it's impossible to not be affected
Hirsch doesn't treat his subjects with any level of victimization, though innocent victims they may be .The access Hirsch is granted to the troubled youngsters, frustrated and sometimes grieving parents, ineffective school officials and in one case, even the bullies themselves, is an achievement. The reactions of the parents are haunting, from confusion and frustration at the beginning to agonized mourning if the child isn't able to recover.
Hirsch first focuses primarily on Alex, a gawky, admittedly strange-looking (due in part to a very premature birth) middle school student who's captured on film being called horrendous names, enduring horrific physical abuse and threats of even worse on a daily basis.
Witnessing firsthand the impotence of the school system, Hirsch also shows the reaction of a central authority figure. The assistant principal at Alex's school is infuriating in her benign ineffectiveness, reducing this life-threatening situation to a "boys will be boys" mentality, which is growing increasingly archaic. The ugliness of human nature is so apparent even in the youngest of school children that authorities seem more comfortable to turn a blind eye until it's too late.
However, the film offers significant hope, being in the unique position of exposing the full effects of the bullying epidemic and the first part in a sequence of activism followed up on through the film's website.
The Bully Project is essential viewing for the importance of the documentary format as activism and for the undeniable emotional response it will provoke. (The Bully Project)