Bully Lee Hirsch

Bully Lee Hirsch
7
Director Lee Hirsch's Bully is undeniably effective in its simple, straightforward mission of documenting the effects of bullying on five teen school victims and their families. The aim is to stimulate, in bullies, a sense of empathy for the targets of their abuse. Three of the young people tell their stories firsthand, with much of the film's focus falling upon Alex, an awkward, gangly 12-year-old from Sioux City, Iowa, who is tormented by his peers and called "fish lips," which is the least of what he endures on any given school day. Hirsch's cameras follow Alex, revealing a young boy desperate for acceptance, so much so that he's reluctant to tell his parents the full extent of the daily abuses he suffers. That is, until Hirsch catches him being physically and verbally assaulted on the school bus. Indeed, for many of the young people featured in Bully, the most difficult part of their day is the ride on the school bus: a confined space full of rambunctious children with little-to-no adult supervision. Such was the scene for Ja'Maya, a Mississippi teen that endured daily abuse on her bus until finally she'd had enough. Ja'Maya brought her mother's handgun out of her school bag one morning to scare her bullies, subsequently finding herself charged by authorities for holding her schoolmates hostage. The film finds her in a juvenile detention center where she awaits the court's decision on whether or not she can be released to her family. But, careful not to focus solely on perpetual victims, Hirsch also documents 16-year-old Kelby, a star athlete in her Oklahoma town on the cusp of landing a sports scholarship whose popularity wanes after coming out as a lesbian. Shunned by her community, the harassment becomes so severe she's forced to drop out of school for her protection. Sadly, this isn't only to avoid bullying from classmates, but also from adult school officials that refuse to acknowledge homosexuality in the school system. While the film is an enlightening viewing experience — one that students should take the time to see — Bully is not without its issues. Hirsch understandably concentrates on the stories of victims but never interviews the bullies to get a handle on what makes them do the things they do. The children featured in the film are all from rural, middle American school districts, predominantly Caucasian, and arguably from lower-income families. A broader stroke on Hirsch's canvas would have been to examine kids on either side of the country, perhaps addressing class and cultural divides that lead to bullying. Still, Bully is a wrenching, intensely moral film that comes at a time when movies such as The Hunger Games are being released, depicting children killing each other for sport. Packed with the DVD are numerous special features, including featurettes that highlight community activism and "The Bully Project," which has spun off from the film and evolved into a movement within schools across America. (eOne)