MPAA ratings battle aside, Lee Hirsch's emotionally raw and gut-wrenching doc "Bully" must be seen. It's pretty much a given that a large percentage of the audience will be members of the LGBT community, many of whom experienced bullying in one form or another at some time in their lives. But that's like preaching to the converted. The important thing is to make sure that the rest of the world sees it, too.
Given the subject matter, it's not all that surprising that "Bully" opens with a story of a bullying victim, the late Tyler Long, who was driven to the brink and took his own life at the age of 17. Tyler, a loner who was victimized for being, among other things, un-athletic, and was taunted by his Murray County, Georgia peers to hang himself did just that. Tyler's father, a religious man, holds onto the belief that he will see Tyler in heaven.
In Sioux City, Iowa, 12 year old Alex, who has trouble making friends, feels best (meaning safest) at home with his family, including his younger siblings. At school and on the school bus Alex, a preemie, is teased relentlessly. His full-lips have earned him the "Fish Face" moniker, only one of the cruel and frightening things said to him by his classmates.
Easily the most articulate of the bullied students interviewed, lesbian Kelby tries to make her way in Oklahoma's Bible Belt. Unwelcome at church and in the homes of friends, Kelby nevertheless has a close-knit social circle who love and care about her. Verbally abused by teachers and ostracized into quitting the basketball team, Kelby became a cutter and attempted suicide three times.
In Mississippi, 14 year old Ja'Maya awaits sentencing after pulling a gun on a school bus in 2009 in order to silence her abusers. Picked on every day, Ja'Maya found herself at the breaking point, like Tyler, but she took a different course of action. Meanwhile, in Perkins, Oklahoma, Laura and Kirk, the parents of 11 year old Ty, are burying their son following his suicide.
At times, "Bully" presents a portrait of hopelessness. The school administrators and board members in the doc appear to be often overwhelmed and powerless. The debate at Town Hall meetings is heated and feels unresolved. One thing everyone does agree on is that changes must be made to protect children.
But it's the voices of the parents, including those of Tyler, Alex, Kelby, Ja'May and Ty's that ring out as loudly as those of the bullied and may have the most impact. From the intimate confines of their homes to the principal's office to rallies, such as the Stand For The Silent one depicted in the doc, organized by Ty's parents, the message is that it's the parents of the bullied, as well as the bullies, who have the most power in this situation.