The Lee Hirsch documentary "Bully" unveils the shocking depths of physical and emotional cruelty to which bullies casually sink in their campaigns to torment less-liked peers, especially kids who are (or who may be perceived to be) gay. Hirsch takes his camera into school halls and buses to record just how relentless and vicious bullying can be; the result is often shocking.
Much of the film (and the Blu-ray / DVD release’s Special Features) revolves around Alex, a slight, somewhat gawky kid who tolerates being punched, choked, stabbed with pencils, slammed into walls, and otherwise abused on a daily basis. Alex is seemingly straight (he talks about liking girls), but his affect evidently strikes his bullying peers as strange, and his diminutive stature seems to invite abuse. Fellow students let loose with barrages of threats about the violence they say they’ll do to Alex, a litany of mayhem that seems lifted straight out of gangsta rap.
Another of the documentary’s subjects, Kelby, a young lesbian, finds herself shunned not only at school but also at church and in her community at large; indeed, her entire family suffers.
The most heartbreaking story is that of a suicide victim who, after being invited by bullies at school to hang himself, went home and did just that. Far from expressing remorse, his tormentors reportedly wore ropes around their necks at school in the wake of the tragedy.
All this is explored more fully in the Special Features, which take a look at how informed kids can, and do, make a difference in their schools and online. The special features also catch up with Alex, showing us a now-popular student. Other updates show different school districts post-"Bully" and illustrate how the related "Bully Project" has energized and educated students so that they can take on the task of preventing bullying among themselves.
One clip shows actress Meryl Streep sharing her own childhood experiences with a tormentor. Former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Kevin Jennings (a gay man whom homophobic activists smeared in a bullying campaign of their own) speaks directly to the camera in a PSA to tell parents that whatever their kids might tell them about being bullied is only going to be the tip of the iceberg; bullied kids don’t want to make themselves bigger targets by ratting out the thugs who torment them.
This documentary is essential viewing for anyone concerned about the welfare of children and makes plain how bullying damages the perpetrators as well as the victims.
DVD / Blu-ray Combo Pack
Special Features include:
- Deleted Scenes
- "Good Morning America" segment following up on the film
- "Kevin Jennings: An Advocate’s Perspective"
- "Bully, the Book"