Lee Hirsch's new documentary Bully records the tragic toll that school bullying can take on the lives of young students and their families.
Five families allow cameras to document their lives as some of them grapple with the shocking reality that bullying pushed their young child to suicide. The others are more fortunate-their child is alive, but faces violent bullying on a daily basis.
The film features the stories of a diverse group including Iowan Alex Libby, a seventh-grader with Asperger's syndrome. Despite his best attempts, Libby cannot make friends with his classmates. Instead, mean classmates call him fish face and bullies harass him physically and verbally. Most others ignore him as he stands alone on the school grounds.
Kelby is a high-schooler in Oklahoma who grew up in a Bible-teaching home but recently came out as a lesbian. Now, her church has shunned her. Her family's lifelong friends refuse to talk to them; her classmates and teachers harass her in class; and eventually her parents pack up and move.
But the film doesn't push an agenda. Instead it exposes both the appalling reality of bullying at school and the frustrating lack of effective solutions. Where most people would expect there to be parental, administrative, and even police intervention, Bully shows the reality of passivity and a fundamental sense of helplessness.
Bully includes real footage of physical and verbal harassment, profanity, and the reality of suicide, but its R rating is extreme. The producers didn't arrange those elements in a sensational way. Rather, they included them to expose a dangerous situation and its tragic consequences.
The film is best if viewed as a catalyst. It could be a tool to awaken parents to the painful reality of bullying. It could raise awareness about ineffective anti-bullying methods in schools. For Christians, it could also be viewed as a wake-up call for churches to provide hopeful solutions instead of shunning hurting children and their families.