Bully: The Real Hunger Games

If you want to see a movie where young people terrorize other young people, don’t go to The Hunger Games. Watch Bully, a documentary produced and directed by Lee Hirsch that raises some really troubling questions about the desperate situation thousands of young people find themselves in at school — and on their way to and from school — each and every day.

And many of them have fewer options than Katniss, whose mental and physical toughness paved the way for her survival in The Hunger Games.

Here’s from Lee Hirsch, writing in The Huffington Post:

Almost everyone has a story. That moment when we were bullied, or that entire school year, has stayed with us for a lifetime. Acutely memorable. Painfully timeless. Every year, the U.S. Dept. of Education estimates 13 million American kids are bullied. If you extrapolate that number, year after year, decade after decade, that means hundreds of millions of people.

I am often asked, is bullying getting worse? Or are we just talking about it more? There are no easy answers.

What I do know is that in the three years since we began work on the documentary Bully, we as a nation have grieved far too often. We have learned the names and stories behind children who were bullied and took their own lives; among them, Ty Smalley, age 11, Montana Lance, age 9, Jon Carmichael, age 13, and Tyler Long, age 17.

As we learned their stories, we remembered and even relived our own. With each tragic narrative and the press that ensued, the issue was amplified, louder and louder, until it bore its way into our collective conscious and narrative.

We began this film with the sense that bullying was approaching a tipping point moment. After many screenings, I have been approached by people who were bullied ten, twenty, thirty, fifty years ago, who never told another person about their experiences of torment and abuse. Online, in our communities, on message boards and across our school districts, we began to hear from the multitudes of kids, teachers, parents, those who had been bullied decades ago; those whose were caring for grandchildren who were being bullied now; teachers who knew it was a problem in their school, but didn’t know what to do about it; all of them raising their voices to say, this is our story.

I really don’t know if bullying has gotten worse from the years when I was bullied. Or when you were bullied. There are many more avenues and platforms where bullying takes place, however, these are also the same platforms that are bringing our world together and creating community.

Here’s what I do know: that in every corner of this country, children, teachers, coaches, parents, athletes, and musicians are now standing up, and standing together. Tony Scott from The New York Times has said that the film documents the emergence of a movement and a “shift in consciousness of the kind that occurs when isolated, oppressed individuals discover that they are not alone.” He’s right.

Today, for the first time, we are talking about it, we are coming together as communities to overcome the silence and shame. It is no longer acceptable to respond to bullying with the attitude “kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys.” This is the moment when Americans of every generation are rising up to say enough! Our narrative must and will change.

We have seen the national conversation evolve from a growing awareness of the crisis, to collectively mourning the many lives this crisis has taken, to looking toward the future in hope in knowing we must find a way to prevent these tragedies in the future.

Voices across generations are loudly proclaiming that the time for bullying has come to an end. Together, by sharing our own stories, we can change this nation’s story. We can create schools and communities that are the safe and peaceful spaces that we imagined. A new time. For all of us.

Unlike The Hunger Games, Bully, I expect, will not attract a wide audience. And that’s a shame. Bully is a movie with an important message — one that teachers, administrators, parents and young people need to see and hear.

Here’s from the Kansas City Star:

For a film that understandably only scratches the surface of its topic, “Bully” carries a devastating emotional punch. A powerful examination of aggressive behavior in American schools – much of it unchecked by administrators, law enforcement, parents or any adult in authority – the movie focuses on a handful of families affected by bullying, some to a devastating extent. The film will leave you spent, disturbed and sorrowful – and all too aware of ugly truths about human tendencies.

But buckle up. With its desired rating now official – the MPAA ordered an R at first for a couple of barely discernible F bombs but has since acquiesced to director Lee Hirsch’s refusal to cut a pivotal scene and agreed to a PG-13 – “Bully” is mandatory viewing for kids, parents, teachers, administrators, school liaison officers – anyone connected with education as well as anyone who believes today’s kids are just too coddled.

Katniss might have volunteered to fight it out to the death in the arena with other children, but something tells me she wouldn’t have been bullied at school. Not every child in this country is so lucky.

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