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The Best Films of 2016

Bully (2012)


Year: 2011
Director: Lee Hirsch
Cast: Alex, Ja'Maya
Region of Origin: U.S.
Rating: NR
Time: 98 mins

Bully went full circle and presented all the kinds of victim and angles of the bullying spectrum. The documentary follows five high school kids and their families from Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma during the school year 2009 to 2010. It focuses on the deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, victims of bullying who took their own lives.  Director Lee Hirsch was a bully victim himself and wanted to make a film that truly shows what goes on behind the supposedly safe gates of school.

The film opens up with video footage of Tyler Long of Murray County, Georgia as a kid happily playing and laughing. David Long, Tyler’s father states that “Tyler was a happy kid but as he got older, he started to distance himself and wanted to be alone.” It wasn’t till it was too late that his parents discovered what emotional and physical torment Tyler was going through. Ty Smalley was only 11-years old when he had enough of the ridicule from the kids at school.   Ty’s father Kirk, states a fact that haunts average citizens everyday, “we’re a bunch of nobodies. If this had happened to some politician’s kid, a law would be passed in a minute.” In the film the audience continues to see authorizes from schools wether it be assistant principles or district leaders turn their cheek on the issue and simply state “kids will be kids.”

Kelby Johnson is 16-year-old lesbian in Tuttle, Oklahoma as best known as "Bible Belt Oklahoma." After coming out to the town about her orientation, her and her family are now ostracized from the town. Friends that they’ve had for many years don't even acknowledge them. Moving to another town isn’t an option because Kelby think then the town wins. Kelby believes she can make a difference but as time progresses it’s clear that is easily said than done. With her group of outcasts and her pint sized girlfriend, she doesn’t feel so bad. But nonetheless, the pain lingers in her eyes as she constantly fights for her life and rights in a town that won't open their eyes. 

As a society we are taught to ignore or brush off the bullies who continue to taunt us. But there are always the few who want/try to stand up for themselves and end up going too far. Like Ja’Maya from Yazoo County, Mississipi. After being hassled time and time again, she wanted to scare her bullies by bringing her mom’s loaded gun to a crowded school bus. She didn’t fire, merely waved it around to scare them but what impulse and anger shielded her from seeing was her life-scarring consequences. With 44 counts of felony under her belt, she spends a few months in a Juvenile Delinquent Center. A local law enforcement said "There's nothing, no amount of bullying, or teasing, or picking on, or whatever, there's nothing, unless someone was whipping on this girl everyday, unless someone was hitting this young lady in the head and being physically brutal to her, there NOTHING to me that justifies her taking her gun on that bus, I don't care what it is." Apparently, this "law enforcement" has never been emotionally abused before. Nothing justifies her bringing a gun to a school bus but what should be the main concern here is how to prevent any other kid reacting like this due to bullying.


But the real star this film highlights is Alex Libby, a 12 year old in Sioux City, Iowa. With all the types of bullied victims that were shown, Alex is one victim that the audience needs to watch out for. It is clear from Tyler Long and Ty Smalley of what could happen when a kid is pushed too far and it seems like Alex is on his way to the same destination. He is playful, responsible, and happy within his family life but in school, he struggles to make friends and opts for bullies as his “friends.” His mother exclaims, “you are just a punching bag to them, they’re not your friends.” And with the most heart-breaking reaction, Alex responds, “if they are not my friends, who is?” There is a glimmer of hope for Alex on the last day of school when a schoolmate asks for his signature on her t-shirt and vice versa. 

Immediately after seeing the trailer for Bully, I became overwhelmed with emotions knowing that this was an important film to see because it hit so close to home. I was bullied as a child and didn’t think that there could ever be a solution because like people say, kids will be kids. But after seeing Bully, I do have hope that there can be change within the high school system. A change doesn't happen over night, it takes one person to stand up. And luckily, that person was Harvey Weinstein. Without his power and the help of Katy Butler, the MPAA would've won with their ridiculous R rating. As early as elementary school, kids are already exposed to the realities of life that are beyond the rated R rating. How will the problem ever get solved if  kids that are 17 and over can only see the movie. That doesn't seem very logically MPAA. Great job. 


As seen in media and history, the presence of an authority figure is able to persuade the most stubborn types of people. And in this case, the camera itself was an authority figure. Due to the increasing bullying of Alex, the filmmaker decided to show the police, school, and his parents the footage. The reaction of his mother is troubling and concerning as she seems worried but seems forced to react due to the presence of camera. The principle and vice principle both act for the camera as the upmost best caretakers as they try to break up fights and advise the boys to reconcile even if it is the victim and the bully. They say they've talked to the bullies numerous times but it isn't until this moment that some action is taken place. The principle talks to each of the bullies and tell them to cease their torment or consequences will ensue. Their upstanding act is shattered when Alex says he has asked for their help and got no attention a year ago. While their concerned grins turned into stammering tongues, my cries turn into sinister laughter. Will bullying ever end? Not likely. But like this rating, all it takes is one person to make a difference. It may not happen today or tomorrow but with time, it'll be better. I swear it. A


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