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'Bully' Documentary Exposes the Criminal Negligence Threatening Kids' Lives

A new documentary shows the tragic effects of bullying on children.

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That said, it’s difficult to imagine hordes of schoolage kids wanting to see Bully, particularly if they are presently the target of one. For one, it’s two hours long, essentially a PSA, and with the tales of the kids who committed suicide, frankly isn’t all that uplifting. It functions, again, as a resonant reminder to adults of the true pain that 13 million kids endure each year in the United States, and brings to light the fundamental problem in school structure that allows it to keep happening. Hopefully some teachers, principals and school administrators across the country will see it and aspire to do better than those profiled in the documentary.

Which brings us to one of Bully’s biggest flaws: it portrays the bullying issue in a somewhat narrow light, focusing mostly on young white males in rural, working-class towns. The two girls in the film functioned as double minorities, with Kelby as lesbian and Ja’Meya as African American, which raised some questions about the director’s choices, as bullying in schools is often focused on race (racial attacks account for a full third of bullying) and sexual orientation (nine of 10 LGBT students reports being bullied).

The film doesn't touch on cyberbullying, which seems odd considering the anti-bullying movement was sparked by cyberbullying, and can devote its widespread success to the internet. Though bullying is different among urban, suburban and rural schools, it is prevalent in each environment. Perhaps it was the director’s goal to illuminate rural, working-class schools in particular, in red states—but it didn’t feel like an accurate cross-section, nor did it point out the prevalence of vicious and cruel girl-on-girl bullying, that includes slut-shaming.

In last year’s suicide of 10-year-old Stacy Conner, her mother directly attributes her suicide to bullying that had occurred the day before, in which classmates called her “fat,” “ugly,” and a “slut.” Bully would have been more thorough had it explored these issues deeper. Despite these flaws, Bully is a sad and engrossing film, and is certainly an important entry into the anti-bullying movement across America. Even though it’s depressing, there is a little hope: upon its release, Alex, now a high school freshman, appeared on Anderson Cooper at the end of March. He’s enjoying his new school, he says, and has tons of friends. It gets better, indeed.


Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.

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