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"Bully" The Movie Review

Updated on April 7, 2014

A Documentary About The Horrors Of Bullying In Schools

"Bully" is a documentary about bullying in US schools that made its theater premier on March 30, 2012. It follows the lives of five bully victims and their families over the course of one school year and chronicles their ordeals in graphic detail. This film gives the viewer an in-depth look into the misery and anguish of these bully victims, who are not only verbally abused and ostracized but also subjected to acts of physical violence, by showing actual, no-holds-barred footage of their tormenters in action. The abusive and obscene language from some of the real life bullies in this movie was deemed so offensive that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initially gave it an R-rating.

It is one thing to hear about bullying in schools in the news, but it is quite another to see it in all its gory detail as experienced first-hand by bullying victims. "Bully" raises the awareness of the problem of in-school bullying in our society by giving the viewer a real feel for what it is like to be on the receiving end of extreme bullying. Although I urge everyone to see "Bully," I should warn you that this movie is not for the faint of heart. It is a highly disturbing film that may leave you in tears and/or make your blood boil. I know it did mine.

Photo credit: Liji Jinaraj

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The Filming Of "Bully"

According to the Bully Project, the organization behind the movie, "Bully," 13 million children will be bullied this year alone in the US. Long tolerated as a "fact of life" and dismissed as "kids just being kids," bullying as a topic has traditionally been regarded as taboo, and as a result, many have suffered in silence. With the increase of in-school violence and suicides in recent years, however, bullying is finally starting to be brought out in the open as people desperately seek solutions to this social scourge.

The movie documentary, "Bully," originally known as "The Bully Project (2011)," follows the lives of five bully victims and their families in Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas during the 2009-2010 school year. This groundbreaking movie, which exposes the nightmarish and hidden lives of bullied children, was directed by Lee Hirsch who was himself bullied as a child. It premiered in April, 2011 at the Tribeca Film Festival and has since then won numerous awards.

The five students featured in "Bully" are Alex Libby, Ja'Meya Jackson, Kelby Johnson, Tyler Long and Ty Smalley. Tragically, Tyler Long and Ty Smalley had committed suicide before the filming of "Bully" after being subjected to extreme bullying daily for many years. "Bully" chronicles the pain and frustration of their families in their attempts to get justice and effect change within their respective school systems. Mr. Long's anguish over the loss of his son Tyler is poignantly captured in his statement, "I still think he's going to come through that door, but I know he's not."

"Bully" also chronicles the daily tormenting by bullies of Alex Libby, a kindhearted and courageous 12-year-old who just wants to have friends and fit in. Many of his daily ordeals take place on the school bus, which, as aptly put by one amazon.com reviewer of the DVD, is often the "Ground Zero" for bullying at many schools. At one point, the bullying to which Alex is subjected becomes so extreme that Hirsch decides to take a break from the filming of "Bully" to show the footage to his parents and school authorities because he is worried about Alex's safety.

Besides the hellish busing scenes, there are many others that are so outrageous they have reportedly provoked loud audience "boos" in many theaters across the nation. One of the most egregious incidents takes place in an Assistant Principal's office in which Alex Libby's parents, concerned about his safety, express their fears and plead for something to be done. The Assistant Principal cheerfully and cluelessly dismisses the parents' concerns, informing them that she is familiar with Bus 54 (the one Alex takes) and has traveled that route herself, and asserts that "these kids are good as gold." This scene in the Assistant Principal's office is interspersed with film clips of Alex being tormented by those very same kids on that bus.

The other two kids featured in "Bully" are Kelby Johnson and Ja'Meya Jackson. Kelby Johnson's troubles begin in the 6th grade when classmates suspect she might be a lesbian and get worse when she finally comes out in the 8th grade. She is mercilessly ridiculed by both teachers and students, and at one point in the film, she recounts the story of how she is almost murdered by some of her tormenters as they try to run her over with a car. Ja'Meya Jackson, an accomplished and serious student who was bullied daily for many years, decides one day to borrow her mother's gun to face her tormenters, which she brings with her on the bus. Although nobody gets hurt, her mother waits to learn the fate of her 14-year old daughter who is now being incarcerated.

In "Bully," Hirsch manages to capture many surprisingly candid shots of kids (and others) behaving badly as many of the bullies proved to be not at all camera shy. The movie takes turns featuring each bully victim and/or family members, creating a mélange of five interspersed sagas that paint a grim picture of the horrors of bullying in schools. This film also gives the viewer a revealing look at the lack of accountability that is often a key contributing factor to in-school bullying environments.

Photo credit: Liji Jinaraj

Interview With "Bully" Director Lee Hirsch

The R-Rating Controversy

When "Bully" first came out, it was given an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) because of some obscene and violent language used by the bullies in the film (which is ironic as many underage bully victims who do not have easy access to R-rated movies are subjected against their will to these types of verbal onslaughts almost daily). This R-rating provoked outrage nationwide, and 17-year-old Katy Butler, a student from Ann Arbor, Michigan and former bullying victim, started a petition to have the MPAA change its rating so that all kids could more easily view this film. By late March, 2012, over 500,000 signatures had been gathered, including those of Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Streep and Justin Bieber, plus 35 members of Congress, but the MPAA would not reverse its decision, stating that although "Bully is a wonderful film," its main responsibility is to provide information to parents about films' content.

The Weinstein Company, which acquired "Bully" immediately after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, announced on March 26, 2012, that it would release it as unrated, leaving it up to individual theaters to decide whether or not to screen the movie. Most movie houses, as a rule, do not show unrated films, but some movie chains, including AMC, chose to screen "Bully" with various restrictions such as having kids provide signed parental consent forms.

After a long battle, the Weinstein Company and the MPAA reached an agreement in April, 2012 whereby some swear words would be deleted from "Bully" in exchange for a PG-13 rating. This version was released on April 13, 2012.

Photo credit: Visitor7

"Bully" Trailer

Bully [Blu-ray] (2011)

This long-awaited documentary by Lee Hirsch is now (finally!) available on Blu-ray.

Bully (Blu-ray + DVD)
Bully (Blu-ray + DVD)

"Bully" (a.k.a. "The Bully Project (2011)") is a grizzly account of the daily torments endured by school-aged bully victims in five schools across the US.

 

Epilogue

Unlike in fictional films, the story does not end for the real life stars and other cast members of "Bully" after the movie is finished.

For two "Bully" stars, Alex Libby and Kelby Johnson, it is gratifying to learn that their lives have taken a turn for the better after all their ordeals, as they discuss in the interviews below. Now a high school freshman, Alex Libby reports that he is making good grades in school and has lots of friends. Kelby Johnson now has her GED and is trying to raise awareness of the problem of bullying.

As for the remaining "Bully" cast members, it is to soon to tell how the movie will play out in their lives. "Bully" has definitely raised awareness of the problem of bullying in our society and will continue to do so for many years to come. It is a very important film that should not be missed.

Interviews With Alex Libby And Kelby Johnson After "Bully"

Please speak your mind.

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    • askformore lm profile image

      askformore lm 5 years ago

      Thank you for a great review!

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      I don't really wish to see "Bully". I have reached a point in my life where I don't want to choose sadness, but I do sincerely hope that this movie is shown in every high school throughout the world given your excellent review. Blessings.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      My stepson just won an essay contest and was invited to attend a bullying summit at our state's capital with 9 other high school kids. We plan to see this movie soon. I've heard a couple of interviews about it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Bullies are mean, and mean people suck! Wish they would realize their own shame. Very good review, I will have to see the movie. I posted this to FaceBook for you, in hopes that a bully will see this and turn from their wicked ways.

      Blessed by SquidAngel!

    • KReneeC profile image

      KReneeC 5 years ago

      I was bullied a bit in school and It freaks me out to see this movie. But it seems like it would be good to see. Every parent should watch a movie like this, not just in case their kid is bullied, but if their kid IS the bully. Anytime I've seen a bully, not only did I want to get them, I want to slap their parents too. Thanks so much for the review!

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

      One of the greatest review I have ever read :)

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I was raised with bullying and don't think I could sit through the movie. It is wonderful that awareness is being raised about bullying. Thank you for this great article and review! :)

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      It is a movie I want to see. I was bullied my first year in Middle School (Junior High back then). An 8 inch growth spurt, and gaining 35 pounds solved the problem, but most don't get off that easy. It is a terrible thing to have to live through, and my heart goes out to the children, and the parents.

      There should be zero tolerance for bullying.

    • charlb profile image

      charlb 5 years ago

      I hadn't heard about this film but I definitely want to see it after reading your lens. Well done on choosing to portray this important issue through this powerful message.

    • serendipity831 profile image

      Drake McSherry 5 years ago from Milwaukee, WI

      I definitely want to see this film. Thank you for adding yet another voice to this very important problem.

    • Mistl profile image

      Mistl 5 years ago

      What a wonderful idea to write an article on this and you did a great job at making it attention grabbing. I haven't watched bully yet, but I certainly will after reading your review.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hopefully this movie will start a process of non toleration of bullying

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I saw this in the Red Box a couple of days agoand wondered if it was worth watching. I hadn't heard anything about it. I'm glad I found your review. This looks like one for my older kids to watch.

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      Very important movie. Good review.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 5 years ago from Canada

      You know I heard more about the controversial rating than I did about the movie itself. Thanks for the additional information. If you are on Facebook, feel free to share the link to your review on my movies page, Music and Movie Treasures By Brenda

    • kerbev profile image

      kab 5 years ago from Upstate, NY

      I've seem bullying in action. And sadly, the kids being bullied wouldn't even support each other. They ate their lunches in guidance office every day, and wouldn't even sit together for fear of being bullied more for hanging out with each other. So sad.

    • gatornic15 profile image

      gatornic15 5 years ago

      Great review! Bullying is definitely a huge issue and this is a movie that should be seen by kids to try to prevent the problem.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      It's unbelievable what some children go through with their peers. Well done review.

    • teristazko profile image

      teristazko 5 years ago

      I am aware of this movie and the controversy with the rating. I was so happy to hear they changed the rating for the young kids to be able to see the affects of bullying. Thanks for bringing awareness to this subject. Great lens!