“Bully” follows a group of tweens and teens who’ve dealt with persistent bullying: lonely 12-year-old Alex faces daily physical and verbal abuse (particularly on the bus) in Sioux City, Iowa; out-and-proud 16-year-old Kelby is constantly besieged by the homophobia of her classmates and teachers in Tuttle, Oklahoma; and two sets of grieving parents attempt to honor their sons, who each committed suicide rather than live another day with the merciless taunting of their peers. Since Hirsch’s documentary explores the many ways that bullying can affect and damage kids, I took two 13-year-old girls to see the film and discuss what they thought of the heartbreaking stories, and ultimately, the hopeful message.
Which of the stories affected you the most?
“The girl who came out in the town where everyone was homophobic. In the area where we live, people are much more accepting, so it’s sad and depressing to think that people who knew her all her life would be so mean. There might be a few people here who don’t agree with being gay, but overall, people wouldn’t treat a gay kid that way.” - Maddy, 7th grade
“I think the Alex story was the saddest, because it was so constant that he didn’t think there was anything anyone could do about it.” – Isabel, 8th grade
Did the bullying in the movie look realistic? What other forms of bullying have you witnessed?
“It’s not so much the physical abuse that we see, but the texting, Facebook, verbal abuse.” - Maddy
“It’s realistic, because my brother was bullied a lot in high school, and he never said anything about it. My parents only found out because he started failing every class, and eventually he had to switch to a private school with smaller classes and more help from teachers.” – Isabel
Have you been bullied yourself or seen people bullied?
“I’ve seen a group of people decide they’re going to pick on one person. They circle someone in the cafeteria, and you think it’s going to be a fight, but it’s just all of the people yelling horrible things at the person.” – Maddy
“I have. I had a group call like 50 people and pretend they were me, saying things like ‘I want to have sex with you.’ And someone told a girl I called her a ‘whore’ when I hadn’t said anything, but she got in my face almost every day and shoved me, spit her gum at me, stuff like that.” -- Isabel
Did you find out who did that to you or tell anyone?
“No, and the people kept texting and asking me why I said such weird things to them. Another time, a guy punched me in the face right in class and no one, even the teacher, did anything. He was popular, so I was afraid to tell anyone else.” -- Isabel
What do you think about the adults in the documentary? The middle school’s assistant principal seemed pretty clueless.
“The scene where she tells Alex’s parents that she’s ridden Alex’s school bus line and it’s ‘good as gold’ was awful. And also the superintendent of the school with the suicide who says bullying wasn’t a particular problem is wrong.” – Isabel
“I didn’t understand Alex’s dad when he told him ‘What are you going to do when it’s your little sister being bullied? You have to take care of things now.’ I didn’t get what he wanted Alex to do. He made it seem like he wanted Alex to fight his bullies, which didn’t make sense.” – Maddy
Are the buses at your school anything like the one Alex rode on every day?
“No. A bus driver here would have stopped the bus immediately, made everyone behind them stop, and then stood up to yell at everyone to sit down. They wouldn’t have ignored the bullying like Alex’s bus driver.” – Maddy
How do you think you can help end bullying, like the movie encourages?
“I like the idea of being encouraged to stand up against bullying, but the movie also makes it seem like it’s almost pointless, because bullying will always continue.” -- Isabel
“I think parents and kids need to make the schools systems change. The movie is starting a movement for change, but it’s just the beginning.” -- Maddy