[caption id="attachment_1282" align="aligncenter" width="405" caption="Opens in theaters April 13, 2012"][/caption] As most of you already know, I have somewhat of a passion for film - enough to take ten days out of my life, leaving my three year-old in the hands of a supportive family member, every year to traipse off to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. I wouldn't call myself an aficionado or even a film buff, but I do appreciate, very much so, how film, especially documentary film, can inspire. And what I really appreciate about Sundance is the opportunity to canoodle with these amazing independent film artists. And by canoodle, I mean dialogue. Because that is essentially - in fact, foundationally - what happens at Sundance. Underneath all the glitz and glam is dialogue about how we can make our world a better place.
So when I was invited to attend an early press screening of Lee Hirsch's documentary film, BULLY, and to talk about my reaction to the film on the local San Antonio Living television show, I jumped at the opportunity. (When else would I be given such an opportunity to make an impact, however small, on my community is such a public way).
I have to admit that I was just slightly disappointed by the film. My expectations going in was that this was not only going to simply inspire action, but be packed with the tools that kids, parents, teachers, administrators - everyone - needs in order to create very visible changes RIGHT NOW. Instead, the film was simply a glimpse into the lives of five different victims' of bullying stories.
Don't get me wrong, their stories need to be heard; however, I feel like we, as a nation, have already identified that bullying is happening and we're all in the midst of grappling with its negative effects and how we, as adults and educators, can help create a system of sustainable solutions to end bullying. What I really wanted to see were examples of children, parents, students, teachers, administrators, pastors, etc. making a difference in their communities - visually providing viewers who are not yet actively involved in the fight against bullying with actionable examples, that they can emulate in order to continue to create the positive change not just in their own communities, but beyond. (Something like this.)
Another fellow screener mentioned that the film was somewhat one-dimensional in it's scope on bullying, focusing only on rural America. And at first glimpse this can be an accurate assertion. However, the more I thought about the film's point of view, the more I understood what I have come to understand is the filmmaker's agenda: America is doing a good job in the realm of bullying awareness, but it's limited to the more metropolitan areas of our country. Quite frankly, we are failing to extend this message beyond our cities and suburbs and into rural America where NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT BULLYING.
And that, my friends, is the rub.
As the film depicts, there are still parts of rural America where (in Kelby's own words, "bible-belt Oklahoma") a teenage girl can be discriminated against and bullied for being a lesbian. Isn't this a fight that screams 1990's to you? It's hard for me (and I would imagine others who live) living in mainstream, metropolitan America that accepts people for their sexual orientation and have moved beyond this Laramie-esque type of discrimination to understand that our seeming progress has not filtered out to the most desperate areas of the U.S..
Of course the film is focused on the bullying that happens in school, but I'd bet a million dollars that, in Kelby's case specifically, had the film extended into the community we'd see even the adults ostracising this poor girl - which is why she and her father ultimately decide to give up trying to "be the change" in their community and opt for a much happier life in a larger, more metropolitan area where they can feel accepted.
Which brings me to my own personal take-away from the film.
Bullying is not simply a child's problem. It's not only found at school or on the bus to and from school. Bullying even extends into adulthood. And I think that is why we have such a hard time creating a system of sustainable solutions for people to follow in order to end bullying. Adults have an excruciatingly important role in the solution to bullying.
I think it's very important for us to talk about our own experiences with bullying - especially to our kids. I'm pretty sure all of us have had at least one experience with being bullied (if not, consider yourself extremely lucky).
I've been bullied. Multiple times. From an incident in elementary school where a little boy took my coat, ran away with it, stomped it all in the mud and then was so kind as to return it back to me; to the time in middle school where the queen bee had what seemed like the entire student body wear "anti-kim" buttons to school one day; to just about a year ago (I'm 35), when a fellow military spouse threatened to have her husband, the general, call my husband (he's the one in the service) to find out why I hadn't returned her phone call (and she was dead serious - I'm not even exaggerating).
By now, we all know the case of Tyler Clementi. But did you know that just two days after this tragic incident, there was national coverage of a newsroom girl seen in the backdrop of Dorothy Tucker's nationally televised CBS news report, picking her nose and seemingly eating it (I've purposefully chosen not to link to it). NATIONAL COVERAGE. All of the major local news networks aired the clip of this poor girl caught in an embarrassing situation AND POKED FUN AT HER, just for a chuckle.
THIS IS NOT NEWSWORTHY. THIS IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT. THIS IS BULLYING! And this is the example we are setting for our children.
What if that girl had gone home of committed suicide for all of this negative attention? Would we have held our national media accountable for their part in her hypothetical tragedy?
So despite my initial disappointment, I appreciate the film for inspiring dialogue. And I appreciate the film for allowing me to get up on my soap box and say that I think if we want to find a sustainable solution to end bullying, we have to start with ourselves. Michael Jackson (the king of pop, and arguably the king of having been bullied?) said it best: "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change."