'Bully' filmmaker makes a documentary that touches a nerve
An interview with Lee Hirsch, the director of "Bully," a documentary about childhood bullying and its consequences. The film opens next Friday, April 13, in Seattle.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
'Bully'The documentary "Bully" opens in Seattle next Friday, April 13. Rated PG-13. For a story about the rating, go to www.seattletimes.com and search "Bully without rating."
Bullying lectureNational anti-bullying educator Rosetta Lee will talk about "Parenting Essentials for Preventing and Addressing Bullying" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, at Nesholm Family Lecture Hall, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $20 in advance, $25 at the door (800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com).
ORLANDO, Fla. — "Bully" is a documentary that became a cause before it even hit theaters. Even the battle over the film's rating seemed to rally support for this movie about childhood bullying and its consequences. (The MPAA originally rated it R for profanity, but lowered the rating to PG-13 after some controversy and negotiations.) As David Edelstein wrote in New York magazine, this "painfully earnest plea on behalf of persecuted children should be seen by kids above all."
The movie's director, Lee Hirsch, 39, is a veteran of documentaries ("Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony") and music videos (John Legend's "Show Me"). And he knows he's got his hands on a hot-button topic. We reached him in New York.
Q: Bullies have always been with us. Why is this subject front and center in America these days?
A: It entered the media zeitgeist through tragedy. The volume of these tragic teen suicides resulting from bullying has gone up ... And cyberbullying has caught people's attention, a real lightning rod for concern. It's just an extension of classic bullying that's on the schoolyard. There's a lot of movement from organizations aiming to take this problem more seriously and to pour more energy into discussing it and finding remedies. They're making us contemplate what change looks like, when it comes to dealing with bullying more effectively, so I think the new attention on this is a positive thing.
Q: What happened, you think, to the traditional coping mechanisms that generations have been taught? Does "Stand up to a bully, even if you lose the fight" no longer work?
A: It's very different from the days when "The Andy Griffith Show" was dealing with it, and yet bullying is still the same. What's changing are attitudes about it. In the past, my father was saying, "That's life, kid. Suck it up. Stand up for yourself." The sense was that this was a rite of passage. People are challenging that.
There's a big gap between the conflict, the bullying a lot of kids go through, and extreme bullying ... It's violent, it's abusive, and if you take it really seriously, it can be akin to torture for kids.
Q: The kids, the cases you show in the film, are from Oklahoma, Sioux City, Georgia, Mississippi. Maybe it's an accident, but are you making the case that this is more a rural, red-state America problem?
A: That's a GREAT charge. I love it! But it's not a red-state problem. This movie has no politics — zero. And kudos to Sioux City, Iowa, for letting this film be made. The school system gave us access and were willing to confront this head on. Do you see the problems there, how bad the administrators come off, at times? Audiences we show the film to get furious with them. The fact is that this is a district committed to innovation, figuring out this problem and ways to deal with it. And they let us make the movie and then stood by it.
I don't think this problem is rural or urban. It happens in prestigious schools in Manhattan, and in rural Oklahoma. The stories we chose were just the most compelling we could find and fit in over the course of one school year.
This story was updated on Thursday, April 5, to reflect the MPAA's decision to lower "Bully's" rating to PG-13.