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Queer Film Spotlight: ‘Bully’

Imagine being an 11-year-old pallbearer at your best friend’s funeral.

This is just one of the many tear-jerking moments in Lee Hirsch’s popular and controversial film “Bully,” currently receiving a limited release in theaters nationwide, which I finally got the chance to see during a special screening held by Drexel Theater and Stonewall Columbus tonight .

Watching this film was one of the most emotionally draining experiences of my life. (Which I think is actually one of the film’s detriments. More on that later.)

I do think every student, teacher and parent in America should be required to watch this film. Every administrator who says “kids will be kids” needs to watch this film. Every principal who’s uttered the words “we don’t have a bullying problem at my school” should be required to watch this film. At the beginning of each school, year junior high and high schools should be mandated to hold a school-wide assembly that screens this film.

I had such a very strong emotional reaction to “Bully.” I kept seeing myself in each of the kids that were featured. Alex, 12, being chastised by his father for not sticking up for himself, when he knows deep down there’s nothing he can do to stop the kids from picking on him, though he wishes it with all his might. Kelby, 16, coming to the realization that if it wasn’t for the love and support of her close group of friends she’s not sure she would be strong enough to deal with the bigotry.

These are not only scenes from the film but personal flashbacks from my youth, growing up a gay preacher’s kid in small town Delaware, Ohio. This is the power behind “Bully.” it instantly connects with any audience. Everyone has been bullied in some capacity in their life.

That being said, “Bully” isn’t without it’s flaws.

I thought it spent to much time on the “shock value” and not enough time on how we can end the bullying epidemic. Where was the call to action?

I’m still debating how I feel about the intimate details shown of 11-year-old Ty Smalley’s funeral. On one hand I think it was gratuitous and distasteful. But on the other hand, it kind of reminded me of Emmett Till. (I know this opinion is going to get me in some trouble.)

Obviously the circumstances of each situation are completely different, but Emmett Till’s mother made it very clear that she wanted an open casket and the press present at her son’s funeral so that the world could see the brutalization, in hopes it would save another child for the same fate. I can’t help but compare this with Ty Smalley’s grieving parents.

Maybe seeing the devastation faced by parents whose son committed suicide, in part, due to bullying, will make a student think twice before saying something vile about another student just because they can, or may make a parent pay closer attention to whether their kid is the bully or the bullied and start taking the proper steps to address the issues therein, or it could force a administrator to start looking at bullying in their schools are little more closely. Maybe.

But in the end, despite it’s flaws, “Bully” is a powerful experience that can’t be missed.

Watch the trailer below: