Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bully - A Powerful Film To See and Share

Alex, 12, featured in Bully.
Remember the end of Karate Kid when the cruel and powerful blond guy "sweeps the leg" of a weak and injured Daniel Larusso, played by Ralph Macchio?

Daniel, barely able to stand, then musters all his remaining courage and strength, and delivers a perfect "crane" kick to the head of his opponent, sending him spiraling to the mat in defeat.

It would change things significantly if life worked like that when bullies pick on vulnerable kids - but that's not how it works, not usually, anyway.

In just a few days, we'll have a chance to see a film about what really happens when innocent kids are taunted and subjected to violence and humiliation at the hands of other young people. The documentary film Bully, which opens on March 30, follows the lives of five bullied children over the course of a single school year, and it offers us an unflinching view of the brutal impact bullying has on the mental and physical well-being of these kids and their families.

I could go on for hours about the importance of this film, but I'm confident the trailer below provides all the evidence needed to convinced you that you should not only see this movie, but also take your kids to see it, AND make sure everyone you know does the same. See for yourself.

Trouble viewing the video? Click the Bully Project Promo link below the clip.

Bully has received a great deal of advance press already, not because of its culturally significant content, but because it received an unfortunate "R" rating from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Because the film includes some video clips showing instances of real kids using the real curse words they use in real schools everyday across America, real kids who are under 17 will not be allowed to see this film without a parent. Additionally, the "R" rating greatly reduces the likelihood that this movie will be purchased by school libraries. In short, the "R" rating makes it much less probable that the kids who need to see this film most, both the bullies and the bullied, will have access to it.

Some conservative groups argue that interested parents can simply accompany their children if they want them to see the film, and while true, that logic fails to address the issue of schools leveraging the film as a teaching tool. Many industry insiders take the larger view and argue that the problem with Bully's "R" rating is symptomatic of the need to re-evaluate the entire antiquated ratings system. While that may be the right long-term approach, it doesn't address the immediate ratings challenge that this film faces.

In an attempt to help make the important messages of Bully available to as many kids as possible, 17 year-old Katy Butler from Ann Arbor, Michigan has started an online petition encouraging the MPAA to reconsider and assign the documentary a PG-13 rating. Katy already has nearly 300,000 online signatures, but a few more wouldn't hurt - MPAA Petition for Bully.

Even Ellen Degeneres is doing her part to get the MPAA on board.

In these last days before the nationwide release of Bully, a young Rutgers student named Dharun Ravi is on trial in New Brunswick, N.J., facing charges of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy. In the alleged commission of these crimes, Ravi secretly videotaped Tyler Clementi, his closeted gay roommate, engaging in a sexual liaison with another man, and then he Tweeted his plans to broadcast the encounter online. Whether Ravi's actions constitute a hate crime or just a cruel and thoughtless college prank is debatable. What's not debatable is that Tyler Clementi's decision to end his life the next day by leaping off the George Washington Bridge was influenced by the shame and humiliation he felt as a direct result of Ravi's high-tech bullying. 

What we can learn from director Lee Hirsch's Bully is what Dharun Ravi has likely learned this week in a New Jersey courtroom - when we choose to embarrass, degrade, and taunt people, physically or emotionally, we risk doing harm that it is more intense and longer-lasting than we ever intended, and potentially more devastating than we ever imagined. For Dharun and Tyler, it's too late, but for millions of other kids, it's not.

Our call to action is to go and see this film once it opens nationwide on March 30, and to spread the word about it. You can learn more about the movie and about how to support the Bully Project's STOP BULLYING. SPEAK UP! program here.

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