Bully campaign brings film to younger viewers
By: Karl Quinn
LEE Hirsch knows the subject matter of his documentary Bully all too well. “I was bullied as a kid,” says the 40-year-old New Yorker, in town for the film festival. “It was gangs of guys who’d make it their sport to get at me every day before I got home from school.”
In a sense there is nothing special about that; this year, 13 million kids in the US will be bullied in one way or another. And for many of them, as for him, the worst thing about it will be the inability of the victim to let the people around them understand what’s going on.
“I remember so well not being able to get across what happens, and eventually you start to internalise it and shut down and not talk about it,” he says. “My dad is not a bad father but he’s 93 and fought in World War 2 and his attitude was just, like, ‘Man up’, you know. He wouldn’t come and fight with me, which I think is what I wanted.”
Hirsch unashamedly sees his film as a piece of agit prop, a much-needed weapon in the war on bullying. The film has extended outwards into a broad-ranging campaign under the umbrella of thebullyproject.com. More than 125,000 kids have seen it in the States, a figure he hopes to triple in the next few months.
But Bully has been the subject of a campaign too. Earlier this year, the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an R rating on account of its language; kids under 18 could only see it in the company of a parent or guardian. After an online campaign that gathered more than 500,000 signatures and the support of Ellen de Generes and Meryl Streep, and after Hirsch cut a few curse words, the MPAA reclassified it as PG13.
“On one level it was because people felt the film, the story, was important, but also I think they were really sick and tired of that hypocritical guidance from the MPAA that said violence is fine, treating women badly is fine too,” Hirsch says. “You know The Hunger Games, which is about teenagers getting murdered, got a PG13. It just kind of rallied everybody.”
Not that Bully makes for easy viewing. The treatment meted out to young Alex Libby in particular is appalling — so much so that Hirsch eventually showed footage of what was happening to Alex to his parents and his school because he feared for his life.
There’s a happy ending to this story, though. “Alex is the greatest miracle to me in the world,” Hirsch says. “He’s really had a shine since the movie came out. He’s become so confident and outgoing and funny. He’s an activist and he speaks to thousands of kids. He makes you feel that change is possible.”
Bully screens at the Melbourne International Film Festival tonight and on Sunday and Tuesday, and is on general release from August 23. Details: miff.com.au.
The Age is a sponsor of the festival