The most talked about documentary of 2012 failed to garner an Oscar nomination, but it has my vote. Bully focuses the spotlight on an important and troubling topic that likely plagues every school in the country (if not the world). Take a guess.
I only saw a handful of documentaries in 2012. Of the documentaries I've watched, three were nominated for Oscars. Bully is better than all three.
Director Lee Hirsch takes a very matter-of-fact approach to Bully, following a few bullied students around with cameras and interviewing the parents of the kids - including the mother and father of a boy who, after years of abuse, committed suicide. Hirsch takes specific interest in a boy named Alex, a goodhearted middle school student who doesn't know how to stand up for himself.
While footage of Alex being bullied, beaten and even stabbed is troubling to watch, it's the school administrators' satisfaction with the status quo ("boys will be boys" and "there's not much else we can do" are common phrases) that is most disturbing. On some level I can't entirely blame officials from shrugging their shoulders - there is no easy solution to bullying - but I'm sure the principal and other representatives shown in the film were embarrassed to watch what they say and how they act in hindsight.
Even though I wasn't bullied as a kid (in fact, looking back, I think of a few people in junior high that I wasn't the nicest to), Bully resonated with me in so many ways - and so many ways that the Oscar nominees did not. While it's easy to shrug off a little bit of taunting here and there, Bully puts on full display that there are plenty of kids who are not only subjected to much worse offenses, but who also do not know how to defend themselves.
The documentary, coupled with increasing amounts of school shootings that at least some of the time can be correlated with school abuse, has made bullying a (momentary?) national talking point. Surprisingly, Hirsch doesn't interview teachers or the students who observe what goes on, but I hope that he considers doing a sequel at some point that tackles the more important question: what can we do to reduce the amount of bullying? Still, Bully is one of the best documentaries of 2012. It's a travesty this movie wasn't nominated for an Oscar.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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