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Where EAST meets the Northwest

HURTFUL HARASSMENT. Lee Hirsch’s Bully follows the stories of young people who are bullied for a host of reasons — being gay, looking different, simply not fitting in. The documentary is a timely piece, given the resonating conversations taking place across the country about how communities can band together to teach our children how to identify signs of bullying, and ways to reverse its effects. (Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

From The Asian Reporter, V22, #12 (June 18, 2012), pages 9 & 11.

Taking a stand for the silent

Bully

By Lee Hirsch

Now showing at the

Liberty Theater in Camas, Washington

By Maileen Hamto

The Asian Reporter

Watching Lee Hirsch’s film Bully with my teenage daughter was not easy, but I knew I could benefit from her perspective. Off the bat, the film tackled a sorrowful family’s experience with the suicide of their teenage son.

Bully follows the stories of young people who are bullied for a host of reasons — being gay, looking different, simply not fitting in. It’s a painful reality to see the utter incivility and downright meanness between children, actions that are tolerated by many adults in American schools.

Hirsch’s documentary is a timely piece, given the resonating conversations taking place across the country about how communities can band together to teach our children how to identify signs of bullying, and ways to reverse its effects.

Over the past year, my daughter’s school has held workshops and student retreats focusing on bullying. Bullying often becomes more pervasive in middle school, when girl cliques become more exclusive and closed-off to anyone who is a little bit different. Boys employ the same tactics, but tend to act out their aggression, both physically and verbally.

The impact of bullying is damaging to all children, but some communities are affected more than others. A 2009 survey partly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education found that 54 percent of Asian-American children in American schools have reported being bullied in the classroom. In contrast, only 31 percent of white students reported being taunted and harassed.

Cyberbullying is also significantly higher among Asians, with 62 percent being bullied online compared to only 18 percent of white students.

I asked my daughter, Carmilla, to jot down her thoughts on the film. She wrote that the film focuses "on the lives of the victims that go through this very real epidemic, a nightmare that haunts so many." She added that "the touching stories of these kids show the authenticity of the young soul, the early understanding that they are being hurt to the point of numbness. Some of them don’t understand why they’re being ignored or hurt, they have just accepted the bullying as a way of life." She also noted that "the hurt doesn’t stop when parents try to convene with the school, only getting meaningless nods and empty promises."

Over the course of 98 minutes, the documentary allows us to witness the experiences of students affected by bullying. It also shows the cultural divides.

"We see Kelby, a lesbian youth living in a small town in Oklahoma, who deals everyday with being shunned by her peers who see her existence as an abomination," Carmilla wrote. "Alex, a middle-school boy suffers physical torment by his bullies on his daily bus ride to and from school. He is stabbed by pencils, held down, and pushed around for simply being different."

Viewers also meet Ja’Maya, a student in Mississippi who is picked on during her hour-long bus ride between home and school in the morning and afternoon.

Beyond following the students in their daily lives, the film also focuses on the parents of young people who have committed suicide because they were being bullied in school. "The students had great home lives, parents who loved them and wanted the best for them," Carmilla wrote. "But something shook their world so hard to the point of self-destruction to the fullest extent."

Through heartbreaking interviews with David and Tina Long and Kirk and Laura Smalley, parents of 17-year-old Tyler Long and 11-year-old Ty Smalley who tragically took their own lives, we learn about the abuse the boys endured at the hands of classmates.

"The passion of these parents wanting justice is beautiful," Carmilla said. "One of the couples started a group called ‘Stand for the Silent,’ referring to the silent pleas of the kids who relate bullying to a real harm on their wellbeing."

If my 14-year-old daughter walked away with such insights from the film, imagine what Bully can teach school administrators, teachers, and other adults who supervise children in our schools. We’ve all been children before, and each of us have experienced or witnessed harassment in some form. Children who are bullies grow up to be abusive spouses, mean-spirited bosses, corrupt politicians — essentially, any adult who has learned they can get away with treating other people badly. Looking the other way is no longer acceptable — too many lives are damaged irrevocably by our collective silence.

Bully is currently showing at the Liberty Theater, located at 315 N.E. Fourth Avenue in Camas, Washington. For more information, or to buy tickets, call (360) 859-9555, or visit <www.camasliberty.com> or <www.thebullyproject.com>.