by Freddy Carnes, Artistic Associate
There are movies that intersect with culture and social issues that resonate with audiences in a poignant way. The writer and director bring an idea to the surface and the idea packs a powerful punch. The audience is left gasping at the honesty of the characters and tragedy of the story. This is more typical in a fictional story where we can comfortably keep some distance from the problems of the main characters and walk away from the theater having gone through the catharsis of emotions. We drive home entertained, but detached. But what if that story was not fiction? What if that gripping tale was a documentary of real people and real tragedy? What if we couldn’t just drive home and quickly go to sleep? What if the next day we had to face similar characters in our own life?
This is the central dilemma in Bully, a new documentary from The Weinstein Company directed by Lee Hirsch shown this week at a free screening. Several stories from the heartland of America (not the typical urban settings) show the effects of children being bullied. The children and their parents in the film deal with this tragedy in very different ways, but ultimately struggle with the solutions. What is truly astonishing about Bully was 1) the audience’s reaction and the depth of the anger at the dismissive administrators and clueless adults depicted, 2) the brutality of the bullying caught on tape and 3) the articulate children (sometimes more articulate than the adults in the film). All the adults seem to be in deep denial, while the footage of the children in the school buses show a stark realism of the problem. The fact that the places filmed include rural Oklahoma and Iowa gave a new power to the notion that despite the political red and blue ideologies the fact is that all children are at risk.
You didn’t have to see a child being slammed against a locker to see the effects of it in a boy’s eyes. You didn’t have to witness a suicide of a 13 year old child to see its effect on a mother and father desperately trying to answer the question, “Why?”
I was shaken to the core as I left the theater. This disturbing movie had done what no speech or forum or workshop could ever do: put the real evidence of this social disease in our laps and pose this question: “What will you do now?” I knew I worked for Theatre Action Project, a company that has already done some of the most amazing work on this very problem better than almost any other organization in Central Texas in the last ten years. I felt proud of that. But there was this nagging question: “What will you do now?” The knee-jerk reaction is to say that I will create such a tolerant and inclusive environment in my classroom that no bullies will be allowed to thrive. But I knew that there was a simpler solution. I must lead by example. I must reach out to all children in my class and all children that I come in contact with and let them know through my actions that I love them and want the best for all of them. I must make them laugh and sing and act and tell stories and give them tools to help them go to other children and tell them that they love them and want the best for them. The only way to defeat a disease is to have a stronger cure.
To join Theatre Action Project’s bully prevention movement and voice your reaction to the film “Bully” and bullying, visit: http://theatreactionproject.org/Bully.html