'Bully' Examines Students Targeted By Their Peers

The new documentary Bully opens Friday, and it has an emotional impact that must be seen to be understood. The film hop scotches across the country looking at the situations of five different children that have suffered the effects of bullying.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

A documentary that has been stirring up headlines for weeks finally opens today. "Bully," from producer Harvey Weinstein, has made news for its controversial R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Weinstein argues the R rating prevents the movie's intended audience - children - from seeing it, and so he decided to release "Bully" unrated.

MONTAGNE: We're taking a couple of different looks at the film this morning and also have more about bully prevention. We do want to warn you there's strong language in the reports coming up. Let's begin with film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN BYLINE: "Bully" has an emotional impact that must be seen to be understood. "Bully" is a passion project for director Lee Hirsch, who also served as his own cinematographer. The film hopscotches around the country looking at the situations of five different children that have suffered the effects of bullying. Two of these children, however, are unable to appear on camera. They're represented by their parents because they were driven to suicide by persistent taunting.

As difficult as it is to watch children being bullied, it is just as hard to experience the look of unfathomable despair on the face of David Long of Murray County, Georgia, whose 17-year-old son Tyler hung himself in a closet in the family home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BULLY")

DAVID LONG: From the day Tyler was born, I was probably the proudest dad in the world, because he was the first born. He was the first son.

BYLINE: "Bully" also focuses on the situation of 12-year-old Alex Libby of Sioux City, Iowa. That school system takes the bullying problem seriously, and so it allowed filmmaker Hirsch access to the buses where much of the bullying of Alex takes place. Alex is desperate for friends, and because he doesn't want to make waves, he spends a lot of time trying to downplay the extent of his problem to his mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BULLY")

ALEX LIBBY: If you say these people aren't my friends, then what friends do I have?

BYLINE: "Bully" concludes with footage of an effective I Stand For The Silent campaign that encourages all kids to speak up when they see bullying taking place. Maybe, this film says, getting power to the powerless is not as impossible as it sounds.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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