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Bully Writer/Director Was Bullied as a Kid

Mar 27, 2012

By: Lynn Barker

Kidzworld is talking with Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch, writer/director of Bully, the controversial documentary that explores different kinds of bullying and centers around three kids and teens who are or were suffering; the shy kid who looks different, the teen who comes out as gay, the teen who was bullied so badly that she pulled a gun on a school bus to fight back. Parents of kids who killed themselves when they could no longer take the abuse, are also in the mix. 

The powerful film has been rated “R” for some of the words the bullies use and an army of kids, teens, teachers, parents, celebrities and more are still fighting for a PG-13 rating. You know those “bad” words.  Whether or not your parents have told you not to use them, you’ve heard them. Bullies certainly use them. One teen in particular knows that and has made a difference in the fight to change the rating. Check it out:

Kidzworld: How did you find out that teenager Katy Butler, a one-time victim of bullying, had started her petition to get the film’s rating changed from “R” to “PG-13”? How did you feel about her contribution to help the film?

  • Lee: Somebody sent me an e-mail about it. The petition had been up for about ten hours and someone said “Have you seen this? It’s been up for ten hours and had 20,000 hits. I hit “refresh” and it was 25,000 hits. I started sending e-mails to everyone involved and it was so cool! We’d started our own petition and we were excited that we got to 5,000 signatures. Okay! This is the real deal.
  • What an incredible young woman Katy is. I’ve gotten to meet her several times. An incredible advocate and a poised and strong young woman.

Kidzworld: What was your biggest challenge making this project?

  • Lee: It was a very difficult film to make; very personal and emotional (Lee was bullied as a kid). Those who are bullied are an army, a really big group. That’s part of what this movement is about; representing all of those.  The biggest challenge was finding the voice of the film and putting all of the stories together. Editing was hard.
  • I would say that finding my place with the families that had experienced the kind of loss that you see in the film (parents of kids who committed suicide due to bullying) was on a very personal level and very difficult.

Bully posterCourtesy of The Weinstein Company

Kidzworld: The film is called “Bully”. Why did you not include at least one kid who bullies so we could get to know what makes them do it?

  • Lee: You sort of see the bullies, Alex’s bullies. But this is a film to give voice to families and kids who are dealing with bullying. We tell the story from their perspective. Bullies have enough of a voice in society. This is a film for the underdogs.
  • A lot of the kids who bullied in this film, when we met with their families to get releases, a lot of them were really upset. There were tears. It was an incredible process we went through with each family of each student you see in the film (whether bullies or their victims). They ultimately all agreed to be part of the movie.

Kidzworld: Also, we know that internet bullying wouldn’t be as interesting to watch in a film but cyberbullies are also ruining young lives.  Would the film just have been too long if you included this?

  • Lee: No. I know it’s huge but I left it out because it wasn’t involved in any of the kids’ stories that we were following. Those didn’t have a cyberbullying component. I think a lot of cyberbullying is an extension of what’s happening at school. Being in the physical, real world made sense for this film. We’re addressing cyberbullying in our campaign and on our website. Everything is open to conversation and that’s part of it.

Kidzworld: I know the credo of documentary filmmakers is to not get involved and just document what happens but, at one point, you did get involved. Talk about that.

  • Lee: My producer and I looked at each other (after witnessing Alex getting bullied on a school bus) and we just knew right away that we had to go and sit down with his family. It was automatic. It had to stop.
    BullyCourtesy of The Weinstein Company

Kidzworld: How is Alex doing?  He’s fifteen now. He was twelve or thirteen during the movie.

  • Lee: He has become a real advocate against bullying. He’s got a voice now. He went out and sat next to (producer) Harvey Weinstein and argued before the MPAA Appeals Board to have the rating changed to PG-13. This is a kid that makes me proud every day.

Kidzworld: That is so cool! What can kids and teens do to help stop this? Should they report it if they see it as well as if they, themselves are bullied?

  • Lee: For kids and teens I’d say report it when you see it. They can stand with kids who are being bullied. They can be witnesses for them. Intervention doesn’t have to mean that you’re putting yourself in danger. There are many, many ways to support someone who is being bullied. Stand and step up.
  • We have lots of great resources on our website thebullyproject.com.  All youth can get engaged with this film as changemakers. We have multiple youth project partners like dosomething.org and To Write Love on Her Arms twloha.org and America’s Promise americaspromise.org. We want kids to get involved. We have a goal that a million kids will see this film and engage in the campaign. We encourage you to be a changemaker.  Kids are smart. If they want to do it, they can find a way to do it. This is the right way.

Kidzworld: Why should everybody, of all ages see this movie?

  • Lee: Everybody should see this film because this is a story that touches all of us whether we were bullies, or bullied or bystanders, we all have a story and we all can step up and make a difference.

BullyCourtesy of The Weinstein Company

Kidzworld: What is the latest status on the rating? The MPAA just won’t budge or what?

  • Lee: I think it’s a lot more complicated than them not budging. There are people in the MPAA who absolutely want to figure a way out. We are fighting really hard and not giving in. Public pressure is mounting. It’s great to see so many young people engaging in it.

[NOTE: Right after this interview with Lee, it was announced that the recent plea to the MPAA by Bully teen Alex Libby and The Weinstein Company (TWC) Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein failed, by one vote, to get the film its deserved PG-13 rating.  The producers are choosing to move forward with releasing the film unrated by the MPAA on March 30.]

Lee Hirsch’s comments on this news were the following:

“The fight against the rating continues on. The outpouring of support by politicians, schools, parents, celebrities and activists for the film’s mission to be seen by those it was made for – children – has been overwhelming. Nearly half a million people have signed Michigan high school student and former bullying victim Katy Butler’s petition on Change.org to urge the MPAA to lower the rating.

The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the R rating is there because it’s real. It’s what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days. All of our supporters see that, and we’re grateful for the support we’ve received across the board. I know the kids will come, so it’s up to the theaters to let them in”.

To see how you can help, check out the bullyproject.org and bullymovie.net and Kidzworld’s own anti-bullying website bekindonline.org as well as the sites and organizations mentioned in this article.

It comes out this Friday on March 30th, 2012.

Bully (Official Trailer)