In one of the most chilling sequences in director Lee Hirsch‘s powerful new documentary “Bully,” Murray County, Georgia resident Tina Long almost robotically describes the October 2009 morning when she and husband David found their 17-year-old son Tyler hanging from a shelf in his bedroom closet.
As a camera pans the bedroom, Tina Long says, “The only thing we see in this room still is Tyler hanging there.” Matter-of-factly pointing to some holes on the closet wall, she adds, “We took the shelf down.” The teen, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a mild form of autism, killed himself after years of being tormented at school. “When I found him that morning,” David Long recalls in the the film, “I knew why Tyler did what he did.” The bedroom now serves as headquarters for the Long family’s anti-bullying initiative. A grassroots advocacy mission that David and Tina Long brought to Buckhead Monday night at an advance media screening of the riveting doc. “Bully” officially opens here in theaters today.
“We need foot soldiers in the community carrying the message that bullying cannot be accepted in our schools or in our society,” David Long told the AMC Phipps Plaza movie theater audience comprised of media, parents and teenagers. “The fact that you’re all here tonight makes a statement,” added Tina Long. “It says we’re ready and a change can come.”
The film’s most harrowing and controversial sequence, involving Sioux City 12-year-old Alex Libby being threatened on a school bus, originally garnered “Bully” an R rating from the MPAA. A much larger high schooler pounds on Alex while gravely informing him, “I will [expletive] end you. I’m going to shove a broomstick up your ass.” Director Lee Hirsch and crew were so unsettled by the footage, they showed it to Alex’s parents who promptly went to the school where Alex’s principal smiled and reassured them saying, “I’ve been on that bus. The kids are as good as gold.” School administrators come off so tone deaf in the doc that their comments routinely drew laughs from the audience at Monday night’s screening. As the film expands to 55 cities today, it will carry a PG-13 rating. The bus sequence remains in the film.
Q100’s Bert Show morning show host Bert Weiss, who took his 9-year-old son Hayden to Monday night’s screening, told us afterward that the new PG-13 rating feels right to him. “We’re going to have a longer conversation when we get home,” Weiss reflected. “Several times during the film, he had questions like ‘Dad, what’s sexual orientation?’ It will be a teaching opportunity for us.” Weiss says Hayden is having to deal with bullying at school too. “He’s a people pleaser like his dad and we’re trying to get him to pull himself out of certain situations at school that can be negative.” Added Hayden: “The movie teaches a really good lesson. Bullying needs to stop.”