SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — It’s a problem that people in Western Massachusetts know all too well, following the suicides of bullying victims Carl Walker Hoover and Phoebe Prince, and thanks to an Amherst woman, bullying is getting a national audience. The documentary, Bully is a call to action, for parents, school administrators and students.
Alex is a 12 year old Sioux City, Iowa boy and a victim of relentless bullying. He and four other young people are the focus of Bully. Cynthia Lowen, who used to live in Amherst, is the documentary’s producer. I spoke with her earlier this week, via Skype, from her home in Brooklyn. She told me, “Alex was like a lot of kids. He didn’t tell anyone what was happening. He didn’t tell his parents about it. He had tried to go to school officials and they had done the kind of intervention that doesn’t really stop the bullying and it makes it worse because kids retaliate when they found out he’s told someone. I think he’d gotten into a pattern where he was really suffering silently.”
The documentary generated controversy even before its release. It was given an R-rating, mostly because the F word is heard six times. Lowen said, “To be told that the reality of what 12, 13, 14 year old kids are going through is not appropriate for their age, to be told that the experience of a 12 year old on their school bus, in the schools, in their halls is rated R. I think it says a lot of about where the work needs to be done. We need to protect kids from the bullying that’s taking place in school, in our communities, but this language that’s in a film about bullying because it honestly depicts the experience of what these kids are going through.”
The Weinstein Company has released the film with no rating, so now everyone will be able to see it. Lowen says, “We really wanted this film to reach communities and we wanted it to be a starting point so that parents, educators, advocates, kids, anyone who is part of making communities and making schools a safe place for kids could have this conversation, could have an open dialogue and could do it before it gets to a point where you see tragedies like the two families in the film who lost their children because of relentless bullying.”
Cynthia Lowen believes putting a stop to bullying isn’t only about spending money on prevention programs. She says it’s more about people stepping up, to be a part of the solution, “We want to empower bystanders. Most kids aren’t bullies or bullied. Most kids are bystanders. And they have a huge capacity to make change and I think we want those kids to feel empowered and equipped to intervene and to get help, if they feel confident to step in, in the moment. I think there are tons of ways to help.”
And to again, open a dialogue for parents, educators and our children. Lowen adds, “These stories touch all of us in different ways and I think that we’re hoping the power of each of those five kids and their families can motivate each person that sees the film to make a change in the things they do every day. Just make little changes
Lee Hirsch, a Hampshire College graduate and a bullying victim, directed Bully. It’s being released this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Cynthia Lowen will hold a screening and question and answer session with the audience at the Amherst Cinema in the not too distant future. We’ll let you know the date and time.