Bullying is the act of intentionally wounding or humiliating others in the pursuit of popularity or dominance. Real stories of fallen victims, interviews of downhearted loved ones, and eye-opening research make up Thomas Keith’s Bullied, an insightful documentary that will break your heart.
The opening title sequence compiles real-life footage of bully-related incidents. The shameless violence and unshrinking choler as witnessed in the video is genuinely disturbing. While the faces are blurred, it is hard to believe that a teenager is capable of so much ill will against another teenager to the point of physically harming them. The prevalence of bullying has made it, so students don’t feel safe at school or in their homes. The influence of social media has made it easier for students to say ill-natured things to each other. Nowadays, bullies can hide behind a screen.
The first interview is of Kirk Smalley, whose 11-year-old son Ty took his own life after being bullied for being considered short. Smalley is now an advocate for Stand for the Silent, an anti-bullying organization founded after his son’s tragic passing. Following that is an interview with Adriana Galvan, a behavioral neuroscience specialist. She believes that the reason for a teenager’s compulsivity and vulnerability has to do with the laggard development of the prefrontal cortex.
Keith also talks to professors, authors, and loved ones of suicide victims, collating well-founded information and palpable heartache to communicate the dire effects of bullying. The professors and authors provide a unique perspective on bullying and teen suicide, which is an epidemic in and of itself. Chunyan Yang of U.C. Berkeley thinks that teen suicide rates are semi-related to seasonal change. Samuel Song of the University of Nevada perceives school as a hierarchy, where students seek to obtain respect and popularity by putting others down. More often than not, minorities are at greater risk of being bullied and contemplating suicide, which the film tackles with great detail.
“…dives into bully culture…”
The real-life stories of Ty Smalley, Gabriel Taye, Amanda Todd, and Eric James Borges convey just how devastating their loss was to the people close to them. They were all victims of bullying, and while there is nothing that can bring them back, spreading awareness and remaining vocal on the matter of bullying can save a young life. Keith’s engrossing movie is acutely upsetting but necessary and urgent. Bullied is not the first documentary to approach the subject of bullying, but it is one of the more compelling and exhaustive ones to come out in quite some time.
More interestingly, the film dives into bully culture, which, in turn, establishes newfound relevance. Jennifer Pozner is the author of “Reality Bites Back” and explains how reality TV is exploiting female hostility for entertainment (watch any Real Housewives). Most of the time, through editing or frankenbiting, the acrimony between reality TV stars is completely fabricated. Through media, young impressionable viewers may get the wrong idea about how people interact with others, hence the superior mentality they may nurture. The fashion in which Keith connects bullying to media (referencing the ridiculously insensitive 13 Reasons Why) is not unheard of, but it still effectively broadens the conversation.
In addition to yielding credible research on bullying and real-life stories of those who took their own life, the movie scrutinizes the deeper implications media has on bullying. There are athletes, politicians, and artists who perpetuate the bully culture through their blinkered beliefs and baneful comments. As expected, the reign of Donald Trump did not help soothe this culture.
While Bullied is structurally bloated, it is a compendious documentary that forces one to ponder the long-term ramifications of bullying and why it still exists — and what can be done to minimize the risk of bullying and suicide ideation.
"…engrossing...acutely upsetting but necessary and urgent."