Australian Council on Children and the Media

Bully

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Not suitable under 13, parental guidance to 15 (Violence; Disturbing themes andscenes; Coarse language)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Bully
  • a review of Bully completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 27 August 2012.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not suitable due to violence, disturbing themes and scenes and coarse language.
Children aged 13-15 Parental guidance due to disturbing themes and scenes

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Bully
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes and coarse language
Length 98 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Bully is a documentary film that graphically depicts peer-to-peer bullying in middle schools across America. The film opens with David Long’s disturbingstory of his son Tyler’s constant bullying at the hands of his school peers which led to his suicide at the age of 17.

Bully then goes on to track the bullying and abuse endured by threeschool children over the period of a school year. Alex Libby, a 12-year-old boy in Iowa is brutally taunted and physical intimidated on a daily basis while travelling on the school bus.Alex’s victimisation becomes so serious and threatening that the film makers become fearful for his safety and break with protocol by showing the film footage to Alex’s parents, school authorities and the police.    

Kelby Johnson is a 16 year-old girl in Oklahoma who is bullied and ostracised for being gay. There is also 14 year-old Ja’Maya Jackson from Mississippi who, after years of being bullied and victimised, reacted by taking a loaded gun on to her school bus and used it to threaten her tormentors. The film also depicts a second tragic suicide - that of 11 year-old Ty Smalley. We see his parents attending their son’s funeral and their participation in an anti-bullying organisation called Stand for the Silent.

The documentary illustrates how bullying is such an entrenched and complex problem that school administrators seem unable to make their schools a safe environment for students.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Bullying; suicide; violence in schools

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

The film contains scenes of brutal taunting, victimisation, verbal abuse, social ostracism, physical intimidation, and associated emotional trauma involving school students. Examples include:

  • An emotional account of how Tyler Long’s family discovered their son’s body hanging in his closet after he committed suicide. His mother describes how her husband had found their son’s body hanging in the closet and how his younger brother had also seen Tyler’s body. We hear how Tyler’s suicide was a direct result of bullying and how following Tyler’s suicide, a number of students went to school with nooses tied around their necks.  
  • Tyler Long’s father tells how his son had been emotionally tormented and bullied by his classmates including being shoved into school lockers, having his clothes stolen during gym and being forced to walk naked through the gym, being pushed against urinals causing Tyler to urinate on himself, and being told by classmates that he was worthless and to “go hang himself”. 
  • On a school bus we see 12 year-old Alex being taunted and physically assaulted by teenage boys. We see Alex repeatedly hit in the head with a pencil, punched in the neck and back, he has his head rammed into the back of a bus seat, one boy threatens to stab him, we hear a boy telling Alex that he was going to break his Adam’s apple and that it was going to kill him (Alex), one boy threatens to cut Alex’s face off, one boy tells Alex “I will fucking end you and shove a broomstick up your arse”. 
  • 16 year-old Kelby Johnson tells of her experience of being victimised as a result of her sexual preferences. She tells how she was thrown up onto the windshield of a pickup truck when she was purposely rammed by a group of teen boys who disliked gays. Kelby refers to herself as a former “cutter” (self mutilation), and that she attempted suicide three times.  
  • We see surveillance film of 14 year-old Ja’Meya Jackson on a school bus holding a gun and waving it about and shouting threats at multiple teens on the bus as she walked down the aisle. A teen boy tackles her and we hear him shout “I’ve got it” referring to the gun. Later we hear Ja’Maya telling how she had bought the gun onto the school bus in order to stand up for herself and scare students that were bullying her calling her names and threatening to beat her up.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of eight, including the following:

  • We see a very emotional funeral procession of 11 year-old Ty Smalley including pallbearers (one a eleven year-old boy) carrying Ty’s casket. We see Ty’s open casket and an 11 year-old boy crying and touching Ty’s (unseen) body, and we see Ty’s casket being lowered into the ground.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by the above scenes.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group, particularly those who have been victims of bullying, may also be disturbed by the above mentioned violent and disturbing scenes and by the reaction of teachers. For example

  • An upset boy holding an icepack to his head approaches a teacher. The boy tells the teacher that another boy slammed his head into a nail, and we hear a second boy say “He got hit pretty good”. The teacher checks the boy’s head and after finding no wound dismisses the boy’s complaint.  
  • Kelby reports that one of her teachers had taught in class that homosexuals were burned at the stake, deliberately directing the class attention towards Kelby.      

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Children in this age group, and some adults, are likely to be disturbed by some of the above-mentioned scenes. This is particularly true for those who have themselves been victims of bullying.

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

Bully contains occasional low-level sexual references. Examples include:

A teenage girl states that she is gay and several other teen girls say that they are straight while another girl says that she is “K-gay”.

Students say that they had been called “faggots” and “fags”. 

 

 

 

 

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some sexual activity in this movie, including:

Kelby holds another girl’s hand and we later see the two girls with their arms wrapped around each other.

Use of substances

None of concern.

Coarse language

Bully contains some explicit coarse language, putdowns and name calling. Examples include:

geek; faggot; fish face; jerk; spaz; oh my god; load of crap; I will fucking end you; fuck you up; shove a broom stick up your arse; pussy; dumb arse; I’m his bitch  

In a nutshell

Bully is a frank and hard-hitting documentary about bullying in American middle and high schools. The film profiles several victims of bullying over a one year period, exploring not only the direct impact of bullying on the victim, but also on the victim’s family and community. It is not designed to entertain but to inform, and istoo intense for younger teens and some in the older audience, particularly those who have themselves been victims of bullying. The reaction of some teachers is particularly disturbing.

The main message from this movie is that bullying is a serious problem of epidemic proportions across American schools, leading to the destruction oflives. Solving issues of bullying and protecting the victims of bullying requires a holistic approach by schools, students, parents and the general community. Parents may wish to discuss with their children whether the problem in Australian schools is of the same magnitude.

Parents may also wish to discuss the problems associated with telling children to “stand up for themselves” without any specific instructions on how to do it. Both Alex and Ja’Maya were told by their parents that they had to stand up for themselves but in neither case did the parents offer specific instructions on how their child was to achieve this very difficult task. In Ja’Maya’s case it resulted in her taking a loaded gun onto her school bus and facing the possibility of years behind bars.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Resilience in the face of adversity: Tyler’s parents demonstrated resilience in their ability to continue functioning and support their other children through the difficult time after their son’s suicide, while Ty’s parents joined support groups and found ways of making the general public aware of the devastation caused by peer bullying at school.    

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