Don’t show ‘Bully’ at school

By Anne Collier

At least not without a thorough, balanced discussion about both the film and reporter Emily Bazelon’s review of it in Slate. But this is highly emotional content for a thoughtful media literacy discussion!

As far as I’ve seen, coverage of the documentary film, by Lee Hirsch, has been uncritical because, quite naturally, criticism of a film depicting the suicides of young people is going to be criticized. So here’s a reviewer whose coverage of another teen’s suicide, that of Phoebe Prince in Massachusetts, was as in-depth, balanced, and thoughtful as I’ve seen (here’s my post on that), and what Bazelon says of “Bully” is that “the stated mission of this movie is to portray the problem of bullying honestly and accurately. By taking the parents’ side so completely,” she writes, referring to the parents of Tyler Long, who committed suicide in 2009, “and leaving out all the information that doesn’t fit his narrative [such as any information about the boy’s history of ADHD, bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s], Hirsch oversimplifies and distorts” what is meant to be a teaching tool about bullying. But the “teaching tool” could put young viewers at risk, according to Ann Haas, a senior project specialist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, who Bazelon interviewed about “Bully.” “By presenting such an incomplete version of the facts,” Bazelon writes of what she learned from Haas, “Hirsch has created a real risk of suicide contagion – the documented phenomenon of people mimicking suicidal behavior in light of media representations.” If you’re even thinking about holding a screening of this film for young people, first please read Bazelon’s review and, ideally, talk with a risk or suicide prevention expert.

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