Leadership / 02.17.21
Bullied Director Offers INTIX Members Hope and a Possible Call to Action
An outstanding new documentary began streaming on Amazon Prime this past weekend. It’s called “Bullied,” and if you have school-age kids (or if you’re the grown-up victim of past bullying yourself), you absolutely need to see this film. Is it emotional and disturbing? Yes. Will it shake you up? For sure. But it is also a hopeful film.
The film’s director, Thomas Keith, is hopeful bullying can be addressed and greatly diminished within the next generation. When asked why he is so optimistic, he was quick to reply. “I look at the anti-smoking movement. These groups and organizations put together ad after ad that effectively taught kids to stop smoking. They made smoking so unbelievably uncool for kids that it dropped enormously from past generations. Most young people today don’t smoke cigarettes. They see it as disgusting and not cool. That’s what we have to make bullying. Disgusting and uncool. You’re not going to get the kind of social capital you want by bullying. That’s when you are going to see a turn.”
Keith is also adamant that the arts world, including ticketing and live event professionals, can do their part in stamping out bullying. “The arts can raise awareness in a number of different ways,” he says. “I have found that there are acting groups and theatre groups all around the country that are committed to issues of social justice. They have been putting on community-centered plays that try and raise awareness about things that are of concern to young people, including bullying.”
He continues, “On a bigger level, there are a lot of celebrities who care about this issue, as well. Lady Gaga’s organization has been very sensitive and involved in anti-bullying. Getting people who have influence with young people — actors, singers, athletes — is one of the best things. Kids look up to these people and see them as role models. Their voices really matter.”
Keith wishes there were more entertainment options out there that addressed this issue in responsible ways. “A lot of times when there is bullying in movies, plays or TV, you’ll get the exploitative stuff that was in Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why.’ Or you’ll get these ridiculous scenarios where the kid gets superpowers or something and beats up the bully. You look at it and go, ‘Oh, come on!’ That’s not realistic, and that’s not helpful either,” he says.
Fortunately, for those theaters and other venues that want to put on anti-bullying plays, there is some great material out there. Beat by Beat Press, for instance, owns the rights to “Before the Bell: A Play About Bullying.” The one-act drama revolves around a bullying incident that occurs at a high school and takes place for one 20-minute class period. Bad Wolf Press, meanwhile, offers venues the rights to stage “Bullies Anonymous.” The 25-minute musical is for grades 3-8 and takes direct aim at the problem of bullying.
When the pandemic hit and schools in the United States and around the globe were forced to move to remote learning, it was assumed that bullying came to a halt also. But that’s not the case, Keith says. “One thing is that so much of the bullying today is cyberbullying,” he says. “It’s a vastly different kind of bullying than when I was young. Bullying was face to face when I was their age. But now with cellphones and social media and all the rest, a lot of these kids are subjected to bullying 24/7. They can’t get away from it.”
He cautioned INTIX members who are also working from home not to assume that everything is OK with their teens and pre-teens just because you’re all under one roof day after day. “One thing I learned [in researching my film] is most kids will not talk to adults about being bullied. It’s common that they will be suffering these horrendous traumas, and they won’t go to Mom and Dad or other family members. They might tell their best friend, and that’s about it. We need to find ways to give kids the courage and support so they can open up to people who could really help. Many kids suffer in isolation, and the parents have no idea this is going on.”
Keith further cautions that some bullying starts in the home — that the big, bad bully in the hallway, at the lockers or on social media is often being bullied himself outside of school. According to Keith, “kids are being bullied at home by an older brother, a parent or whomever, and they eventually go and bully other kids. Every single expert who I talked to for this film told me that kids who are both bullied and bullies are at the highest risk of suicide. They’re carrying around the greatest weight. When people say, ‘zero tolerance … just kick ’em out,’ they don’t realize that a lot of these bullies have deep problems, too. They need counseling and help, and there isn’t a lot of compassion for them unfortunately. That’s the school-to-prison pipeline you hear about.”
Bullying isn’t exclusively a children’s issue either. Such behavior has been known to show up in all sorts of workplaces and social settings. Last year, for instance, former University of Iowa offensive lineman Jack Kallenberger took to Twitter to announce his retirement from football after he became despondent because of what he described as “bullying related to a learning disability.”
As mentioned earlier, Keith and his crew were able to make a hopeful film — a film that points to various successful anti-bullying campaigns around the country. “I wouldn’t have made this film if I couldn’t also include the steps, the programs, the things schools and parents can do and are doing to bring about a reduction in bullying,” he says. “I wasn’t an expert in bullying. I went to the experts at leading universities around this nation. They sat down with me, and they laid it out. ‘Here is the evidence, and here are the programs that work.’”
What gives Keith the most hope is young people themselves. In addition to being a filmmaker, Keith is also a professor of philosophy at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona and gender studies at Claremont Graduate University. “I don’t just teach young people,” he says, “I am around them all of the time. They’re more politically active than any generation I’ve taught. They think differently. They are involved. They want to be part of solutions. They’re more progressive in many ways, whether it’s about the environment or their support of LGBTQ people, who are at the highest risk of bullying of any demographic group in the entire world, by the way. My optimism is with them, with the youth.”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Leadership , Inclusion