“Bully,” a gut-wrenching documentary by filmmaker Lee Hirsch chronicling the bullying epidemic in America’s schools, opens in theaters across the country Friday, but not in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Released by the Weinstein Company, the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011 and opened for limited engagements in Los Angeles and New York March 30. “Bully” is set to expand into a total of 55 markets on Friday.
However, managers at both the Edwards Valencia and Edwards Canyon Country theater complexes, owned by the Regal Entertainment Group, confirmed Thursday and today, respectively, that the movie won’t screen at either location.
“The corporate office decides what we get,” said Audrey Watts, Edwards Valencia manager, adding that Regal’s decision is based on how well the company thinks the film will do at the box office. “We usually don’t get the more artsy or documentary films.”
“We’re the designated arts theater in the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Katriana Lahero, Edwards Canyon Country manager. As of Tuesday, though, “Bully” was not on the schedule of films opening there Friday.
“Bully” has earned generally positive reviews in its limited engagement. It was released to theaters unrated after the Motion Picture Association of America wanted to assign it an R (restricted) rating due to a half-dozen instances of the f-word being used by school bullies. After much controversy that called into question the relevance of the current movie ratings, a compromise was reached. The filmmakers edited “Bully” to soften the f-bombs, and the film was granted a PG-13 rating.
Thirteen million students will be bullied in the United States this year, and three million kids are absent each month because they feel unsafe at school, according to statistics on the “Bully Project” website.
“I think everyone should see ‘Bully,’ because it shows in graphic detail what it’s like to be bullied, and I think that bullies should see the impact they have on kids,” said Marisa Watkins, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.
A graduating student at Sequoia Charter School and in the Transitional Learning Center program at College of the Canyons, the 18-year-old Stevenson Ranch resident was taunted, mocked and physically bullied in junior and senior high school (Rio Norte, Golden Valley and Canyon), and has been involved in anti-bullying efforts at local schools for several years.
“Some kids get bullied so much, they don’t want to live anymore,” Watkins said. “They just want to stay home from school. They’re afraid. They build up phobias about going to school. That’s where I was, basically, last year.” After a bullying incident at Canyon High, she said, “I didn’t want to go to school for three months.”
With help from a therapeutic behavioral therapist, Watkins was able to recover from the most recent episode and get back into school, but at Sequoia, in Saugus. “There’s no bullying at Sequoia,” she said. “I’ve never been bullied there.”
A Special Olympics athlete and coach with 53 gold medals in a variety of sports, including snowboarding and skiiing, Watkins serves as the organization’s Global Ambassador, speaking at schools and fundraisers designed to raise awareness of its services and resources for special-needs students in and around the Santa Clarita Valley.
She is also a coordinator for Project Unify, a Special Olympics-related inclusion program at West Ranch High School that combats bullying, both physical and verbal. Project Unify is mounting a “Spread the Word, End the Word” campaign to stop people from using the “R-word” (retard). West Ranch students also started a club called the “Special Olympics Society” that helps with volunteering and fundraising.
While the “Bully” documentary focuses on special-needs students terrorized in schools in the American Midwest and South, it’s a national problem, and as Watkins and her peers can tell you, bullying is just as prevalent in the Santa Clarita Valley as anywhere else.
“Most of the time when they’re bullied, some kids react,” Watkins said. “Autistic and Asperger’s kids get bullied the most because they’re either stuck in a conversation or they become different because they stick out if they’re having a meltdown,” Watkins said. “That’s when they get bullied the most, because some people with autism are non-verbal. They make noises, and that’s how they try and communicate.
“And kids say, ‘What’s wrong with this kid? Are they a freak?'” she said. “Or they use the R-word. The R-word is ‘retard,’ but the new R-word is ‘respect.’ Every kid with special needs, and adults, needs to have respect.”
Watkins urges students who are being bullied to tell their school administrators.
“Bully” is now showing at the Arclight Hollywood, Landmark and AMC Century City theaters in Los Angeles. Santa Clarita Valley residents may “demand” that “Bully” be screened here by voting online.
Kim Goldman, SCV Youth Project executive director, understands the film not opening here may be a business decision. “But from an emotional side, from someone who’s in the community, who sees the value of it…I just watched the trailer. It’s powerful. I’m sitting in my car, crying, watching, because it’s so incredibly powerful, and it”s all out of the mouths of babes, it’s from their voice. It’s so touching. And it’s a shame that our community, being as youth-focused and family-focused as we are, would miss the opportunity to pull ourselves together as a community and to take care of each other and talk about something that all of our kids are actually faced with.”