Addressing the dynamics of bullying on screen and in schools

This week in North Philly Notes, Laura Martocci, author of Bullying, pens an open letter about the recent film A Girl Like Her about teenage bullying. 

To Whom It May Concern:

Bullying is hardly a new topic—in fact, it is so well-worn that most teens roll their eyes at the word. They know what we want to hear, and what answers they need to give before we’ll let them go back to their iPhones.

Perhaps this is because we try to speak, without ever really having listened.
Amy Weber, writer/director of A Girl Like Her, listened—and it is obvious in the movie she made and the characters she created.

downloadAvery (Hunter King), Brian (Jimmy Bennett), and Jessica (Lexi Ainsworth), cast in the roles of bully, bystander, and victim, respectively, bring complex, often conflicting motivations to their characters. As viewers, we get to watch the drama unfold from each of their perspectives. Ms. Weber garners sympathy for the “over-the-top” behavior of her antagonist (bully) through a plot device that puts a video-diary in her hands. We not only get a glimpse of how Avery sees things (mostly, her narcissism doesn’t allow her to see them at all) but also come to understand her choices through the context of her family. While this may not be enough to exonerate her, it does make her much more than a mouthpiece, and situates her choices as important “talking points” in the movie. 

Do her choices ring true?

What would the bully at your school do?

Similar questions surface around Brian, Jessica’s supportive friend. Brian not only listens, he enables Jessica to take actions that document the bullying. Hidden-camera videos at first help sustain Jessica by preventing her from slipping into denial about the abuse. However, Jessica ultimately cannot negotiate the onslaught, and takes drastic action. Attempting to come to terms with what Jessica has done, Brian is torn between his loyalty to her and a community desperately seeking answers.

Bullying_smBystanders do not need to witness a drastic action in order to wonder what they should do, whom they might tell, and what/how much they should say. How they think about and sort these questions is another important talking point that is facilitated by the film. Is telling someone “tattling” or “supporting the victim”?

Finally, there is Jessica, the victim. We see her torment, and in itself, this is a talking point. Would anyone at your school ever be victimized like this? (Hint, the ready answer is, of course, “No.” “No” is the start of the conversation.)

A Girl Like Her understands that bullying is not only—or even primarily—about specific bad behaviors, but about the dynamics that support these behaviors, the conflicts that paralyze action, and the nuances through which teen dramas are played out.  Our children cannot engage bullying as a topic unless the conversation around it is authentic. Weber’s film captures the complexities that signal authenticity, making it a very good place to start that conversation.

This is an important movie, one I would not only want my daughters to see, but to see in an environment that would facilitate discussion around it.

Sincerely,

Laura Martocci

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