For any person who was on social media like “Bebo” in the mid-to-late 00s, the introduction of a black and white YouTube video featuring someone telling their story of bullying via note cards will feel not only nostalgic but all too familiar.
Thomas Keith’s documentary looks at bullying and the corresponding suicides of young people and asks why this has happened. Keith makes a compelling case for why people are bullied – their race, social standing, sexuality are all invoked in case studies that explore what has driven young people to take their own lives.
The documentary makes it clear that there is a correlation between school time and suicide rates in young people, and a dramatic dip in them when young people are not in school. He also makes sure to show the role the media has in the onslaught of suicides and bullying that occur. It’s clear that Keith is passionate about showing the world what happens when you bully that the effect can be devastating. While using shocking CCTV and phone footage of vicious physical attacks on people, and speaking with those left behind in the wake of suicide we come to understand that there could be something obvious to blame.
Keith shows us sports stars, rappers, media personalities, and political pundits engaging in casual homophobia, calling people “f*****s” and spreading hatred, but in his most genius move, Keith allows the double standard that has infested the White House for four years to do the most damning talking. Keith puts the clip of First Lady Melania Trump speaking of her “Be Best” campaign and the need to be kinder to one another against President Donald Trump’s infamous mockery of a disabled reporter, and his dismissive summary of bullying – “get over it”.
What’s clear is that if you elect people who are homophobic, who are racist, who are ableist, who hold hateful views and say hateful things you legitimise them, and that eventually trickles down to children who believe it is okay to abuse others. Keith also shows that the media obsession with Real Housewives and reality TV where aggression and insult throwing is the main appeal is damaging people’s abilities to communicate. As well as a drama like 13 Reasons Why glamorises the act of suicide and provides a handy “how-to” for those looking to take their life.
The flaws are technical ones, at a slender sixty-seven-minute runtime the film really glosses over every subject it looks at and only fleetingly engages with the points it makes. It’s also a fairly poorly put-together documentary, the audio of the interviews as well as the actual footage of those interviewed is often of a less than ideal quality. It at times looks like a school project rather than an actual film and only engages in the worst-case scenario of suicide rather than what bullying can do to a person who refuses to take their life.
It also doesn’t help that its LGBTQ case study suggests that transgender people are more likely to commit suicide than gay, lesbian, or bisexual people but then doesn’t looking into cases of it.
What the film attempts to do by its end is offer a solution in education, the very institution that has failed these children for so long, instead of the wider need for accountability for ones words and actions. Given it’s been ten years since the formation of the It Gets Better Project it’s time to start asking, when will it actually start getting better?
Dir. Thomas Keith
Scr. Thomas Keith
Prd. Thomas Keith
DOP: James Bustamante, Ray Wolf
Music. Billy Mason
Runtime: 67 minutes
Bullied is available now on TUBI