On Tuesday night Meryl Streep hosted an advanced screening of Lee Hirsch’s new documentary, Bully, at the Paley Center for Media. Bully is a film that follows the lives of six families and children for whom taunting, teasing and violence has been an unlivable problem. Celebrity anti-bullying advocates sounded off on the MPAA’s controversial R rating for the film, how the film resonated with their own experiences and how Dhuran Ravi’s conviction of a hate crime, in the death of Tyler Clementi, is raising questions about the line between youthful pranks and serious criminal acts
“I was really upset when I saw it,” Ms. Streep said of Bully. “When I watched it, it brought me back to New Jersey in ninteen fifty. . .—a long time ago. I was eight years old and up a tree and a group of kids was below me and my nemisis, this one bully, was hitting my legs with a stick until they bled,” she said. “It was very lord of the flies—a very nice Republican community.”
We’re not touching that last one.
Although Martha Stewart can’t recall being bullied—she was “pretty big and strong and certainly didn’t bully anybody—” she attended the screening because bullying is a phenomena that needs to be publicized and addressed.
Billie Jean King, like Meryl—but unlike Martha—also remembers being bullied.
“I’d be going home and he’d stop me and start just making me feel really scared, and obviously, being gay was really difficult.”
Ms. King told Velvet Roper that she’d hid her sexuality for a long time until finally being outed in her thirties—the decision to publicly identify as a lesbian—or not—had been taken away from her.
“People called me a slut and called me a horrible person and then I could tell who my real friends were though,” Ms. King said. “You start to learn about yourself and about the world, the way it really works.”
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Julie Taymor said, when asked what she thought about Bully’‘s R rating. But this isn’t the first time the MPAA has caught Ms. Taymor’s ire. “On Across the Universe we had to fuzz out one nipple of the character Lucy, how is that going to endanger anybody?” she mused. “And also in Titus, I had to fight for an R rating because there was a little bit of nudity. I think that the MPAA is completely on the wrong end of things. It’s okay to have violence but you can’t have love . . ? I find it appalling what is allowed and what isn’t allowed.”
As far as Mr. Ravi is concerned, Ms. Taymor, is uncertain how he should be treated.
“I don’t know about the sentence for him,” she said. “I don’t know whether it was a hate crime or whether it was really just being mean and nasty . . . It is terrible, but is he a murderer? I don’t think that was his intention and there’s plenty of hate crimes where that is the intention. Bullying yes, it probably was bullying.”
Ms. King agrees. without a precedent, it’s unclear how this case should be treated.
“I think it’s probably a little bit of an overreaction but I think it brought the subject matter to the forefront, which is good,” she said. “He didn’t kill him. I’m not sure what the sentence should be exactly . . . He’s young too and you hope he can change. I hate it when I see a young child make a huge mistake and not have a chance to change.”
Mr. Hirsch, described Mr. Clementi’s death as “a total tragedy,” adding that he’s spent the last three years reading about suicides all over this country that don’t make national headlines.
“Each one is so upsetting and many of them don’t receive [that] kind of attention, but for me, because it’s the work that I do, I’m engaged with so many of these families and it just always breaks my heart.” Mr. Hirsch said. “His death, of course was a heartbreak. Any death like that is so sad.”
Mr. Hirsch said that despite the tough topics he tackles in his work, the reward outweighs the hardship.
“I get a lot of energy from the people that write us and tell us that we’re making a difference for them,” he said. “I’m probably on a huge deep well of adrenaline and just feeling like this is the moment and I’ve just got to push as hard as I can and keep trying to make that difference. I’m tired but I’m also energized all the time.”
Ms. Taymor said she believes strongly in hate crime legislation and believes it should be extended to cover transgendered and gay persons as well as women.
“I think what goes on everywhere all over the world with the bullying that women go through with honor killings and rape,” she said. “. . . With what’s gone on in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the United States with how women are constantly bullied. But I think we take it for granted. We just say, ‘Oh, that’s private, it’s in the home,’ but I don’t think that, so I hope it just explodes into talking about women. They’re bullied and they’re abused and they’re frightened and that’s a hate crime because men do it because they can and because women are considered less, less than human.”
Before the film began, Regency Boies told a story about her time in high school with Ms. Streep’s duaghter, Mamie.
“I saw her, on more than a few occasions, come to the rescue of some of our classmates that were being ridiculed, when none of the rest of us were brave enough to defend them,” Ms. Boies said. “I know that it is the integrity and the kindness that you instilled in Mamie that is bringing you here today and thank God we have your voice.”
When Ms. Streep heard this she was almost moved to tears, covering her mouth with her hands.
“I didn’t know that story about Mamie, she said as she introduced the film. “Now I have to recover because that’s just so great to hear. You never know what they’re doing at school.”
The crowd laughed and Ms. Streep added one more sentiment.
“A team is stronger than a bully . . . Tell absolutely everyone that it (Bully) should have the MPAA rating of PG-13 . . . or PG.”
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