David and Tina Long, whose son Tyler, then 17, committed suicide in his Chatsworth home in October 2009, are suing Murray County Schools and Murray County High School Principal Gina Linder in federal court in Rome, claiming their son killed himself because he was being bullied at school. The lawsuit claims school officials knew about the bullying and failed to prevent it.
The Longs’ story is one of several featured in “Bully,” directed by Lee Hirsch. The film will play at the Rave in East Ridge, Tenn., starting April 20 for at least two weeks and will be treated as non-rated.
“Bully” has generated outcries from several parties. Proponents at first objected to its “R” rating, given because of curse words, saying it needs to be available to high school and middle school students. The Motion Picture Association of America later stripped the documentary of any rating, then rated a re-edited version of it PG-13.
More recently, “The Slate,” an online publication, criticized Hirsch for what writer Emily Bazelon said is a one-sided presentation. Bazelon says “Bully” neglected to mention several of Tyler’s alleged personal and psychiatric problems that might have led him to commit suicide, as well as the fact he had Asperger’s, which is a mild form of autism. She also criticizes the film for not including more of the school system’s perspective.
Contacted last Thursday, “Bully” producer Cynthia Lowen said those involved in the documentary are “very familiar” with the court documents, which include the school system’s perspective and its statements about Tyler’s mental health history. Lowen said school officials were invited to a public forum on bullying in 2010 but chose not to attend, and their attorney also declined to comment, saying the case would be tried in court. She said filmmakers were drawn to the Longs’ “courage” in seeking to bring the community together to fight bullying through a public forum and other discussions, and they chose to present the story from that angle.
In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, Hirsch said the “fact that Tyler was on the (autism) spectrum does not reduce the school system’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment.”
“Bully” opens to the top 55 markets in the United States on Friday and will expand later to other markets.
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