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INDEPENDENT LENS: Bully (New Season Premiere)

Airs Monday, October 13, 2014 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Morning bus route, Sioux City, Iowa.

Credit: Courtesy of Michael Dwyer

Above: Morning bus route, Sioux City, Iowa.

INDEPENDENT LENS features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history. The series is supported by interactive companion web sites and national publicity and community engagement campaigns. Acclaimed actor and filmmaker Stanley Tucci hosts the series.

A beautifully cinematic, character-driven documentary, "Bully" puts a human face on the devastating impacts of the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation. At its heart are those with huge stakes in the issue: five kids and families whose stories each represent a different facet of America’s bullying epidemic. The film, shot over the course of one school year, opens a window onto the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic. and economic borders. It documents the responses of teachers and administrators to aggressive behaviors that defy “kids will be kids” clichés and captures a growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is handled in schools, communities, and society as a whole. Directed by Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch, "Bully" premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS on Monday, October 13, 2014 on PBS.


Photo credit: Courtesy of Michael Dwyer

Alex at home.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lee Hirsch

Kelby and friends, Tuttle, Oklahoma.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lee Hirsch

Devon, Town Hall Meeting, Murray County, Georgia.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lee Hirsch

Trey, Ty's best friend, Perkins, Oklahoma.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lee Hirsch

Stand for the Silent Vigil, Chattsworth, Georgia.


At the heart of preventing bullying and cruelty is creating strong, caring school communities and families. The BULLY Project has partnered with a remarkable list of educational experts to help you along the way. Explore tools and resources including a Parent Action Toolkit, 10 tips for parents, Prevention and Intervention tips for Families, Advice for Parents on Cyberbullying, Recursos en Español and much more.


“We’re proud to kick off our 13th season with 'Bully,'” said Lois Vossen, Deputy Executive Producer, INDEPENDENT LENS. “In addition to our national broadcast, which falls during Bullying Prevention month, we will be supporting the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying, a groundbreaking partnership between The BULLY Project and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which will see over 220 mayors in all 50 states host screenings of the film and convene strategy sessions as part of their commitment to National Bullying Prevention Month. We’re pleased to be part of this transformative campaign.”

Alex Libby of Sioux City, Iowa, was 12 years old when filming began and on the brink of starting seventh grade, which the arc of the film traces. Wanting more than anything to fit in, Alex assured his worried parents that the kids who taunted him daily on the bus were only “messing with him.” But as the year unfolded, the bullying Alex had experienced since elementary school continued to escalate dangerously. Today, Alex is a senior in high school; since the film was theatrically released he has spoken about his experiences to students, educators, and politicians across the country. He was also featured in Anderson Cooper’s one-hour special about the positive impact of the film, “The Bully Effect.”

Kelby Johnson, 16 at the time of the filming, was treated as a pariah in the small town of Tuttle, Oklahoma when she came out as a lesbian. In the film, Kelby powerfully describes how she went from being an all-star athlete to being forced to leave her sports teams after facing an outpouring of prejudice from classmates as well as teachers. She refused her parents’ offer to leave town, and, bolstered by her girlfriend and a few staunch friends, resolved to stay. Following the film, Kelby, who is transgender and today identifies as male, was asked to intern at Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in Washington, D.C. and visited members of Congress to speak on behalf of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) legislation.

In Yazoo County, Mississippi, 14-year-old Ja’Meya Jackson was picked on every morning and afternoon of the hour-long bus ride between home and school. One morning, the quiet honors student brandished a loaded handgun she’d taken from her mother’s closet to scare off her tormentors. Incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility with the possibility of being charged as an adult with multiple felony counts, Ja’Meya is seen in the film as she awaits the hearing that will decide her fate. Eventually released during the course of filming, she later transferred to a different school and thrived. She plans to enlist in the Armed Forces in honor of her grandfather, who also served in the military.

In October 2009, David and Tina Long’s 17-year-old son Tyler, who had Asperger’s syndrome, died by suicide after years of abuse at the hands of his classmates and indifference from school officials in Murray County, Georgia. Demanding accountability from the school that failed their son so miserably, Tyler’s parents catalyzed dialogue in their community about the widespread prevalence of unchecked bullying in one of the film’s most compelling scenes. Since filming was completed, the Longs brought their case against the Murray County School District all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, and started Everything Starts with 1, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing bullying and finding solutions in honor of Tyler.

Following the death by suicide of their 11-year-old son, Kirk and Laura Smalley of Perkins, Oklahoma were determined to prevent other children from suffering the peer-abuse Ty experienced. Seeking to change kids’ lives and raise awareness about the devastation bullying causes, the Smalleys partnered with Stand for the Silent, a nonprofit organization started by a group of students from Oklahoma State University’s Upward Bound chapter, after they heard Ty’s story. Since the film was theatrically released, the Smalleys have traveled to hundreds of schools and spoken with more than 800,000 kids, sharing their story and offering tools to prevent their tragedy from happening to another family.

The BULLY Project is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @bullymovie on Twitter. Past episodes of INDEPENDENT LENS are available for online viewing. INDEPENDENT LENS is on Facebook, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter.


“Tyler Had a Target on His Back”

In this excerpt from the Independent Lens documentary Bully, the father of Tyler, a troubled teenage boy who was tormented at school, details “the mental abuse and the not-so-physical abuse that Tyler endured“ and who might really be to blame.

Shake Hands

In this excerpt from the Independent Lens documentary Bully, an assistant principal tries to help mediate a running feud between two boys, forcing them to shake hands to let the disagreement drop. One boy has been verbally abused and threatened by the other boy and doesn’t buy that the problem will disappear.

Stand Up for the Silent

In this excerpt from the Independent Lens documentary Bully, the father of a boy who had been bullied leads kids in anti-bullying rally, imploring them to “be the difference,” to seek out that new kid who is standing by himself and be his friend. “It starts right here, right now.”

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