Two of the subjects of the documentary "Bully" - Alex Libby (left) and Kelby Johnson (right) - pose with actress Victoria Justice at Monday's premiere of the film in Los Angeles. It is to be released in theaters - those that will run it without a rating - on Friday.
Two of the subjects of the documentary "Bully" - Alex Libby (left) and Kelby Johnson (right) - pose with actress Victoria Justice at Monday's premiere of the film in Los Angeles. It is to be released in theaters - those that will run it without a rating - on Friday. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: March 29, 2012

IT'S BEEN a little over a year since Upper Darby teen Nadin Khoury was wedged into a tree, dragged on the ground and hung by his coat on a 7-foot-high metal fence by seven teens who videotaped the assault and posted it on YouTube.

After the video went viral, the bullies were caught and Khoury, then 13, was invited on "The View," where he got the surprise of his life: an on-air show of support from his hero, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, accompanied by guard Todd Herremans and (then) center Jamaal Jackson.

Jackson stripped off his Eagles jersey and handed it to a weeping Khoury. Then Jackson gave him what every bullied child prays for: a promise of protection.

"Anytime ever you need us, I got two linemen right here," Jackson said, nodding to his massive teammates. "Anytime you need something, my boys are ready."

It was a stunning moment, a vindication for the Khourys of the world - kids whose shy temperament, bookish nature or odd affect invites torment from kids void of empathy.

But it was also a rare moment, since most bullied kids are not lucky enough - and I use that word ironically - to have their torment documented in a way that prompts rescue from big, strong football players.

Who will rescue those kids?

I thought of Khoury's relief last week, when I sat through an advance screening of "Bully," the heartbreaking new documentary by director Lee Hirsch that follows three teens horribly abused by peers. It also chronicles the heartache of two families whose bullied kids committed suicide. Their parents' grief is devastating to see.

The screening was hosted by City Councilman Jim Kenney, who wants every public - and parochial - school student in the city see the the film. He hopes to spark discussion about how to eliminate bullying, which director Hirsch says affects five million kids a year, making it "the most common form of violence young people in this country experience."

The premiere of "Bully" has been preceded by an ear-bleeding screech about its original "R" rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, because the "f" word is heard five times in the film. Since kids under 17 can't attend an R movie without a parent, critics argued, "Bully" wouldn't be viewed by enough of those who need to see it the most: bullies, the kids they harm, and the parents and school administrators who dismiss its violence as "kids being kids."

So, the movie will now be released in New York and Los Angeles on Friday without a rating at all. That brings the possibility that no one under 17 will be able to see it, whether they're accompanied by a parent or not.

The crisis would be moot if director Hirsch simply bleeped out the "f" word, which would give "Bully" a PG-13 rating. Having seen the movie, trust me, the audience knows exactly what's being said, and its impact. The purity of the message is hardly diluted as viewers see kids being beaten, strangled and terrorized.

That's what one of the film's protagonists, 12-year-old Alex, endures from the moment he leaves his Sioux City, Iowa, home in the morning until he escapes the school bus - a wheeled house of horrors - at the end of the day.

Kelby, a 16-year-old lesbian in Tuttle, Okla., is bullied not just by classmates and sports teammates but by her teachers, community and church members. Her parents, too, are shunned by the town that had embraced them before Kelby came out.

And Ja'Mea, 17, is so abused on her long bus ride in Yazoo County, Mich., that she retaliates by threatening her tormenters with a loaded gun. Arrested on felony gun charges, she faces a lengthy prison sentence.

Their stories are horrible. But at least the children are alive to tell them. Not so Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, who, their parents contend, said "No more" to bullying by committing suicide.

These tales need to be heard, and "Bully" tells them in a raw, riveting way that may, at last, prompt a national cry for an end to this everyday violence. The kind that once made a sweet kid like Nadin Khoury afraid to simply walk home from school.

DeSean Jackson, bless his heart, came to Khoury's rescue. For the millions of children still suffering, "Bully" could light a fire under the rest of us.

But only if enough of us see it.

Email Call 215-854-2217. Blog: Twitter: @RonniePhilly.

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