Councilman pushes for ‘Bully’ Screening                                                                    

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Monday, 19 March 2012 18:49

    At Large Democratic City Councilmember Jim Kenney. — PHOTO/OFFICE OF JIM KENNEY
If kids curse in school or with their friends already, then there’s no reason the dropping of a few F-bombs should deter these same kids from learning anti-bullying techniques.

And to be subjected to hearing that word five times through a documentary that is 90-plus minutes long is well worth it, if it can help the thousands of youth facing one form of harassment or the other, says one prominent local politician.

At-Large City Councilman James Kenney is pushing an effort for the film “Bully” to be shown to area middle-school students; the problem is the Motion Picture Association of America has given the Lee Hirsch-directed documentary an “R” rating — which means that children under 18 cannot see the movie without being accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“We’re trying to concentrate on sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students; those not yet in high school,” Kenney said. “Because by the time they become juniors, [the documentary] is nice to see, but it’s not quite as urgent.

“The kids I’m trying to get are not the ones doing the bullying or the ones being bullied, but the ones that see or witness the bullying and maybe don’t know what to do,” Kenney continued. “All it takes is for one person to reach out, or a group of people reaches out, and brings that person in to their circle.”

Kenney referenced the recent bullying case of Nadin Khoury, who was assaulted by a group of teens who dragged Khoury through the snow and hung him by his jacket from a wrought-iron fence. That case drew the attention of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who publicly backed Khoury while admonishing his abusers.

“We especially need our athletes, leaders and scholars to stand up and say, ‘This is our guy now,’” Kenney said. “The impact this [bullying] has on their lives needs to be understood. It can’t [produce] a very fun environment; it’s not good for learning or self-esteem.”

“Bully” follows the lives of five school kids for a full school year, documenting the effects bullying had on them and their families. The movie is set to open March 31 in New York and Los Angeles; the movie will open here sometime in April.

Kenney understands that while the school district has been welcoming of his idea, it can’t move unless the MPAA lowers the rating of “Bully.” Toward that end, Kenney has petitioned the MPAA by way of a letter-mailing campaign and a signature list; interested parties can sign the petition at Change.org; Kenney has also enlisted the help of Safe Schools advocate Kelly Hodge and the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League to help spread the world, and he has also posted updates and links on his Facebook page.

In his letter to the MPAA, Kenney wrote “the film has a vitally important and powerful message that can open the eyes of all students to the pain and real consequences of bullying other students.

“Philadelphia has our own problem trying to confront the issue of violence and bullying in our schools…Rightly or wrongly, the use of the “F” word is common among many of our young people,” Kenney’s statement continued. “It is a reality to hear the “F” word uttered by teenagers — and it’s a sad reality that bullying and violence is epidemic in our schools. That is why I would ask you to reconsider your “R” rating for the film ‘Bully’ and change the designation to a ‘PG-13’ so that thousands of young people can see this vitally important film.”

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, chair of Council’s education committee, fully supports Kenney’s initiative and applauded Kenney for pushing the issue. A former educator, Reynolds Brown knows it’s a “fine and narrow line” by allowing kids to see a movie with such coarse language, but the outcomes will be worth it.

“When you look at who this movie is about, who the target audience is, and who will benefit, it’s the very young people, under 13 in middle school,” Reynolds Brown said, mentioning that Kenney has been at the forefront ever since he approached Reynolds Brown more than a year ago to seek support for this project. “And for the audience the movie is targeting, sad to say, many of our kids hear the word all the time.

“The over-arching purpose absolutely outweighs five ‘F’ words,” Reynolds Brown continued. “Given the purpose and audience we’re trying to reach and aspire to not engage in this ugly activity, I fully stand by Councilman Kenney and I credit him for extending to my office an opportunity to work with him and the school district.”

Kenney says it will cost $50,000 to get the local of-grade students to view this film, and he is in the process of setting up fundraisers — which is part of a nationwide initiative to get 1,000,000 students to watch the documentary.

“We are trying to raise outside money, but if we can’t get a ratings change, no district can cooperate,” Kenney said, noting that City Council has passed a resolution in support of screening the documentary. “Now sadly, the word really has no meaning and is used so frequently; sad to say, our kids are using the word.

“So I don’t think language should be an obstacle to kids viewing this film.”

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or
dwilliams@phillytrib.com
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