Reject, the documentary

While I did not set out to make a film about bullying, anyone who has seen Being Ginger will know that among other things, the film is about the long-term impact that bullying can have on a person (and trying to “get over it.”)  I’m not talking about kids calling a redhead “carrot top,” I’m talking about the kind of intense bullying I read about on a weekly basis that ends in 12-year-olds committing suicide, or worse.  With Being Ginger I tried to wrap a very serious issue in an entertaining package because I believe the best way to deliver a serious message to an audience is with humor.  But an interesting thing happens at all of my screenings, the Q&A always turns to a discussion of bullying, and during each Q&A there is a film that I continue to bring up, it’s called “Reject.”

I became friends with the filmmaker of “Reject” and because our films deal with the same central issue (all be it from two completely different perspectives) we swapped films and have been helping each other out when we can.

Reject focuses on new scientific research that shows that the emotional pain that we all feel when we are socially rejected is processed by our brain in a manner very similar to physical pain.  In other words, there is no difference between a bully beating up a classmate on a daily basis, and a bully telling that same classmate every day that they should go home and kill themselves.  The film also makes the connection between ongoing social rejection and those people who react by bringing a gun to school.  And finally, it highlights one group of educators who are trying to do something about it by enacting a simple rule in kindergarten that you can’t tell another classmate that they can’t play with you.  The belief is that starting at the earliest age possible and teaching kids that they aren’t allowed to exclude someone because they are different will have a lasting impact on all of the students as they grow up.

I remember reading a disturbing quote from a school counselor at Columbine High School, she said that what happened there had nothing to do with bullying.  She said that because she didn’t want to admit that the school had any culpability with what happened that day.  But we all know better, and now we have the scientific evidence that shows it.  It shows that the old saying about how words will never hurt you is a total lie.  While I don’t want to make blanket statements about school shootings, because blanket statements are always wrong, it is impossible to watch “Reject” and ignore the very clear connection that exists between bullying and school violence; between bullying and teenage suicide.

I don’t think there is any magic bullet to end bullying, we can’t legislate our way to making everyone be nice to each other, but I think the first step is to have everyone acknowledge the impact that school yard bullying can have on a person when they grow up.  And we need to stop acting like the victim of bullying is weak for “letting” it affect them.  In Being Ginger I shared two stories from my childhood; the most shocking element in both cases was the reaction that the teachers and principals had to what was going on.  In the 80s and 90s bullying was never taken seriously.  I think films like Reject, and Bully, and even my own film, should be required viewing by educators and parents so they can understand just how serious it really is.

Reject is currently screening at film festivals, and the director plans to screen the film in schools and communities around the US.  For more information check out their web site.