'Bully' Director: Mitt Romney Apology 'Fell Short'

If Emmy-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch needed a real-time example to make the case he advances in Bully, his moving and deeply disturbing documentary on a shockingly ignored social problem, it’s the controversy surrounding a distasteful incident from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s prep school past.

Bully follows the lives of five families in four states and documents both the misery and mistreatment of their children at the hands of other young people and the denial and indifference with which adults in positions of responsibility treat the problem. In two of the documented cases, the stories end in the victims’ suicide. The Romney controversy erupted last week after The Washington Post reported that, while a student at Michigan’s elite Cranbrook Academy in 1965, the presidential hopeful gathered a group of friends to hunt down a classmate they suspected of being gay. When they found him, they held him down and cut off his long hair, which the boy had bleached blond.

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Romney did not deny the report but attributed it to high school "pranks” and issued a vague apology.

As Hirsch told The Hollywood Reporter, he hoped for something more.

“This could be a true presidential moment for Mitt Romney,” the director said. “My hope is that he would recognize that we are past framing bullying as horseplay or pranking around. We need our leaders to call it as it is. Part of that conversation is moving away from "kids will be kids.' ”

Hirsch, however, remains hopeful. "This is an opportunity for Romney to really lead on this issue,” he said. “His apology fell short of that. That's not to say he won't feel different after some soul searching. I would hope anyone standing for president would take the opportunity to set a clear example on this issue. We're looking to do away with language that minimizes bullying.”


One of the most enraging moments in Hirsch’s film comes when, despite the suicide of a teenager who had endured years of abuse from fellow students, a Georgia school superintendent flatly denies that bullying is a problem in her district.

Hirsch, who insists the he is “not speaking from a place of politics,” believes his documentary already is having an impact on that kind of denial. “We have built a movement that is not a political one,” he told THR. “The support for this movie has been incredibly across America , across all political lines. That is something I'm very proud of. We have worked hand-in-hand with people who are conservative” -- people who, presumably, will support Romney.

The director points out that “85,000 students have seen the film already. The school buses are pulling up to theaters around the country. The film has been screened at the White House. I'm assuming President Obama has seen it.”