We all have a moment, or even multiple, from our childhood that we look back on and wonder why that happened. It may be something that happened to us or even something we participated in. A new documentary short (coming in at about 30 minutes) When We Were Bullies is coming to HBO and HBO this week to examine just one of those moments.
The documentary follows Jay Rosenblatt as he reflects on a pivotal moment in his fifth-grade class – when everyone, including him, bullied another student. It wasn’t just a case of making fun of the other student, who is named through the film but is never shown, but where the whole class actively participated in beating up the student over something that likely wasn’t his fault. A situation where the teacher berated the class and called them “animals”.
As Jay locates other classmates who participated in that bullying, they all reflect on that moment and what it meant to them – the bullies. They talk about how it impacted them. Showing that even the bullies have a negative experience in this situation.
But what the film lacks is showing the real impact it has on students and kids being bullied. Yes, there is some impact on those doing the bullying but is it more impactful than the victim in the situation? The student who was the victim in this situation is mentioned, but never pictured. He emailed Jay once about it but cut off communication – which indicates that he doesn’t want to be involved or this story told – yet this film is now being released for everyone to know what trauma he experienced as a kid.
In a world where bullying leads to kids committing suicide daily – this seems like a misstep. It focuses on the wrong side of the story and the wrong impact of that moment. If it was a more balanced story showing both sides of bullying and how life-changing these moments could be – this documentary could be impactful and used as a learning tool. And while artfully edited, it misses a huge part of the story.
It should be noted too that if the person, who you bullied and victimized as a child, doesn’t want to participate or be part of the process – maybe this isn’t a topic that should be filmed and shared with others.
When We Were Bullies will be available on HBO and HBO Max on March 30th. This short documentary will make you think differently about those situations from your childhood and the impact that they had on others – even if they purposely leave that out of the film.
About When We Were Bullies:
Academy Award®-nominated documentary short When We Were Bullies is streaming on HBOMax March 30th. In When We Were Bullies, a coincidence leads filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt to track down his fifth-grade class and fifth-grade teacher to examine their memory of and complicity in a bullying incident 50 years ago.