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My emotional take to news [reports that Mitt Romney bullied other students in high school] was: “Here was an incredible opportunity for him to really step up.” It could have been a very presidential moment. He could have said, “Forty years ago, we as a society looked at bullying as ‘kids will be kids’ and ‘boys will be boys.’ The reality is that this is no longer OK.” In a gentle way, I invited him to go see the film [Bully] and rethink how he might communicate around this. He’d have such enormous support if he said, “The way we looked at it then isn’t acceptable anymore.” It has nothing to do with politics. It’s something that’s deeply relevant in every community. Instead, he dismissed it as horsing around and pranking.
I was bullied for many years. I’m actually going to Penn Station right now to get on a train and visit my father for his 93rd birthday. I’m only 39, so my parents came from a different generation than other kids’ parents. My father very much had that attitude of, “Toughen up. Just fight back. Stop whining.” He wasn’t a bad father. He just saw it very differently. So I struggled with being able to communicate what happened and finding allies and people to support me. There were encounters when groups of guys would chase me home—they would come at me and corner me, punching at the same time. At one point, I was rounded up and put into a boys’ bathroom where they turned on all of the hot water. They were reenacting a Holocaust gas-chamber scenario because I was Jewish.
As a victim, there is very little you can do in those moments. And I think that one of the frustrating things for kids is this concept that the onus is on you to make it stop—when really the onus is on teachers, parents, administrators, and classmates. By the time someone has been bullied for a while, their capacity to outfox that scenario is diminished highly. Bullying crosses every line. I’ve heard equal parts frustration from the wealthiest families to the poorest families—from the best schools to the large urban public schools that are struggling. Whether you’re bullied or the bully, for many of us, this is our first encounter with violence.
With [the film Bully], I found myself starting and stopping a lot at the beginning. It’s not because I didn’t believe that this is an important film to make. I just had a lot of self-doubt about my capacity to do it well—to actually get it funded, and to confront my demons. I knew it would be a personal, difficult, and long journey. The film itself isn’t overly prescriptive. You can’t prescribe for the nation. In each community, every very single situation requires its own special thoughts. But it requires people having agreements. And that’s where I thought we could have an impact with the film. —As told to Keenan Mayo