Back in November I had the opportunity to attend a documentary film festival. Out of the slate of programming, I chose to see the Shorts that were based in NYC.
One of the short docs I saw was excellent, and as would happen, is nominated for a 2022 Academy Award. Let me preface that I thought this was really well done, but I am about to tell you about it, so there will be spoilers.
When We Were Bullies is about a filmmakers recollection of a bullying event that happened when he was in 5th grade, back in, I believe, 1965/66 on a playground in a Brooklyn schoolyard. The class felt that one boy in particular deserved a beating, and after school they pounced on him.
Fifty years later the filmmaker really felt badly about this and decided to contact his old classmates and his teacher and talk to them about the incident. While some did not remember the incident at all, they all remembered the kid who was victimized. They all thought of the victim as a bit of an oddball, a kid who didn’t quite fit in. Those who did remember the incident felt bad about it. He uses pictures from the fifth grade class picture to highlight as we hear the recorded interviews. At no time in the doc do we see a picture of the victim or know anything other than his name was Richard and called Dick by his classmates (lots of Richards in that year in Brooklyn), and that at some point in his adult life he was a TV producer with a decent life.
Flash forward to the present. I’m watching this doc at a festival, which means the filmmaker is there and will be available for questions.
At the end of the doc, the filmmaker says he wrote a letter to the bullied student and says that he regrets his actions on that day.
Someone in the audience asked the filmmaker if the victim responded to the letter. The filmmaker admitted that he never actually sent the letter. He said he didn’t want to rekindle what could/would have been a traumatic incident, and felt it was better to just leave things as they were.
So now we are coming to my point:
By excluding the victim from the documentary, not showing his face or interviewing him, were they once again bullying Richard/Dick? This kid was seen as an oddball and an outsider…fifty plus years later did they still make him an outcast?
I did not ask the filmmaker this question, but it was TOTALLY the first thing that came to my mind. Based on what I’ve told you, what do you think?
As stated, this is a nominee for an Academy Award, and I’d say, as having seen the other nominated short docs, I think this is the winner. I wonder if the filmmaker has since contacted Richard/Dick and told him about the film. I don’t normally watch the Academy Awards themselves, but I wonder if I should DVR it just to see if this shunned classmate will be invited. I believe that HBO bought the rights to the doc, so you may be able to stream it for yourself.
FYI- I think it is worth the watch if you can.