DVD Review - Mentor

Bullying and hazing used to be acceptable things. It's encouraged in certain circles and celebrated in others. Take the film Whiplash and its star JK Simmons who might get an Academy Award nomination for essentially playing a bully. In the context of sports, bullying is considered a rite of passage. Out of the context of sports, films try to rail against the hallway, class and locker-room bully. However, the country at large didn't seem to take on bullying as a national problem in a real concerted way until 2010.

The reason it became national has to do with the Tyler Clementi suicide. Clementi's case was so high profile it forced the issue. The case involved cyber-bullying. The past decade has seen the rise of cyber-bullying and it started with the case of Megan Meier who committed suicide by hanging in 2006. Meier was only 13. Probably because the bullying was happening online, it took the focus away from schools where a lot of the bullying was still occurring.

In 2010, the TV series Glee did a great bullying storyline in school. It involved homophobia and it involved a popular kid picking on a geek. It could all be brushed aside as Hollywood fantasy. A couple of years later, the documentary Bully (2012) took it out of Hollywood and depicted real in-school attacks and assaults against young people.

This documentary, which delves into bullying that occurred prior to 2010, also explores bullying in school. A lot of it stems from classism, xenophobia and homophobia. Director Alix Lambert interviews the parents and friends of the bullied students. Lambert can't talk to the bullied students themselves because as it's revealed the bullied students in question committed suicide.

While the illusion persists that Mentor, Ohio, is a nice, perfect, little town, a simmering undercurrent of classism, xenophobia and homophobia in Mentor has threatened, hurt and resulted in the deaths of too many children that lifts it from just being random, coincidental or a few bad apples. It's systemic, and because it's happening to students at schools, ultimately it comes down to lack of leadership at those schools.

Lambert shows that the school administration knew bullying was a problem and chose to ignore it. The parents file lawsuits and try to go over the administration's head. The result of those lawsuits proves how systemic the problem is and the dearth of recourse or justice. It's heart-breaking and frustrating.

Unlike Lambert's documentary Bayou Blue, this movie doesn't have anywhere near a satisfying resolution. It does similarly expose an underbelly of an area, but it stands as another in a series of recent testaments that hopefully will be sign-posts on the road to a more civilized culture.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 19 mins.


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