By Debra Chasnoff
Three years ago, my oldest son was in eighth grade. A good student for all of his life, he began to dread going to school. The halls were covered with obscene graffiti; every class change was a cacophony of racial, sexual and homophobic slurs. The teachers spent the majority of class time doling out discipline to try to stop kids from harassing each other.
Frustrated by my inability to step in and save the day, I did the next best thing a filmmaker mom could do—make a movie. As I had with It’s Elementary and That’s A Family! before it, with Let’s Get Real I decided to let young people speak for themselves about a social issue that usually stumps most adults.
We made Let’s Get Real to challenge the assumption that taunting and harassment are an acceptable part of growing up. Unlike other films that often feature teachers or counselors telling kids how to handle “the bullies,” Let’s Get Real encourages young people to talk frankly about the issues at the root of the problem. Without using euphemisms, kids describe in their own words the tensions around race, gender, perceived sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, class, size and ability that fuel so many conflicts.
Let’s Get Real not only features kids who are targeted, but also the youth who do the bullying and the allies who intervene when they witness other kids being picked on. By examining the entire spectrum of bullying, Let’s Get Real can help kids begin to see a bit of themselves in one another—and give them the courage to express feelings about their own situations.
The other producers and I found the kids in the film by networking with dozens of schools and hundreds of educators all over the country. We asked them to assign a writing exercise about bullying to their classes, and from those essays, we selected about 300 kids for pre-interviews. The more than 50 young people who appear in the final version of the film were chosen because they could articulate their stories most comfortably on camera. All of the students we visited, though, were adamant about one thing: They wanted us to be sure to tell people what was really going on at their school.
My hope with Let’s Get Real is to broaden the alternatives for dealing with what has become an epidemic in our schools and neighborhoods. By treating bullying simply as a disciplinary issue and ignoring the larger questions at hand, we put ourselves at ease but continue to put our kids at risk. It’s time for all of us—educators, youth-service providers, counselors and parents—to get real.