"Bully" Movie Betrays Dead Boy with Asperger's Syndrome
Short, angry video version of this post at the end.
I am very sad and angry that the producers of the film Bully chose to erase Tyler Long's Asperger's syndrome from the story of his life and death. I urge them to recall the film and change this before it hits more general release next week.
I first wrote about the death of Tyler Long in 2010 after an episode of 20/20 told his story of his suicide after he was bullied at school:
There are two Tyler's in this video: Tyler Long, whose parents were unable to convince his school to even hold a moment of silence for him, and Tyler Clementi, a gay student who also killed himself, and whose death has caused demonstrations of mourning across the nation. I have the traits that caused both boys to be a target for bullies: I am autistic and gay.
To me, to make a movie that tells Tyler Long's story without mentioning his autism is like telling Tyler Clementi's story without saying that he was gay. One Tyler was bullied because of stuff that gay kids do-- having a guy over to his room. One Tyler was bullied because of stuff kids with Asperger's do-- stuttering and being awkward around other people.
The only reason to tell his story this way is if you view autism as something to be ashamed of, as a dirty little secret best not talked about.
This is is wrong.
It is telling people with autism that who we are is shameful, that we should be hidden away.
I have not seen Bully yet, and I do not know if I can stand to sit through it unless this is changed, as it needs to be. I found out about this from a truly horrible article written by Emily Bazelon for Slate. More on that soon.
I contacted Tyler's mom, who confirmed for me that Tyler's Asperger's syndrome is not mentioned in the film, and that the family had mixed feelings about it. She also sent me the producers' response to Bazelon's piece, which is here. I have a couple of responses this part of it:
That Tyler was on the autism spectrum is never something the filmmakers have hidden, it is something we have discussed in many interviews and post-viewing Q&A’s. The fact that Tyler was on the spectrum does not reduce the school system’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment. As filmmakers we felt that was the bottom line. For this very reason, we chose not to introduce his autism in the film.
Schools are responsible for providing safe learning environments for kids who have Asperger's syndrome, too. In choosing to tell Tyler's story, the producers gave themselves the responsibility of making sure they did it in a way that would help autistic kids like him to get what they need- safety from bullies at school.
To tell Tyler's story without telling why he was bullied betrays him.
I was an early supporter of the film's campaign to have its rating changed from an R (it has been released unrated). I personally spent a frustrating 40 minutes on the phone with Joan Graves of the MPAA trying to get her to listen to the reasons a change made sense, and I feel burned that I made that effort for people who do not acknowledge that people like me exist.
In my first post about the movie, I asked you to like their Facebook page. Today I ask you to go there and send the producers the message that erasing autism from Tyler's story is not okay.