A New Film Focuses on Victims of Bullies
Schools across the country are screening "Shout it Out" to help teens with tough issues.
By Meredith Scaggs
While most 15-year-old girls are concerned with bad hair days, trips to the mall, and getting a prime seat at the lunch table, Phoebe Prince was living in agony.
Day in and day out, her classmates at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts relentlessly bullied her. And in an age where we are so connected to each other all the time, the bullying continued around the clock. She was assaulted on social networks like Facebook and often received threatening text messages.
The constant harassment pushed Phoebe to her limit and, last January, Prince took her own life. Six students are facing felony charges as a result of her heartbreaking suicide.
People always say “hindsight is 20/20,” but hindsight doesn’t mean much when it’s simply too late. The groundbreaking independent musical Shout It Out addresses the issue of teen suicide, bullying, teen pregnancy, drug addiction and dozens of other issues that teenagers face every day, and the filmmaker hopes teens and schools will watch it before problems spiral out of control.
"Shout it Out covers many themes, but one that it focuses on prominently is the issue of bullying and suicide,” says Shout it Out film producer Bess O’Brien. “Because of the tragic number of teen suicides that we have been witnessing lately, such as that at South Hadley High School, Shout it Out and the extensive study guide is a critical tool to open up discussion around bullying and teen suicide. The film is a compassionate and moving story of a kid struggling to be accepted. High Schools wanting to create dialogue and action steps in their school around the issue of bullying and suicide will find the film an important start to a conversation about healthy and respectful behavior."
Ryan Howland plays the character of “Danny” in the film, which takes place in a typical Vermont high school. Danny was also constantly bullied and eventually met the same fate as Prince.
For Howland, some of Danny’s anguish hit a little too close to home. “I can remember times when I didn’t want to go into the cafeteria because that’s where the bullies were,” says Howland. “Or always having to worry if they were about to get me in the hallway. I can remember thinking how alone I felt, just like Danny.”
Luckily for Howland, he found solace and a sense of belonging in acting and the theatre. This helped him to relate to other characters in the movie who also found their places and what they wanted out of their lives. But he realizes that’s not always how things turn out.
“It was a good life lesson for me to learn how much people suffer. I’ve become more sensitive to things like that,” says Howland. “The film doesn’t exaggerate issues. It shows them like they are because the film is based on true stories. It helps teens get a better understanding of themselves, but it’s also good for teachers to see some things that maybe they never noticed before.”
Michelle Rath, Director of School Counseling at Essex High School in Essex, Vermont, feels that the issues featured in Shout it Out are present in the lives of high school students everywhere. “The core themes of this movie are things that high school students grapple with on a daily basis,” she said.
Rath got an early look at the film before its major release. “I saw the movie about eight months before its release and thought to myself how great it would be to show to faculty, staff and in the classroom,” she said.
Rath said that virtually every issue that was covered in the movie was relevant to at least one if not more of the students in the audience. “The topics of homosexuality, first generation students, race and religion were all topics that our students had dealt with.”
Rath’s high school too was trying to cope with some wounds that were still fresh. “We had a student who committed suicide in our high school about a year before we showed the movie and many students had a strong reaction to this part of the film,” Rath said.
O’Brien hopes that the film will serve as a “jumping off point” for conversation between teens and adults. “What I want this movie to say to people is exactly what the title says, Shout it Out, which is that kids need to be able to shout out what they feel, what they need, what’s going on in their lives and adults need to listen,” she says.
Howland feels that it has done just that. “This film is special in the way that it can bridge the gap between teachers, students and also parents to help create a better understanding. It also shows the strength of teenagers and gives hope that we can overcome our challenges and find our place in life.”
Films like Shout It Out catalyze conversation and bring about awareness that opens the door for teenagers wanting to share their troubles. The hope is that this kind of dialogue will prevent tragic endings like that of Phoebe Prince.
Attention NEA members! Kingdom County Productions is offering you the Educational Package at $120 discount. To find out more, contact producer Bess O'Brien.
To learn more about Shout It Out and the accompanying study guide, visit the Kingdom County Productions web site.