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Film review

Bully High worth a look and listen

Movie has strong message of understanding


Movies aren’t just about visuals. When the message is good, it’s just as important to listen.

Such is the case with the latest production from Bill McAdams Jr. and the Aledo Film Group, Bully High.

The idea for the movie seems to stem from a message of tolerance and understanding. As McAdams told our writer John English, it is important to look at all sides of an issue, sometimes what seems like prejudice comes from a deeper place.

The movie certainly does not justify prejudice and stresses the importance of turning away from it, but it does help provide an understanding that can subsequently lead to helping solve the problem.

The plot features a teenage Muslim girl named Maryam (played by Aneesha Madhok), an exchange student at a school in California who is bullied for wearing a hijab. She simply wants to fit in with her new classmates, and does with many, particularly her new boyfriend, Zack Walker (Cedric Begley).

However, there are those who seize the opportunity to focus on bigotry. Things get extremely complicated when the bullying isn't only done by other students. Zack's father, Bob Walker (played by McAdams), is intolerant of Muslims, having lost his wife in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Despite this, Maryam's popularity at school grows because of her likable personality. She's even presented as a homecoming queen candidate, which brings out the wrath of three-time reigning homecoming queen winner (a bit of a stretch in reality, you have to admit) Scarlet Smith (Taylor Jabara), who has some dark secrets of her own she's dealing with.

Maryam's case is one many young members of the Muslim community face. They were not even yet born when 9/11 happened and many are in this country because their families were also disgusted with actions such as the terrorist attacks on that day.

In the movie, Maryam's mother was also killed in a terrorist attack. Yet, somehow, she is able to turn away from hatred and embrace the good in the world - even hoping to make a difference as a TV reporter in her career aspirations.

Doing so while wearing a hijab, which she notes is a symbol of modesty and strong beliefs. It should also be noted there is a difference between a hijab and a burqa, which covers the entire body and face, leaving only a slight opening for eyes.

People have a right to wear whatever they feel and to worship as they wish. The movie drives this point home in a smooth way without going over the top in its imagery, yet making clear that bigotry of any kind is painful, and that it often comes from a source of hurt.

The movie also addresses other forms of hurtful behavior, such as a young girl being physically abused by a neighbor, and a classmate of Maryam's being rejected by her parents after coming out as gay. I would have liked to have seen both of these subplots come to more of a complete resolution, but they are nonetheless impactful.

Then there's Zack, who was very young when his mother died. Though, with the movie set in modern times, you’ll have to look past the math not totally adding up.

Bob's missing his late wife has led him to drink and barely hang onto his own life, much less being there for his son. Zack notes that he has grown up without a mother - and for the most part without a father.

Through it all, though, there is a solid message of understanding and growth, from both the violator and the violated - a message our world could make a concerted effort to do more of. To do this requires looking at things from not only our own point of view, but also from the other side - perhaps the biggest challenge of all.

There is an overhanging spiritual message, but not one that hammers the viewer over the head. It is more along the lines of Jesus' greatest message of all, love each other as our father in Heaven loves us.

At around an hour and a half, the movie is a comfortable length. I applaud McAdams, who also wrote the script and directed the movie, for realizing that it's not the quantity of a production, but the quality that matters most - and that a key point in delivering a message is stress it strongly and move to the next point.

When all the points are made, let them sink in. Strong messages well stated leave a lasting impression.

The movie played at Film Alley the week of its release and can now be seen for free on streaming services Tubi and Freevee.


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