Cannes’ award winning Mexican film highlights the pain of teen-girl bullying
Cynthia Arvide – WNN Features
(WNN) Mexico City, MEXICO, LATIN AMERICA: A 2012 film depiction of a teenage girl in Mexico City creates awareness about a very real problem in Mexico that comes with fatal consequences – youth bullying. Teenage bullying is a serious problem that can leave lasting scars say today’s experts.
In the film, 17-year-old Alejandra (played by Mexican actor Tessa Ia) is surrounded by her classmates. They won’t let her leave her chair as they bring her a birthday cake. For a second she thinks it’s sweet they remembered her birthday. Then they force her head down on the cake and make her eat it. She quickly realizes with searing intensity it’s not what she thought. We see her face change into utter revolt but they won’t let her go. She is forced into eating more of it while they laugh at her until she starts throwing up.
That was a scene from the recently released Mexican film, “After Lucía,” written and directed by Michel Franco. Alejandra has lost her mother in a car accident and moves with her father from their home in a small coastal town to Mexico’s urban capital. At her new school Alejandra meets ‘new friends’ and tries to fit in, but catastrophe strikes. She is invited to join a group of schoolmates for a weekend house party where she ends up drinking too much and having sex with a boy. Little does she know he records the encounter with his cellphone. A couple of days later the video has been shared online making Alejandra an endless target of her classmates’ harassment, mockery and aggression.
As humiliation and exclusion follows, this seventeen-year-old is in for a spiral of silent suffering and cruelty.
Franco’s award winning docudrama was chosen as this year’s winner of the Cannes Film Festival for ‘Un Certain Regard’. Literally translated as ‘A Certain Outlook’, this award was created to recognize young talent that encourages innovative and daring works. “After Lucía” was also tagged this year for nomination as one of the up-and-coming 2012 film selections for the, U.S. based, Academy Awards Oscars in Foreign Language Film.
Exploring the issues of bullying in a crude, yet honest and blatant way, “After Lucía” is the first time a film in Mexico has put a large spotlight on this form of harassment and violence. Using subtleties to pressure peers, bullying can be an all too familiar tactic for children who want to maintain power over others. And it can be dangerous.
“Bullying is a manifestation of aggression and youngsters who engage in bullying others are at a risk of becoming violent later,” says the American Medical Association.
“Bullying can involve direct attacks — hitting, threatening or intimidating, maliciously teasing and taunting, name-calling, making sexual remarks, sexual assault, and stealing or damaging belongings,” says JHSPH – Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Bullying can also involve the subtler, indirect attacks of rumor-mongering or encouraging others to snub someone. New technology, such as text messaging, instant messaging, social networking websites, and the easy filming and online posting of videos, has introduced a new form of intimidation — cyberbullying — which is widespread on the Internet,” continues JHSPH.
This type of bullying affects boys and girl teenagers today in schools around the globe. Characterized by “the repeated exposure of one person to physical and/or emotional aggression including teasing, name calling, mockery, threats, harassment, taunting, hazing, social exclusion or rumours,” as described by the WHO – World Health Organization, bullying has been rising dramatically in numerous countries, especially as a growing epidemic among youth.
Acts of bullying in Mexico have now reached high proportions outlines a study by the OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which shows that 61 percent of the students in middle school have already experienced an episode of violence since attending school. According to the OECD survey, out of 24 countries Mexico has the highest number of cases in the group occurring at the school level.
After asking 3,500 children, aged 9 to 17, if they had experienced or ever been a part of a bullying episode in their schools, surprising results surfaced. Through a 2009 local Mexico City Department of Education survey 92 percent of the children answered yes, they had played a role in being the aggressor in bullying.
“Research shows bullies tend to become more hostile over time. By the age of 24, two-thirds of boys who were bullies in elementary school had been convicted of three or more crimes, often violent ones, and had already done time in prison,” says social psychologist and author Dr. Elliot Aronson, who wrote the book “Nobody Left to Hate – Teaching Compassion After Columbine” following the Colombine High School killings.
The 2009 local survey also discovered that the main types of violence in Mexico’s schools are 30 percent verbal and 32 percent physical, followed by 13 percent which are predominately psychological, 10 percent sexual. At the time they also discovered that 5 percent of the bullying was cyberbullying, but this type of bullying is seeing a large increase in cases of harassment, especially harassment of women and girls.
But key to the issue is: do we know what actually causes bullying in teens? And how can we assess how much bullying is a product or symptom of gender-based violence?
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