“When We Were Bullies” initially may seem to be a case of 50-year-old memories careening out of control. But in this case the documentary is not about a presidential election in Zimbabwe or some other esoteric event we have no real tangible connection to. It has to do with bullying and I venture to say we all have bullying experiences.
I recall in grade 3 being surrounded by three boys in the schoolyard. I thought I had waited them out so my heart stopped when I saw them coming after me. I fought like a lion and it was a draw. I remember that utter desolation being alone and outnumbered. I also remember in grade 6 X pooping in his pants with feces causing a horrible stink. The mean machos made his life miserable to the point he had a nervous breakdown.
In this documentary director Jay Rosenblatt remembers a bullying incident where he was both an instigator and participant. He reconstructs the incident that occurred at Public School 194 in Brooklyn some 50 years ago when Dick was surrounded by his entire class and punched, spat on and insulted. The incident was broken up by staff and Rosenblatt remembers his teacher Mrs. Bromberg blasting the class calling them “animals”.
He contacts former classmates and most express some remorse although many have a foggy memory. He also speaks with Mrs. Bromberg who can’t remember the specific incident but a whole series of similar incidents saying children have a sixth sense for detecting weakness. In fact her own daughter was one of those who was bullied and never was with the in crowd. She committed suicide. Mrs. Bromberg does remember Rosenblatt himself was bullied. I caught that line and I wondered if the film is not about Dick but Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt quickly had mentioned that his brother had died when he was in grade 4 and he closed down after that. He concludes this bullying incident and film is not so much about Dick as it about all of us. What does Rosenblatt want to say to Dick? “I’m sorry”.
I was thinking this would be a flippant trip down memory lane but it is a powerful study of bullying and how it can damage both its victims and its perpetrators.
It will be broadcast on HBO on March 30th at 22:00 hours with streaming launching on HBO Max on the same day.
You can see the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcFJPTj94aM&t=2s
Image courtesy of HBO.