Professor releases documentary seeking change through the eyes of bullying

By Grace Johnson, Feb. 23, 2021

A powerful documentary can often open the eyes of society to new perspectives and realizations, especially when it is aiming to retrain and unravel disparaging societal norms for generations to come. Cal Poly Pomona’s Philosophy and Ethnic and Women’s Studies professor Thomas Keith celebrated the debut of his timely documentary, “Bullied,” released on Tubi TV on Feb. 12 after receiving praise and recognition from notable film festivals.

“This particular film bloomed from deep conversations with victims,” said Keith. “I came across an organization in Oklahoma called Stand for the Silent, founded by Kirk Smalley, who lost his son to suicide. I went there, interviewed him and it was so intense that I came back to LA knowing I needed to develop an entire film based on the topic of bullying. When I met these people, they changed my life forever. I consider them extended family.”

The purpose of the production was to trace back to the initial act of bullying, find out where it stems from and uncover its negative impact on individuals, specifically the youth.

The film exposes the darkness and uncertainty that bullying can cause — socially and emotionally. With the assistance of scholars around the nation, “Bullied” teaches society how to mitigate the act of bullying, overcome fear and find hope.

“What got me involved in this was some personal experience, and some were from becoming a father,” explained Keith. “When you become a parent, you realize it is not just about you anymore, but instead you have these little people entering the world and you can’t help but think, ‘Is this the kind of world I want them living in?’”

After viewing many surface-level films on bullying, Keith decided it was time to develop a film that dug deeper than the documentation of the pain from bullying and branch out to explore how it can be changed and why it even exists in the first place.

Since its premiere, “Bullied” accumulated 12 international film festival awards, including a New York Film Award and a Los Angeles Film Award. The documentary received multiple awards of merit for being a victim-focused film that gives viewers a glimpse of hope for the future.

Many of the methods and programs suggested in the film have proven effective in reducing the act of bullying in schools across the world which, in return, would reduce numbers of tragic suicide cases, depression and self-harm.

“I didn’t want to make this film unless I could make it optimistic,” said Keith. “I wanted it to have hope and guidance for people because whether you are an educator, a parent or just a kid, there is something for each of us to do about this ongoing problem. The film ends with programs that we know work and know can make a change.”

The Social-Emotional Learning programs have been impactful in many schools such as a Cleveland school district where there was a 36% drop in bullying and a vast increase in GPA and graduation rates. These programs drastically changed the social dynamic of campuses across the world by encouraging change in the way that students speak, act and treat one another.

“The safer students feel in school, the more positively they will perform and enjoy learning,” said Keith.

Keith received his master’s and doctoral degree from Claremont Graduate University in 2001 and specializes in American philosophy and pragmatism with an emphasis on issues of race, class and gender. Keith has taught at CPP for more than 20 years, in both philosophy and gender studies and also teaches at Claremont Graduate University.

Keith began producing and directing films in 2005 and was immediately inspired to shift his focus toward the educational and documentary genres on crucial subjects, such as gender, gendered violence, and the effects of media and popular culture, after studying these topics and communicating with scholars from across the nation.

“Philosophy, unfortunately, spends a little too much time in the ivory tower,” explained Keith. “Too much time is spent talking about abstract things that don’t necessarily impact a lot of people’s lives, but I don’t think it has to be like that. It became exciting to me to work with sociologists, psychologists and people from the education departments to open my eyes to possibilities. We could start utilizing what we do as scholars in a more impactful way.”

Keith is currently finishing the production of his new film, “How does it feel to be a problem?” which is expected to be released this year. The film explores themes on injustice and inequality and covers the phenomenon of groups of individuals who are mistreated in a nation.

“Bullied” is now available to stream on Amazon, Comcast, Sling TV, Roku, Xumo, Films for Action, Google Play, Tubi TV and YouTube Movies.

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