In what’s sure to be one of this year’s more powerful and thought-provoking films, Bully High is a coming-of-age drama that is both a love letter and a scathing commentary about the prevalent and controversial issues of religious prejudices, sexual orientation, and bullying. Too much of the world is silenced, but now is the time for voices to be heard.
Bully High centers around a Pakistani exchange student, Maryam Ali (Aneesha Madhok), who proudly wears her hijab to her new high school, triggering bigotry and harassment from school officials and other students, particularly the class bully Scarlett Smith (Taylor Jabara) and the school’s Government teacher Bob Walker (Bill McAdams Jr.), whose traumatic pasts are the basis for their personal resentment toward Maryam.
Bob’s son and star of the school baseball team Zack Walker (Cedric Begley), falls for Maryam, causing conflict between him and his Christian father. Meanwhile, Maryam’s new friend, a Christian lesbian named Nicole White (Caroline Stella), also fights to strip away stereotypes and stand up for her right to live in peace.
The cast of Bully High also includes Joseph Baena, son of Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his first significant film role, Moroccan fashion model Abla Sofy, Betsy Russell, Brent Anderson, Monet Weir (daughter of Grateful Dead founder Bob Weir), Grace Pippas and Duke Van Patten.
“It’s about acceptance and not judging people. No matter what color the skin, what God is worshiped, sex, gender, race or age, we are all human. No one is above or below. We are all equal. We are all deserving of kindness and love,” Bill McAdams Jr. said, director of Bully High. “As a director/writer I feel a responsibility to send a worthy message of acceptance and equality, kicking open diversity’s door – welcoming all. It’s more than okay to be different.”
“Uniqueness is our superpower. It should be embraced. It is in our own individuality that an ever-evolving, well-rounded society not only grows, but thrives. Be a warrior of love. Not a killer of hate. You will never convince me that any human being is lesser than another. There is no racism or judgement in love.”
Bully High is executive produced by McAdams Jr. and Patrick Hoss. Caroline Stella, Paul Hart-Wilden and Therese Moncrief share the producer credits.
“A film like this will teach the young girls out there to embrace themselves, especially the fact that my character wears a hijab and I learned to respect that by playing this character,” Madhok said. “This character really spoke to me. The gentleness of my character and how she deals with violence with so much peace and calmness.”
How Bully High Speaks To Me As A Pakistani-American Muslim Girl
Bully High speaks to me very personally as a Pakistani-American Muslim girl who grew up in the US in a school system that was accepting at times and, at other times, not so much. Although I don’t wear the hijab myself, I still faced my share of bullying and harassment based on where I was born and what my religious views are.
Growing up, I was only around Pakistani people on the weekends when I went to Islamic school at our local mosque, but during the week at regular school, I saw very few Pakistani kids. I didn’t particularly mind until people started making jokes, at which point I grappled with identity issues. The events on September 11th made things worse and I didn’t even wear the hijab, so you can imagine the harassment my people and I endured (and still do to this day). This film’s trailer alone made me feel seen, which is quite important in this day and age.
The time has come for Muslim representation in Hollywood to be shown in a positive light and not always negatively, and I believe we are going in the right direction with Hollywood producing stories such as Bully High.
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