There was a "No Bullying School Zone" sign posted in front of Hamilton Middle School in Cypress, Texas, but the message apparently was only for the kids outside. Asher Brown's mother and stepfather say he was relentlessly bullied in class, and that they complained repeatedly, and that school officials did nothing.
School officials dispute this, but there is no debate about the resolution of Asher's unhappiness: In September of 2010, at the start of the new school year, bullies tripped Asher and then kicked him and his books down the stairs. The next day, he took a 9 mm Beretta from a closet shelf and shot himself in the head. He was 13 years old.
A year later, a 17-year-old junior became president of the student council at Cypress Ranch High School, which is in the same school district as Hamilton Middle School. And Stewart Allen Oswald III --- sensibly, he is known as Triple --- started looking for a project that would bring Cypress Ranch's 2,500 students together. When he heard about lip dubs, a way of making music videos with large casts using pre-recorded music, he decided that one starring Cypress Ranch students would "stand out" and be "different."
And he knew just the lip dub he wanted to make.
Oswald was unaware that "Bully," the feature-length documentary now in theaters, even existed when he chose bullying as the video's theme last fall --- not because it's a big problem at Cypress Ranch, he says, but because it isn't. "Our school has great staff and great students," he told me. "The focus of our video would be a positive message: Our students won't tolerate bullying here. We don't want another Asher Brown."
Oswald plays piano in the same church where Kaitlyn Knippers sings in the choir. He knew that Knippers, a 15-year-old sophomore at Cypress Ranch, has been recording her songs and performing as Kaitlyn K since she was 12, so he asked her if she'd write a song about bullying. As it happened, she was already writing one, and, unlike Oswald, her interest was personal: "In elementary school, I had really bushy eyebrows, hairy arms and hairy legs. Starting in third grade, I came home crying every single day and begging my mom to let me shave my legs. I often thought I didn't want to go to school. I still think that."
Knippers finished "Who Do U Think U R" in January and recorded it in Los Angeles. It's addressed to a snob ("Who do you think you are? Who died and made you king? Think you know it all? You don't know anything") and a bully ("When you're out in the crowd knockin' little kids down/ Does it make you feel big? Does it make you feel proud? You've got all the right stuff when it comes to your clothes/ But your attitude sucks, you need a new one of those"). It's pure teen pop, indistinguishable from the music my daughter devours. No surprise that the principal gave instant approval and every student group signed on.
The video required extensive planning, for it was essentially a 5-minute tracking shot, with more than a thousand students from every club and sport stationed in the halls of the school and lip-synching as the camera moved through them. It's not a strategy for amateurs --- Peter Weir did a shot like this, on a much smaller scale, in "Witness" --- but Oswald and his assistant, Addy Hayes, plunged in and organized the production. As for the director and editor, Preston Cox was unfazed; he already had 20 samples of his work on YouTube.
Late in March, after school, Cox shot three takes of the song. The students hit their marks and the lip-synching was flawless; he edited the video that night, and it went up on YouTube the next day.
Downloads: You can buy the song for 99 cents on iTunes, with all proceeds going to anti-bullying campaigns.
Views on YouTube: topping 100,000, moving toward viral.
Status of the video's creators in school: impeccable.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]