Over the years, my mother has talked to me about a majority of the social issues I could start potentially experiencing when I enter high school and beyond, such as bullying, abusive relationships, and peer pressure. And while my high school health teachers gave my fellow classmates and I a brief, but bland and nonchalant lecture or assembly about all of these issues, they’ve never been in depth enough or as impactful as they may have thought they were. I always left school after days like this with more curiosity than I had before. I wanted to see and hear about experiences and consequences that resulted from the roots of these issues.
With that being said, I wanted to do more research on these problems, and how they might look on a day to day basis. During my time reading up on these issues, I came across a few movies, some of which are based on true stories, that have such an authentic representation of everything I read about, and leave you feeling like there’s a rock in your chest days later.
Here are a list of 5 movies that I plan on showing my children one day when I need to have these uncomfortable, but important conversations with them.
1. “A Girl Like Her” (Bullying)
“A Girl Like Her” is not based on a singular true story, but is inspired by hundreds of different stories. Directed by Amy S. Weber, this movie follows the story of Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth), a high school sophomore who attempts to commit suicide and falls into a coma after being continuously bullied by Avery Keller (Hunter King). What makes this film stand out from other films centered around bullying, is this one is produced in the style of a documentary. Weber goes around with a camera crew, filming the reactions of students during the aftermath of Jessica Burns’ suicide attempt. While this style of filming and editing does help, every single actor in this movie is superb, and look like they are actually living in this world created by the directors.
More specifically, the film showcases the perspectives of Jessica’s family awaiting her recovery, Avery Keller who is at first oblivious as to why Jessica would want to harm herself, and Brian (Jimmy Bennett), Jessica’s best friend who has documented the bullying Avery has done to Jessica. Brian documents Jessica’s experience through a secret camera disguised as a pin she wears every day, thus giving the audience a first person point of view of the bullying.
Unlike other movies that depict bullying, this one maintains a good balance of being raw and authentic enough to represent realistic depictions, while also not being too over exaggerated to make it look corny or unbelievable.
While this movie shows the perspective of Jessica’s pain and mental turmoil leading to her decision of taking her own life, the movie shows a first person perspective of Avery as well, who is the bully. She begins talking about her life in the sense she is making a film showing the difficulties of being the “popular girl” in high school. But her footage quickly shows her passive aggressive behavior towards other students, her dysfunctional family life, and her harassment towards Jessica, leading her to come to the realization she is cause of Jessica’s suicide.
This film shows how isolating and painful bullying can be, and the effects of everyone around the victim when they take a dark turn.
Available On: Youtube (Free with Ads) and Tubi TV
2. “No One Would Tell” (Abusive Relationships)
“No One Would Tell” is a go-to provoking film, showing an accurate representation of young abusive relationships. This 1996 Lifetime movie is inspired by the true story of 14-year-old Amy Carnevale, a young girl who was murdered by her abusive ex boyfriend, 16-year-old Jamie Fuller in Beverly, Massachusetts.
This film follows 16-year-old Stacy Collins (Candace Cameron), who starts dating 18-year-old Bobby Tennison (Fred Savage) and as time goes on, Bobby gets increasingly jealous and controlling of Stacy. He begins to isolate her from all of her friends, tells her what to wear, and shows physical aggression by pinning her against walls and slapping her across the face.
As time goes on, her best friend and mother become concerned about how he’s treating her, but continues to deny the abuse by saying “we’re in love”. However, once she takes off the rose colored glasses, she attempts to break up with Bobby multiple times. But he murders her and hides her body because he has the mindset if he can’t have her, no one can.
An interesting perspective this movie takes is Stacy’s mother is simultaneously dating a guy who talks back to her and tells her what to wear, to which Stacy asks her mother multiple times why she puts up with, yet she continues to deny the exact same behavior that Bobby is doing.
While this movie looks a little outdated, since Candace Cameron is still a teenager and still rocking a short 90’s bob-cut, the message of the movie still holds true. The warning signs of being in an abusive relationship is still accurate and the message of telling someone if you see something is still a very urgent matter.
This movie was remade and modernized by Lifetime in 2018 as well.
Available On: Youtube (1996 Version Only)
3. “Speak” (Sexual Assault/Bullying)
Not only does this film feature Kristen Stewart in her Pre-Twilight phase, but it also sends such a powerful message about reclaiming your identity and confidence after a traumatic event.
Based on the original novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, “Speak” tells the story of incoming high school freshman Melinda Sordino (Kristen Stewart), who is recovering from being raped by an upperclassmen boy at a summer party a few months prior. The movie is presented with Melinda going through her first year of high school, while also having flashbacks of the night she was assaulted at the party.
To everyone around her, Melinda is a timid and quiet girl who is bullied immediately going into high school being called “Squealer”. As the movie progresses, the audience learns that after Melinda was assaulted, she called the police at the party to report her assault and got everyone busted. After getting this goody-two-shoes reputation, Melinda decides to see how long she can go without speaking to anyone and seeing who notices. Spoiler Alert: Most people do not intially notice.
During this time, she begins to develop a relationship with her art teacher Mr. Freeman (Steve Zahn), and uses her art as a medium to reclaim her voice and build her confidence back up.
Towards the end of the movie, she starts to reconnect with former best friend Rachel Bruin (Hallee Hirsh) who cut all ties with Melinda after she had called the police at the party. She also tries to warn her about the boy she is dating, since it is the same boy that assaulted Melinda. By the end of the film, she is able to stand up for herself against her assailant Andy Evans (Eric Lively) and tell her mother everything that has happened to her and finally speak up.
What makes this movie so important is it is not only a touching movie about self empowerment, but also shows a realistic depiction of how sexual assault can affect someone, more specifically a young girl. I could be slightly biased, but as a fellow survivor of sexual assault I resonated a lot with Melinda. Her overall hyper vigilance, yet pessimistic outlook on the world is most certainly how I felt for months following my assault. Not to mention this movie features several instances of Melinda having flashbacks and nightmares, a common process survivors have after a traumatic event.
This is an insightful film to show what an individual might be going through after a traumatizing event, mostly behind closed doors. This is a powerful yet informative film to show your children how to be a healthy and safe support system for their friends, and not everything might not be what it seems looking from the outside in
Available On: Hulu (with Showtime Add-On)
4. “Trust” (Sexual Assault)
While this is the second film on this list featuring a sexual assault, “Trust” takes on a slightly different angle. Former star of “Friends” David Schwimmer is the director of this hard hitting film, where rather than making the main focus on the victim, this film shift gears towards showcasing the reactions of her immediate family.
“Trust” is a crime drama centering around the Cameron family, living in the outskirts of suburban Chicago. Annie Cameron (Liana Liberato) receives a laptop as a present for her birthday, and begins talking to a 16-year-old boy named Charlie (Tristan Peach) in a chatroom. After a few months of communicating online, Annie goes to meet Charlie in person and he ends up being a 30-something-year-old predator. However, Charlie is able to groom her into going to a motel with him where he sexually assaults her.
While Annie originally keeps this event a secret, the news quickly spreads like wildfire when she confides in her best friend Brittany (Zoe Levin) who then reports it. While the FBI are tracking down the seasoned predator, Annie’s relationships with her family begin to strain. More specifically, Annie’s father Will (Clive Owen) is fixated on the idea of tracking Charlie down and getting his revenge, upsetting Annie more.
This film take’s the victims point of view in a different direction for “Speak”. Liberato’s character has a different, but also realistic reaction to sexual assault. Annie continues to deny she was assaulted, and her and Charlie are “in love” but just can’t be together because of the law. Through talking with the police and therapy she has a breakthrough realizing she has only just been taken advantage of. This then leads to her being ridiculed at school and then attempting to take her own life, but is unsuccessful.
After recovering from her suicide attempt, Will reconciles with Annie and is genuinely sorry that she had to seek validation from men in order to feel beautiful, and they make up.
Out of every movie on this list, this ending is the hardest hitting. The sun doesn't rise in this film, and shows that even after forgiving yourself or others for reacting to a traumatic situation, things don’t just automatically go back to normal. Liberato perform’s another realistic depiction to being a sexual assault survivor, and Owen shows how intense this can make relatives (especially parents) may feel and react to.
Available On: Tubi TV
5. “Augusta, Gone” (Substance Abuse)
Last, but certainly not least, is the 2006 Lifetime film “Augusta, Gone”, a television film inspired by a memoir of the same name written by Martha Tod Dudman.
The story follows Martha, the mother of teenage girl Augusta who begins experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and quickly escalates into nearly destroying her life.
She begins hanging out with questionable friends, smoking weed, doing cocaine, shoplifting, and using her parents medications recreationally. Her mother Martha does her best to fix her behavior but when all else fails, she sends Augusta to a rehab program where she begins to take the first few steps.
This is your typical cautionary tale about avoiding drugs and alcohol. However, I think it is best to educate your children on the long term effects of them rather than saying to simply not do them, and this film is a good example of showing those consequences.
Available On: Youtube
Whether you decide to watch all of these films or just one, they all send their own important message. A majority of these films I didn’t watch for the first until after I graduated high school. Had I been more familiar with them earlier on in my life, I would’ve been more equipped to handle distressing social issues in the hallways, and take it to college with me rather than figuring it out as I go.
As I said before, when I have children one day and they’re transitioning into adulthood, these are not only films I would recommend for them to watch, but I want to always make sure I can be a trustworthy figure in their life, and that they’re not afraid to talk to me about the harder situations.