Correction appended, March 26
When a girl named Jessica attempts suicide in the new film A Girl Like Her, everyone at school points the finger of blame at Avery, a popular clique leader who’s been hounding her for months. And since Jessica was wearing a hidden camera to document her daily indignities, there’s plenty of proof of Avery’s cruelty.
As the above clip shows, Avery could give Regina George a run for her money in the mean girl department. But the movie isn’t a witch hunt. In fact, viewers may leave the film more concerned about therapy for bullies than for the bullied.
Writer and director Amy S. Weber (who also plays the filmmaker in the pseudo-documentary) says the plot has been on her mind for decades, but she took direct inspiration from the death of Phoebe Prince, an Irish high school student who was bullied mercilessly when she moved to Massachusetts and took her own life in 2010. Her tormentors were prosecuted on charges ranging from harassment to assault.
“We as a society have learned that people who project their pain, people who abuse, are monsters,” says Weber. “When they hurt others, our innate response and reaction is to protect the one they’re hurting.” Of course, it’s right to protect the innocent. But when it comes to teen bullying, it’s easy to forget that the bullies are often in pain themselves.
A Girl Like Her hints at Avery’s torment through awkward encounters with her self-involved mother and unresponsive father. Meanwhile, Jessica’s parents are completely blindsided by her overdose—they had no clue she was being bullied. Weber is careful not to blame parents for these tragedies, but she says she hopes the film will start conversations among teens and parents alike about how adults contribute to the bullying epidemic.
Witnessing bullying, as one student explains in the movie, is “as if we were all zebras and we were watching one of our fellow zebras being eaten by a lion.” A Girl Like Her provides a potent remember that, bully or victim, they’re all zebras.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the character in A Girl Like Her who attempts suicide. It is Jessica.