Even before many have actually had the chance to see Bully, the documentary has sparked engaging conversation across the Internet.
The film, which focuses on five different families and their teenagers, features emotional footage, including an especially harrowing school bus scene during which 12-year-old Alex Libby, who was born prematurely, suffers name calling, harsh taunts and physical abuse at the hands of his peers.
It’s that rough language used by Libby’s schoolmates that initially earned the film an “R” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. (The Weinstein Company decided to release the movie unrated, however, after an online petition signed by thousands failed to reverse the decision.)
But stepping into the spotlight has actually been an empowering experience for Libby, his father says.
“We feel honored to be a part of this film – this movement,” Philip Libby tells PEOPLE. “And thanks to [director] Lee [Hirsch] and the film we have Alex back … a rejuvenated young man.”
Libby has moved on with his life – and is in a good place.
“Alex and his family recently moved to Oklahoma City, where he is in a new school, not being bullied, and receiving all A’s and B’s in class,” Hirsch tells PEOPLE. “Every day I am amazed at how different Alex is today from the kid he was when he were shooting the film.”
Adds the director: “This experience has made him find his voice.”
“I think that this kind of abuse had been happening to Alex for a very long time in the presence of adults without intervention,” says Hirsch, noting that it wasn’t as difficult as some might imagine to capture such raw footage. “School officials knew about it; it continues. The bus driver knew about it; it continued. And so these kids felt that they had license to bully Alex and other students in the school.”
“My presence was not anything particularly special,” says the director. “I was just the wallpaper – this strange guy with a funny little camera.”