I cry easily at movies. Not just Schindler’s List or the ending of Titanic, but Lord of the Rings or The Lion King. But I’ve never cried at a short, not until today. The story of Amanda Todd will break your heart in nine minutes flat.
Her death, and the video she made six weeks before her death, were reported three months ago, but they passed me by until I read about them just now on cult musician Amanda Palmer’s blog. The video is stark, and beautifully simple: a 15-year-old girl tells her story by holding up hand-written cue cards, in the manner of Bob Dylan on Subterranean Homesick Blues. Fixed camera, black and white, no frills. Yet it’s had 25 million views on YouTube.
She tells of the adult cyberstalker who duped her, aged 12, into flashing him in a video chat, and then blackmailed her with the pictures. Of how her whole school found out, and bullied and ostracised her for it. Of how, when she moved, the whole of her next school found out. And then…
Well. Watch the video. It’s even more heart-wrenching to know that it is effectively her suicide note. The opening cue-card reads, “Hello. I’ve decided to tell you about my never-ending story.” In fact her story ended six weeks later. (Blog continues under the video.)
The manner of filming is as powerful as the message. There is no distraction; the cards demand your concentration. Crucially, Amanda’s full face is never seen: only her mouth and her ringleted hair. By not putting a specific face on her suffering, she becomes the Everywoman of bullying victims. This story is not just hers, but that of anyone who has ever put on a brave face in public and cried alone.
It would be nice if Amanda became Malala, the Pakistani teenager who narrowly survived being shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to attend school; or the unnamed 23-year-old victim whose horrific rape and murder in Delhi has stirred India to action; or the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire to protest persecution in south Vietnam or the Chinese occupation of Tibet. It would be nice if her death were not wholly the futile, senseless, tragic waste that suicides are. It would be nice if something positive were to come of her suffering. If in death she had the power to change minds that in life she lacked.
We should all try to make it so.
Hatred can only survive without empathy, and it’s a hard heart who could not feel for this lonely, persecuted girl. And all the millions out there just like her.
Her mother has said, “I think the video should be shared and used as an anti-bullying tool. That is what my daughter would have wanted.” It should be required viewing for all teenagers, hard as it is to watch. And if in future they see someone being bullied, or reaching out in any way for help, I like to think they will not so easily turn aside.
There are, tragically, many other stories like Amanda Todd’s. Read my second blog on the subject here.