Tag Archives: Amanda Todd

Hooray for London Hollywood: 5 highlights from 1 year and 100 blog posts

19 Nov

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This is my 100th post. It’s also a year since I started LondonHollywood.net.

A big thank you to all readers, with an extra peck on the cheek to anyone who Shares or Retweets or even Comments when they like a post.

I’m passionate about film; that’s why I do this. It’s good to spread the love. [Though if any commissioning editors read this, I am still more than happy to write for money, as well as love!]

In celebration of a year of blogging, these were the highlights. Click the links to read the posts.

Most popular: My four-part interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, ranging from Sherlock to Madonna to his time with Tibetan monks. The Cumberbabes went nuts for this — at one stage racking up 3,000 views a day

Most unpopular: To the horror of many, I greeted Django Unchained with something less than rapture. Now that I have seen 12 Years A Slave (coming soon to this blog), I stand by my opinion even more firmly. 

Most epic: Colonel Badd, the short film I co-wrote, was accepted into the Court Métrage section of the Cannes Film Festival. I went out there, writing 11 blogs: half were from this trip, half from my 1997 diary from when I went out there with Jon Ronson as Editor of Time Out. Divine madness, with a cast that includes Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, Jonathan King, Alan Parker, Paul Kaye and the Spice Girls. 

Only slightly less epic: I wrote ten blogs on the recent London Screenwriters’ Festival, for those who couldn’t be there, ranging from one-on-one interviews to panels on better writing. Four posts were on the irrepressible Joe “Basic Instinct” Eszterhas, the highest-paid screenwriter of all time. Trust me, they’re a hoot. 

Most controversial: I wrote two blogs about heart-breaking YouTube videos by bullied teens, two of whom went on to commit suicide. One man, ‘Philip Rose’, wrote to me many times, at some length, saying the story of Amanda Todd is not all it seems; he then started his own blog, here. Intriguing. Murky. Very hard to unravel. 

So there it is. Hope to see you back here soon (bring your friends!), and here’s to the next year. A short version of this URL, btw, is www.londonhollywood.net.

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Teen suicides: the messages in a bottle

14 Jan

When writing about Amanda Todd (read that blog first, if you haven’t already, at http://bit.ly/X1wO6Z), I found it was part of a whole sub-genre of teen confessionals: haunting little five-minute shorts that distil a lifetime of pain on to a few handwritten cue-cards. They make for heart-breaking and, sometimes, inspirational viewing.

They bring to mind messages in a bottle, cast onto the virtual sea of the internet, hoping someone will pick up their S.O.S. They do. But sadly not always in time.

Before Amanda Todd there was 19-year-old Olivia Penpraze (above). She was bullied, but her chief affliction was the psychosis she believed developed as a result. She describes the evil hallucinations and voices she experienced as a “LIVING, BREATHING NIGHTMARE”. Think about that for a second: she means the phrase literally, not metaphorically. She warns that she usually tries to commit suicide on May 1st, and that this time she would succeed. She didn’t even last that long.

Her father discovered her messages in a bottle only after her death. They included hundreds of disturbed posts on Tumblr, as well as a final video apologising that she couldn’t hold on any longer, and saying just when she would kill herself. “We are now finding out there are kids on her Facebook who actually know her on the Tumblr account,” her father said. “Why are they not getting in touch? If she said she was going to do something on this date they could have told us.”

There’s worse. As well as those who did nothing, there were those who posted comments egging her on.

Before that, there was Hannah Novak’s My Suicide Story (above). She tells how she had no friends because she was abused: “You don’t want to bring a friend to your house… Who has bruises covering her body L. I felt ugly… worthless… forgotten. So a few weeks ago… I tried to kill myself.”

This, at least, has a happy ending. She gets the medical attention and counselling she needs; learns to talk about her problems; makes new friends; and now uses her story to tell other lonely, suicidal teenagers that they are not alone, that suicide is not the answer.

She now has her own YouTube channel, making videos with titles such as You Won’t Ruin My Life, and Message for the Bullies: “160,000 kids miss school a day… because they are afraid of being bullied.”

Many of the videos in the cue-card genre are called “Secrets” or “If You Really knew Me”. One of the most affecting is Cassie’s (above), because of the range of emotion that flits across her face in five short minutes. She flinches as she holds up each card documenting the taunts: “Go cut your wrists some more… Everybody hates you… GO DIE.”

Then the child in her resurfaces: she holds up another card with a big thumbs-up and a huge grin. “No cuts! J” it says, proudly. She’s delighted that she stopped self-harming. For a while.

This story, too, does not end in suicide. It ends with Cassie finding help and support from a loving boyfriend, and she also now runs a YouTube channel offering support and advice under the user-name XcmfhX. “I’m still broken though,” she admits. “I still cry a lot… I still feel worthless… Honestly, I’ll probably feel like this forever. I’ll just get used to it… Eventually. But I try… and that’s what matters.”

And that’s the thing. Depression feels like a deep pit with unscalable walls where no light penetrates. But there are millions more who’ve been in that pit, and got out, and are ready to reach down a hand.

The Police song Message in a Bottle could have been written for these videos. It ends: “Walked out this morning/ Don’t believe what I saw/ A hundred billion bottles/ Washed up on the shore./ Seems I’m not alone at being alone/ A hundred billion castaways looking for a home.”

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Bullied to death: the last testament of Amanda Todd

12 Jan

amanda-toddI 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