by Susan Pascal
The effects of bullying can last a lifetime. I know. I was bullied in middle school.
I was in seventh grade and had just moved from a laid-back, small town, where I had plenty of friends, to an upscale, suburban neighborhood to become the quintessential fish out of water.
Because I wasn’t dressed in the trendy fashions of the day or coiffed like Farrah Fawcett, I was called terrible names, laughed at, whispered about and basically shunned. I remember being unable to comprehend that my peers could judge me based on the clothes I wore rather than the person I was inside. These certainly weren’t the values with which I was raised.
Following two years of torment, I eventually was able to “fit in” and “move on,” but the scars remain, as it does for so many women who have been victimized by childhood bullies.
Filmmaker Lauren Paul, 29, was also bullied in middle school, ostracized by girls she thought were her friends. “It started with a rumor but then spread, not only throughout these girls … but across the whole school, something that wasn’t true about me,” said Paul. “[The bullying] turned into two years of torture–name calling, rumors, getting pushed around in the P.E. locker room, throwing things at me during lunch.”
Her experience led to a deep depression which turned into an eating disorder. “It was a dark chapter of my life where I really just lost myself,” she said.
Later, while attending Pepperdine University in Malibu, Paul met fellow film student Molly Thompson, working on a documentary entitled I Am. “That was a key moment that inspired me into realizing that this could be a great way to share my story,” she said. “I sat down with Molly, and she had [her own bullying] story in high school with a group of girls, and we immediately connected with the subject matter.”
In 2008, Paul and Thompson began shooting interviews with women and girls in the Los Angeles and Orange County who were victimized by bullies. “It felt like we were popping the lid off of something,” she said. “It was obvious that people were wanting to shed light on this.”
The women then embarked on a 10,000-mile, cross-country journey to speak those who were either affected by bullies or those perpetrating the torment.”We’ve interviewed adults who can accurately recall everything they did in middle school,” said Paul. “They were the mean girls, and they still carry that burden and that guilt many years later.”
Their completed documentary, Finding Kind, won several film festival awards and was screened in theaters in both Los Angeles and New York. “As filmmakers, that experience was great, but the greater goal was to get this into schools and to really make a difference that way,” said Paul.
Finding Kind laid the groundwork for the Kind Campaign, an organization that brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-against-girl bullying. The non-profit has brought to the forefront a global awareness, school assemblies and educational curriculums.
In addition to volunteer-run programs around the country, Paul and Thompson travel twice a year to host Founder Assemblies. “Molly and I speak in about 70-80 schools per year,” said Paul.
Paul feels the campaign has made an impact. “Now, when we visit schools, we always note an [anti-bullying] presence,” she said. “There will be posters in the halls that say things like ‘This is a No Tolerance Zone.”
One of the biggest boosts of awareness for the campaign occurred when Paul’s husband, actor Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), gave her a shout-out during his Emmy Award-winning Best Supporting actor acceptance speech in 2014. “He’s always taken every opportunity to spread the word about what we do,” said Paul, admitting that particular evening left her “speechless.”
On Nov. 4th, at the Agoura Hills Recreation and Events Center, women and girls from the Conejo Valley will have an opportunity to not only get to screen the critically acclaimed documentary but have the opportunity to interact with Paul and Thompson.
“With the advancement of technology, bullying is getting much worse and it’s important to understand the underlying issue,” said Jaime Goldstein, cultural event coordinator. “We wanted to bring Lauren and Molly to Agoura Hills because the first time we showed Finding Kind, the impact was so intense, I had moms and daughters coming up to me crying and thanking the City for showing the film.
“In addition to the strong message of the film, we wanted to celebrate Lauren and Molly as successful directors and producers. This event will be an opportunity for the public to hear about their journey and experience in the film industry as well.”
The event will run from 6-9 p.m. The ticket price of $10 includes the film screening, interactive assembly with Paul and Thompson and food. Click here to purchase tickets.
100 percent of proceeds support Kind Campaign and the 91301 Student Film Competition