Will Grant takes a test shot while actresses Maggie Braswell, left, and Jessica Gift rehearse a scene for 'Love is Louder' on Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Rocky Mount. Grant wrote and is in the process of shooting the anti-bullying movie.
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Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

Will Grant takes a test shot while actresses Maggie Braswell, left, and Jessica Gift rehearse a scene for 'Love is Louder' on Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Rocky Mount. Grant wrote and is in the process of shooting the anti-bullying movie.

Teen filmmaker battles bullying

By Laura McFarland

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A bully changed Will Grant’s life.

Early childhood breathing conditions meant that by the time Grant reached sixth grade, he wasn’t athletic. When he became easily winded in gym class, another child called him gay. Other students joined in, and Grant soon found himself facing a daily barrage of verbal abuse.

Grant, now 19, said he tried ignoring it at first, but the torment continued. It reached the point where some days he would come home in tears, worrying his parents.

“You can ignore it up to a certain point before you actually start to look at yourself and think, ‘Is there something wrong with me? If this many kids are saying bad things about me, is there something about me that makes me unlikable?’” said Grant of Rocky Mount.

The insecurities, pain and damage to self-esteem caused by bullying are issues Grant wants to address in a short film he is making to raise awareness of the problem. Grant began filming “Love is Louder” last month with the help of friends.

That time in Grant’s life is over, and he is happy, he said. His family switched to home schooling the next year and stayed with it until Grant finished high school in May. But the memory of the abuse and the knowledge that many children endure similar situations stuck with him, Grant said.

“People write off being bullied as a rite of passage. It’s like, ‘Everybody goes through it, you’ve just got to ignore them and get through it.’ ... If people are killing themselves because of a rite of passage, that doesn’t seem like a good rite of passage. Something needs to be done and changed,” said Grant, a freshman at Nash Community College.

Grant’s film was inspired by Love is Louder, a like-named campaign launched Oct. 1 by MTV, the actress Brittany Snow and The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on emotional health and suicide prevention among teenagers and young adults. The campaign was a response to the media firestorm surrounding several teen suicides because of bullying in September, said Courtney Knowles, executive director of the foundation.

Grant also completed a series of photographs of friends incorporating their interests and the Love is Louder theme.

Inspiring projects such as Grant’s film are exactly the effect organizers hoped for with Love is Louder, Knowles said. The organization tries to get people to think about their emotional health and take a better approach to how they treat themselves and others into their communities and schools.

“I think a lot of times when we use the word ‘bully,’ people think of that really severe borderline violent behavior. Quite frankly, when we stereotype or misrepresent or disregard people, all of those actions can have the same outcome as traditional bullying,” Knowles said.

The film will focus on three students being mistreated, ignored or bullied in some way, Grant said. Filming will take place at different locations around Rocky Mount.

Jessica Gift, 16, said she never has had to deal with mistreatment at the level the victims in the movie do, but she has seen similar situations happen to others. Gift plays Casey, an average teenage girl who wants to fit in but is singled out for ridicule by a mean girl.

“The script is so powerful. It really portrays teenage life and a lot things that are going on in the world. I think it accurately portrays the consequences of bullying that are happening, and I think it is wonderful,” said Gift, a junior at Northern Nash High School.

Maggie Braswell, 18, plays Amy, the mean girl who relentlessly picks on Gift’s character. It’s the kind of catty behavior too common in schools, Braswell said, and she hopes it gives hope to teens who think nobody cares, don’t want to burden their parents or feel the situation will become worse if they talk about it.

“Ever since the suicides, I think people have been talking about it more and there has been more awareness. But I don’t think people know really how much it goes on in everyday life, not just in big situations like that. So, I think it definitely needs more attention,” said Braswell, a senior at Northern Nash.

In addition to reaching out to bully’s and their victims, the film also sends a message that it is not OK to stand on the sidelines and do nothing when you see hurtful behavior happening, said Benton Moss, who plays Martin, a bully.

“I think it is the people who are sitting on the sidelines and are neither participating in the bullying or being bullied that really need to step up and speak out. ... Even if it changed only a couple of people, that would be a job well done because you have helped someone to change as a person and change for the better,” Moss said.