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April 11, 2013, 12:00 AM | posted by in Filmmakers
Ruth Thomas-Suh understands rejection better than most, including many people who have been on the receiving end of it for most of their lives. Her father, psychiatrist Dr. Herbert E. Thomas, studied it extensively and published The Shame Response to Rejection in 1997. She gave a copy of the book to Eric Mohat's family after the Mentor teen committed suicide.
Now, it's her film on the subject that is changing lives.
"Reject," a thorough and unflinching examination of how social ostracism and bullying shaped many of the recent tragedies that have dominated the news, makes its world premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival, but its test screenings have already been making waves and shaping social programs.
"A parent, who saw the film, shared privately with me the painful realization that his own behavior towards his child had caused the child to stutter and have behavior problems at school," she says. "We were both in tears—it was a very honest moment."
The behaviors in question often consist of actions that are much more harmful than people realize. "If someone is physically hurt," she points out, "the perpetrator is usually punished. With ostracism, exclusion and rejection (this includes bullying), we are getting into grey areas of human relationships. Too many times, people on the receiving end of it think there is something wrong with them, or they don’t want to burden anyone with what is happening to them."
The effects, however, can be devastating. One has only to look at the latest headline, about the suicide of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons in Canada, to see this. To date, no charges have been filed against any of her tormentors. But several other recent cases, including Eric Mohat's, have changed the way the general public views such situations.
"There seemed to be a tipping point around the time of the Phoebe Prince case in Massachusetts," she adds. "People started to say, 'What you are doing is really important.' Prior to that, there were a lot of blank looks."
As upsetting as the suicides are, the cases of victims who turned their violence outward, taking it upon themselves to punish those who had ostracized them, are even more terrifying. Columbine was such a situation, but Thomas-Suh wants to focus on a different aspect of the situation than the boys' access to firearms.
"There is much talk about 'how' people commit violence, but our film focuses on the 'why,'" she explains. "We hope people will look in their own communities for people who are getting ostracized and rejected and take it seriously. In the worst-case scenario, it could lead to violence and there are steps you can take to intervene before the worst happens. There is an opportunity to be accepting and kind in all human interactions, no matter how seemingly small," she points out. "One person said, 'We need to be hard on ideas and gentle on people.' Kindness really does matter."
-– Anne M. DiTeodoro and Lara Klaber
Photo: Ruth Thomas-Suh and her father, Dr. Herbert Thomas. Photo by Janet Macoska.
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