For Bill McAdams, Jr., it's important to tell both sides of a story.
The local actor/writer/director decided to write and direct his most recent film based on an incident that reminded him that division and tribalism are still alive and well.
Bully High, in a nutshell, is the story of a Muslim exchange student who gets bullied at her new high school because she wears a hijab, a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women.
McAdams, 53, said a painful episode from his personal life was the inspiration for the film.
“About four years ago I started dating an Egyptian girl," McAdams said. "We hit it off. She was Muslim and had her ways. She didn't drink, and she lived off the land. And I started adapting to the way she was and didn't drink for a whole year.
“We just kind of hit it off. We started liking each other more and more and I told my family. They said ‘you can't marry a non-Christian.’ It kind of took me aback, because I was like, 'But she's good for me. We're having fun and it's all healthy.' But there was a stigma against that."
McAdams said the experience shook him to the core and also led to an understanding of the types of attitudes and preconceptions that can lay the groundwork for bullying.
"After that happened, I told her about it, just to be honest with her, and it kind of put a dent in our relationship," McAdams said. "Things just kind of fell off the table, and it was hard. She's an executive producer on the movie, and we still talk, but it was tough.
"It just kind of took me down the road of bullying. She said she had been bullied because of the color of her skin. I was like 'Wow, people still bully each other for the color of their skin?'”
McAdams said in California, three out of four Muslim women are bullied for wearing the hijab, which is intended to promote modesty.
He said it was an eye-opening experience and one he felt that needed to be addressed.
“It was a big subject to tackle because I didn't think it was that big of a deal,” McAdams said. “But then I started seeing that, like, one out of four bullies were teachers, so adults were bullying children, that kind of pissed me off. But I have to say that this is not just a movie about a Muslim girl, or a racist or a Christian.
“It's a movie about love and acceptance and forgiveness, and I'm just trying to open the eyes of the people that live in the box. Just take a step outside and meet someone who is not just like you. You don't have to agree on everything, but you can learn from other cultures."
A review of his directorial history reveals that McAdams, Jr. has a penchant for such movies.
"All my films are clash cultures,” McAdams said. “Gallows Road, I clash the blacks and the whites. Jose Canseco: The Truth Hurts is about a Cuban baseball player who gets blackballed for telling the truth... I just think we can learn from each other, and I guess my advice is to step outside your comfort zone and say hello to someone that doesn't look like you. You never know what is going on with them and how you can help each other."
McAdams sat in on the premier of Bully High at the Film Alley Weatherford, an experience the Aledo man described as “surreal,” and then stood at the door on the way out to gauge reactions.
"They walked past me and said, 'Oh, you're the racist guy — I hope you're not like that in real life,'" McAdams said. "But I got the chance to talk to them and everyone that I talked to enjoyed the film. Not only does it have a strong message, but it is also entertaining, which I have to do. It has to be entertaining. That's my job as a writer/director."
McAdams used several local actors and crew members in Bully High as well and said it was a decision he did not regret.
“They are strong people,” McAdams said. “Caroline Stella (producer) went to Aledo High School. Taylor Jabara is an unbelievable actor from Plano, and my producer is from Fort Worth, and her name is Therese Moncrief. And then Brent Anderson, who is the cow milk (Lactaid) guy, plays the principal. He was in My All-American and he's an incredible actor. So the talent here is great."
McAdams moved to Texas in 2012 and formed the Aledo Film Group, saying he has been welcomed warmly in his Parker County community.
With Bully High, McAdams opens up on a deeply personal level about several issues and hopes that viewers leave with a couple of things in mind.
"I don't want to tell people how to think or feel," McAdams said. "I think that's anti-film. You just throw it out there and people grab onto what they want to talk about.
"This was the first time in 40 years, for instance, that I talked about being molested. I gave it to Taylor Jabara, who plays the mean girl, the bully in the movie. Because I always questioned why the bully was mean. And we never kind of go there, because we always just think, ah, they don't need help. But they need the most help of all.
“I think that's where the story can kind of hit home is to reach out to the person that you think doesn't need it. I think that person is the one that needs the hug and needs to talk. Violence is not the answer. We need to start talking. You've got to ask questions to get the conversation going without judgement."
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