A Chattanooga native has a central role in a new summer movie about the aftermath of a gay teen's suicide.
Reid Miller, 22, says he had no prior knowledge of Jadin Bell, an Oregon teenager who took his life in 2013 after being bullied, or of Jadin's father's quest to walk across America to bring attention to the tragedy.
However, Miller says it didn't take him long to understand the story or to want to play the young Bell in the new movie, "Joe Bell." Mark Wahlberg and Connie Britton star as Jadin's parents in the film, which opened nationally on Friday.
"I was so young [when it happened], but once I started doing the research ... I knew I wanted to be a part of the movie and to get the story out," Miller says.
Miller, who was born in Chattanooga but moved away the summer before first grade, says the story focuses on the mistreatment of people who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning). But it is also about bullying in general and people's unwillingness to see others as they are.
"The message is timeless, unfortunately," he says. "It's not even just about LGBTQ; it's about bullying and acceptance of anyone.
"Unfortunately, I feel like as long as there are people who don't accept the LGBTQ community and take the time to educate themselves, this conversation will have to be had," he says.
Watch the trailer for “Joe Bell” on YouTube.
"It's about fighting to get people to understand that we are all people and love is love. We need to have people who stand up for what is right."
In real life, as in the movie, Joe Bell did not seek to be a person who stood up for LGBTQ rights, until the suicide forced him to confront the extent of his son's suffering. Miller says he hopes the depth of the family's tragedy will resonate with viewers. Though the film is rated R (for teen partying, language, disturbing material and offensive slurs), Miller is hopeful young people especially will see it and be impacted by it, even if not every mind is changed.
"It's important for young people who are still learning to see how important it is to know that this is what bullying can do. It can end a life," he says.
"If people would just listen. Stop talking so much, and just listen."
Social media is especially toxic, he says.
"Think of a horrible event and look it up and you find people trolling and making fun of it," he says. "I don't know why [they don't take it seriously], but they need to know there are consequences."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.