Mark Wahlberg on Guilt and Grief in ‘Good Joe Bell’

The first event at which we see Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) speak his anti-bullying message can’t help but make you laugh. He’s standing on-stage with a disheveled look cultivated by a weeks-long journey on foot, spouting more nervous “ums” then concrete dialogue as his son Jadin (Reid Miller) watches at the back of the auditorium. The scene lasts less than two minutes before Bell asks the audience of teenagers if they have any questions as though his awkward presence was enough to spark conversation let alone change. It’s the epitome of performative allyship and self-assuaging action that can often do more harm than good. An empty speech won’t inspire people to embrace a cause. It will instead embolden the intolerant into believing their opponents have nothing to say.

Let’s be honest: Bell didn’t have anything to say. His cross-country mission was built upon superficial notions of tolerance that society loves to present as fact despite often refusing to put them into practice. Yes, we shouldn’t discriminate against people different than us. Yes, Jadin shouldn’t have endured what he did as an openly gay teen in an ultra-conservative Oregonian town. Yes, Joe …