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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Students have positive intentions to succeed. But the film imparts complex lessons about growing up by putting them in a variety of difficult situations. They don't always make the "right" choices, either, and because the plot resists tying up loose ends, it's rare to see what the consequences are.
Positive Role Models
Some students prove to be generally poor role models (cursing out teachers at school, having unprotected sex, using drugs) but ultimately redeem themselves at the end of the film, while others stay positive from the beginning. The cast is racially and ethnically diverse, but there's also some racial stereotyping, although it's largely a product of its time. Some students are at the mercy of predatory adults and don't always behave well.
Violence & Scariness
A student (who carries knives) has a violent outburst in class in which he storms out and smashes glass doors with a trash can, and there are a handful of fistfights. Other characters describe violent incidents (not shown on screen) that have negatively affected their lives -- including a 5-year-old girl getting attacked by a junkie, a mother having her head put through a wall by her husband, and someone shooting himself in the head. One near suicide.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Several shots of frontal female nudity from the waist up, plus kissing and innuendo that teens are having unprotected sex (it's implied that Doris loses her virginity to Ralph, and another young couple's sexual activities ultimately lead to an abortion). One student becomes pregnant and schedules an appointment to have an abortion without her parents' knowledge. Another meets a stranger who claims to be a filmmaker and agrees to go to his apartment for a screen test, where she's asked to take off her top -- and does, although she cries as she's doing it.
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Heavy usage of "f--k" (in all its incarnations, including "motherf--ker" and "absof--kinglutely"), "s--t," "ass," "goddamn," and "hell," plus slurs and sexual terms like "faggot," "fag hag," "bitch," "dick," and "t-ts." Some obscene gesturing.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens drink occasionally in nightclubs (legal drinking age at the time was 18). Two students smoke marijuana at a movie theater, and a first-time user says, "I got stoned! It was more than incredible; it was fun." Ralph uses unspecified drugs and drinks after his comedy shows.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that, in terms of content, this R-rated 1980 film is much heavier than both the teen-friendly TV drama it spawned and the PG-rated 2009 remake -- consequently, it's only age-appropriate for mature teens. In addition to frequent, unbleeped swearing (including many forms of "f--k," which even pops up in the classroom with no objection from teachers), viewers will see plenty of topless female characters and watch teens grapple with serious situations, including intense competition, abortion, drug use, poverty, sexual identity (one male student comes out), and suicide. Many of the students make iffy choices that aren't always shown to have negative consequences, although at least two are generally positive role models. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Fame might not be a parent's dream pick when it comes to take-away messages and role models, but it doesn't pander, either. It's one of the most honest portrayals of what it was like growing up in New York City during a certain time. The film also captures the raw emotions of teens who are grappling with heavy issues -- and, more importantly, casts the right actors to portray them with startling clarity.
Fame is undoubtably heavy. But that doesn't mean it leaves ardent fans of the musical/dance genre out in the cold. On the contrary, it serves up songs that still sound vital decades later and puts the talents of young dancers, musicians, and actors on display for the world to see. Fame isn't slick or glib, like many modern takes on the same topic. And that's ultimately what made it famous.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.