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Parents' Guide to

17 Blocks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Outstanding, mature docu shows impact of systemic racism.

Movie NR 2021 96 minutes
17 Blocks Poster Image

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This incredible, essential documentary is difficult and heartbreaking to watch, but it's also an act of fearlessness, a gesture of defiance, and a declaration of hope. 17 Blocks is a mix of home video footage and scenes shot by professional documentary filmmakers. After Rothbart befriended Emmanuel and Smurf in 1999, he gave 9-year-old Emmanuel his video camera, and the boy began filming himself and his family. When tragedy struck in 2009, Rothbart returned to the family and, at Cheryl Sanford's request, started filming anew, continuing for another decade.

The finished film -- cut from some 1,000 hours of footage -- also documents the impact of systemic racism, showing how hard many Black people struggle to stay afloat in a country where the deck is stacked against them. The movie's title alone is powerful: It refers to the distance from the Sanfords' home to the U.S. Capitol, and it's difficult to imagine a bolder line drawn between the country many Americans imagine (or aspire to) and the country they actually have. 17 Blocks is searingly honest, showing the effect of drugs on the Sanford family and including such tragic details as a shop whose entire purpose is to create memorial T-shirts for the many people who've been killed in their neighborhood. But the movie also shows the power of love and hope and the Sanford family's perseverance. It's a difficult watch, but it's an essential emotional experience.

Movie Details

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