A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that kids will be exposed to the prevailing overt prejudices of the early 1960s, against both minorities and women. Walter, the main character drinks in despair. Also, kids might have a hard time warming up to the stark black and white cinematography, the dialogue-heavy scenes left mostly intact from the play, and the single set, the families' apartment. However, this is one of the earliest movies to feature an all-African American cast and it addresses themes that remain relevant today, including the struggles of minorities (and in some part women, too) to attain the "great American dream."
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What's the story?
Walter (Sidney Poitier) is a Black man who desperately wants more out of life than his being Black offers him. When his mother gets a large insurance check, he plans to invest the money in a liquor store. Walter falls into a pit of despair when Mama rejects his idea as immoral. She wants to buy a house in a decent neighborhood and put Walter's sister through medical school. Mama puts a down payment on a house in an all-white neighborhood and gives Walter the remaining cash as a sign of trust. Going against his word, Walter gives the money to his partner, who runs away with it. When their new white neighbors offer the family cash to keep them out of the neighborhood, Walter refuses, claiming that he comes from a line of proud people and will not accept the money and destroy his self-respect.
Is it any good?
Sidney Poitier leads a terrific ensemble. Adapted from Lorraine Hansberry's Pulitzer prize-winning stage play in which a Black family dreams of a better life, A RAISIN IN THE SUN is one of the earliest movies to feature a cast of all-Black characters. While teens may find it initially forbidding, they are sure to be swept up in the intensity of the struggle as the movie explores big moral themes. Walter and his family argue about ethically acceptable means of getting ahead in life. They argue about whether God or man is responsible for mankind's achievements. Walter's sister is on a quest for her African identity. Like everyone in the family, the sister wants much out of life -- she wants to be a doctor -- and doesn't give up, even when her own family tells her that, as a Black woman, she should settle for less. No one in this story ever gives up.
This is not the easiest movie for children to embrace. It's shot in stark black and white, and clearly shows its theatrical heritage. Set in one apartment, the highly-emotional dialogue-heavy scenes are protracted and require more concentration than most contemporary movies. If kids give it a chance, though, the story will grab them and not let go. One 11-year-old boy fidgeted at first, but eventually got caught up in the exciting tale. He loved the African drumming and dancing scene, and he definitely understood that the white "welcoming committee" was anything but. Still, preteens are a bit young; the movie will play better to teenagers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the movie was shot in black and white. Color films were fairly common by the early 1960s, so why do you think this director chose black and white film? What does it add to the movie? Are you less distracted by the characters dress or their surroundings? Do you think it emphasizes the "Blackness" of the African-American characters and the "whiteness" of their Caucasian neighbors? Does it create more tension?
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