A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Across the Line is a 2015 drama about a black Canadian teen pursuing his dream of NHL hockey stardom amidst a backdrop of racial tensions in his Nova Scotia hometown. For the record, there isn't very much hockey in this movie aside from the lead character running skating drills and practicing his shooting. There's frequent profanity, especially in the form of racist slurs: White teens and adults use the "N" word, but also derogatory terms such as "monkey," "ape," and "dark meat." A mixed-race teen girl is called a "half-breed" by a black girl who is shown bullying other students. Other types of profanity frequently used include "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "ass," and "d--k." A female student takes a pregnancy test, uncertain as to who the father is. Two teens have sex in a basement, kissing and undressing on a couch. Bullying and name-calling lead to violence: White and black students are shown getting into violent fistfights in the high school hallway, the lead character is jumped by two white students while walking home, and one of these white students ends up severely injured in the hospital. The movie doesn't sugarcoat the racism, which is based on actual events that took place in Nova Scotia, and while any attempts at idealistic platitudes are met with scoffs, the movie does find a way to leave just enough hope amidst the despair in the open-ended closing.
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What's the story?
In ACROSS THE LINE, Mattie (Stephan James) is a star hockey player in his Nova Scotia high school who has attracted the attention of an NHL scout. He's also a black Canadian teen in a high school boiling over with racial tensions. His older brother, Carter (Shamier Anderson), works as a pimp and drug dealer, attracted by the chance to make good money and preferring it to following in his father's footsteps and working a blue-collar job with white bosses. Mattie is also an algebra tutor to Jayme (Sarah Jeffery), a mixed-race punk rocker who dreams of escaping to Toronto with her white boyfriend, a teen with racist friends and a racist mother. As Mattie works to pursue his dream, he's caught in the hurricane swirling around him. After getting arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (getting a ride home from practice with his brother, who has two prostitutes in the back seat of his car), Mattie knows he needs to be careful and stay out of trouble. But as white and black students get into fights in the hallways of his high school, and as a romance heats up with Jayme, it becomes all but impossible for Mattie to tune out what's happening around him as he comes face-to-face with the inequality and injustice in his own life and ambitions.
Is it any good?
There's a fearlessness and an audacity to this movie that's admirable. Following the challenges that a gifted black Canadian teen hockey player faces amidst a backdrop of racial tensions in his high school and community in Nova Scotia, the movie doesn't take the easy way out through moving speeches and passionate platitudes that solve all problems. No one is innocent, but the movie highlights how the kinds of typical mistakes and peer pressure any teens might give into in a moment of weakness disproportionately impact black teens, and how the margin for error is nowhere near the same for white teens.
However, Across the Line forsakes the action of hockey despite the movie's title. Here we have a black Canadian teen hockey player competing in a sport where it's still rare to see people of color playing it, succeeding despite getting limited ice time for questionable reasons in a culture eager to throw the full force of its prejudice at him, both on and off the ice. He would be dealing with white players checking him harder, taunting him uglier, trying to provoke fights. Why is this aspect to who Mattie is and what he contends with left out? It makes no sense. In addition, the resolution to the movie feels a bit slapdash, almost like they didn't know how to end it. Still, despite the misleading title and undeveloped potential, this movie could inspire conversation about race relations in high school and beyond.
Talk to your kids about ...
Parents can talk about how racism and racial tensions are conveyed in movies. How does Across the Line show racist characters, as well as the complexities and obstacles such racism creates for talented kids who are trying to do well in a difficult environment?
Rather than ending in a simplistic "happily ever after" way, the ending leaves the story open and unresolved. Do you think this is how a movie like this should end? Why do you think so many movies go for a happy ending?
Between the title and the lead character being a hockey player, there's an implication that there will be a lot more sports in this movie than there actually is. Why do you think that was the case? If you were to give this movie a different title based on what happens in the movie, what would you call it?
- In theaters: September 29, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: August 1, 2017
- Cast: Stephan James, Sarah Jeffery, Shamier Anderson
- Director: Director X
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, High School
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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