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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Some strongly negative images and scenes are overpowered by what is ultimately strong positive messages: Animosity and prejudice are often based on fear and lack of awareness of the culture and values of the "other." By living among strangers and sharing their lives and aspirations, understanding and respect come naturally. Language is a vehicle which promotes such understanding. Some battles are waged as a means of survival; other battles are about power and subjugation. Native American tribes were fighting the oncoming white troops and settlers for access to their own land and resources which would sustain their way of life.
Positive Role Models
John Jay Dunbar, as a survivor of the Civil War with little or no knowledge of the American frontier and the plight of Native Americans who inhabit it, is the role model for the film’s audience. As Dunbar comes to view the frontier as it really is, the audience follows suit. Dunbar is open to a different way of life, and he is brave, smart, loyal and heroic. Most of the Native Americans in this movie are shown as devoted to family, eager to laugh, protect their way of life, and live in harmony, a vastly different picture of this people from many movies that came before it. With Dunbar the only exception, the white soldiers in this film are depicted as brutal and ignorant.
Violence & Scariness
Intensely violent battle scenes between white soldiers and Native-Americans and between different tribes. Both participants and innocents (including some children) are shot with guns or arrows; they’re knifed, scalped, killed with hatchets or in furious hand-to-hand combat. Human and animal blood flows throughout. Many animals (horses, dogs, and buffalos) are attacked and shown bleeding and dying. Indians ravage an innocent group of settlers; white soldiers beat, pummel, and ferociously kick the film’s hero; the same soldiers gleefully attack a beloved wolf for the sport of it.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A Native-American couple, their bare shoulders visible, are briefly shown making love under the animal skins which cover them. There are several scenes which depict a couple who is deeply in love passionately kissing, embracing, and undressing. There is some nudity, including rear views of a naked male.
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Some swearing early in the film: “Jesus Christ,” “I just pissed in my pants,” “Goddamn,” “butt,” “son-of-a-bitch,” “hell,” “bitch,” and some fart sounds.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One character smokes a cigar. In numerous scenes the tribal ritual of smoking a pipe is shared by groups of Native-Americans and their guests. A few instances of alcohol consumption.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that certain scenes in this film stretch the boundaries of a PG-13 rating and are extremely violent. Both Native Americans and white settlers are brutally killed, many times in close-up, with rifles, knives, arrows, hatchets, and in hand-to-hand combat. Blood flows in many scenes. Animals, including some who have been seen throughout as loyal companions to the humans, are viciously killed. At the same time, the picture painted of Native-Americans as a peace-loving, desperate to survive, family-oriented people broke much new ground in 1990 when this movie was made. There is some mild profanity in early scenes; some partial nudity and passionate kissing and embracing; and Native-Americans sharing a pipe is shown as an ongoing tribal custom. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This very emotional and intense epic has many light-hearted moments, but it's not kid-friendly. It is fraught with violence, and there are heavy themes such as suicide (three characters attempt to take their own lives; one succeeds). However, the characters in DANCES WITH WOLVES will stay with you, as will the decisions they make and the love (and hatred) they show.
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.