Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Elian Movie Poster Image
Detailed look at complex politics surrounding 2000 event.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 108 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Family is important. Despite all the politics surrounding the case of this young Cuban immigrant in the U.S., a judge eventually decides that he should be with his only surviving parent, even though his dad lives in Cuba. Themes include courage and empathy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While they ended up on different sides of the issue, Elian's family in Cuba and his family in the United States were all united by their love for the boy and a desire to give him a good life.


Intense arguments about Elian's fate. At the end of the movie, agents raid the boy's home, literally taking the child from his family at gunpoint.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Elian is a documentary about the saga of Elian Gonzales, a young Cuban boy who was found floating off the Florida coast in 1999. His mother had died fleeing Cuba, but Elian survived and was taken in by relatives in Miami, eventually triggering an international incident when his father in Cuba demanded his return. The film offers a comprehensive look at the events and their aftermath and includes interviews with Elian, now an adult. Elian's story has themes of courage and empathy, and there's not really any swearing, drinking, sex, or other red flags for parents -- aside from Elian being taken from his U.S. relatives at gunpoint. But the politics may be too complicated for younger viewers.

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What's the story?

On Thanksgiving Day, 1999, two Florida fishermen found a young boy floating on an inner tube, miles off the Florida coast. Amazingly, he was alive, but his mother had died while fleeing Cuba for a chance at a better life in America. The boy, Elian Gonzalez, was taken in by relatives in Miami who were determined to give him that life -- until his father back in Cuba asked for his son to be returned home. ELIAN is a well-made, detailed documentary that examines the issue from every side, showing how the boy, just 6 years old, ended up at the center of a massive political dispute pitting Fidel Castro's Cuba against the United States.

Is it any good?

This documentary is a well-made, even-handed look at a memorable historical event. The Elian Gonzales incident was complex; emotions ran extremely high, and, in the end, few people were left completely satisfied by the resolution. Elian, on the other hand, is straightforward, informative, and interesting, if lacking in urgency.

Filmmakers Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell do an excellent job of explaining how this boy became the center of an international conflict. They talk to the key people involved -- who, even decades later, have plenty to say -- and make great use of historical footage. They even talk to Elian, now a young man, who's quick to say that he's happy living in Cuba and never wanted to be a political pawn. The film places his role in the tense U.S.-Cuba relationship of the era, lessons that are still applicable today as that relationship is finally starting to thaw

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Elian's story. Why do you think the boy's situation become so politicized? Do you agree with the final decision? How do you feel about the way it was carried out?

  • Do you think this story is still relevant today? How does it fit into the current debate surrounding immigration issues?

  • How does the movie show the importance of both courage and empathy? Why are those important character strengths?

Movie details

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