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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Foster Boy is a courtroom drama inspired by the legal cases of screenwriter/Chicago-based attorney Jay Deratany, who witnessed corruption in for-profit foster agencies. Produced by NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, the movie stars Matthew Modine as Michael Trainer, a Deratany-like attorney who's assigned the pro-bono case of a young man (Shane Paul McGhie) who's accusing a foster-care agency of negligence, leading to years of abuse. Expect frequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "bitch," etc.), including uses of the racist slur "thug." Adults drink and smoke cigarettes, and drugs are discussed and shown planted as evidence. Violence includes flashbacks to disturbing physical abuse, a serious jail fight that nearly leads to death, and child endangerment. Race and bias are discussed and unpacked as Michael recognizes his own prejudice and becomes more sensitive to Jamal and his experiences. They both learn to look beyond first impressions. Parents and teens can discuss the importance of all kids feeling loved and cared for in a safe home.
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What's the story?
FOSTER BOY is a courtroom drama about corruption in the foster care system. Young Jamal Randolph (Shane Paul McGhie) sues a for-profit foster care agency for negligence leading to his abuse at the hands of foster parents and siblings. Chicago judge George Taylor (Louis Gossett Jr.) appoints slick corporate attorney Michael Trainer (Matthew Modine) as Jamal's pro-bono lawyer. Annoyed with the appointed case, Michael is overtly dismissive of Jamal, whom he calls a "thug," while Jamal calls Michael "three piece" and refuses to believe he'll be of any help. Initially eager to settle the case, Michael starts to believe Jamal's claims when Pamela Deupree (Julie Benz), a social worker turned executive for the foster care agency, offers a six-figure settlement and vaguely warns Michael before trial. As the trial progresses, Jamal and Michael slowly learn to trust each other, even though the agency uses intimidation tactics to threaten their families, their safety, and their freedom.
Is it any good?
This legal drama veers into soapy territory as it explores the abuse, negligence, and corruption involved in a system supposedly designed to keep kids safe. Although at first glance the Shaquille O'Neal-produced Foster Boy looks like a standard-issue White-savior film, it gives Jamal just enough agency to skirt that designation (the focus on courtroom proceedings over interpersonal drama also helps). Michael isn't a stereotypically lionized "man of principle" who swoops in to save Jamal like Atticus Finch, and Jamal isn't full of truths that teach Michael about life. The movie does tell the story from the White lawyer's perspective due to the screenwriter's own experiences as a White lawyer taking on the foster care system. Some aspects feel a bit over-the-top, particularly when the company starts using Big Brother-like tactics to intimidate Jamal and Michael. And it's obvious from the get-go that the private foster care agency is capital-E Evil. Those details make Foster Boy feel like it's more about a lawyer and his client fighting corporate malfeasance than about the power dynamic between a Black client and his White attorney.
Race and racism are still major themes, particularly in the sense of portraying how easily a White-dominated society and justice system look at Black men and see criminals. Predictably, Michael starts the movie prejudiced and unmoved by Jamal's claims ... until the agency starts revealing its true motivation: profit at the expense of the children they're entrusted to place in safe homes. Modine is suited for his part, and McGhie gives a nuanced, powerful performance as a survivor of emotional abuse who wants someone to be accountable for what he never should have had to endure. As a smart, observant judge, Gossett Jr. will remind audiences that his gravitas is worthy of much more than a supporting role. While this film isn't likely to be confused with "crusader" courtroom dramas like Erin Brockovich or Primal Fear, it's a story that will make audiences want to dig deeper into the sad state of foster care in the United States.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Foster Boy. Is it necessary to the story? Does violence involving children impact viewers differently than violence involving adults?
How realistically do you believe the movie portrays foster families and placements?
How believable is the story? What is the message about for-profit agencies that handle foster placements?
- On DVD or streaming: September 25, 2020
- Cast: Matthew Modine, Shane Paul McGhie, Louis Gossett Jr.
- Director: Youssef Delara
- Studio: Gravitas Ventures
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: October 1, 2020
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