Get on the Bus

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Get on the Bus Movie Poster Image
Absorbing tale of unique moment in history; strong language.
  • R
  • 1996
  • 120 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Black men need to take charge of their own lives. The way to get started is by becoming a better man, both as an individual and as a part of a community. Black men really aren't asking for very much, just equal access to the ability to earn a living and live as they choose. Lots of other messages and issues are talked about or experienced by the characters providing food for thought, but no definitive point of view: skin tone as a measure of Blackness, whether gay men have a place in the community, sexism, color blindness, equal opportunity, rehabilitation, and lots more.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The large cast of African American characters represents lots of different personalities and character types. None are perfect, but all are positive role models for wanting to take action to improve themselves and make the world a better place. Some of the standouts include a father and son struggling to reconcile, a wise elder, a same-sex couple, and a man with a Black father and a white mother. All are complicated, and lots of issues and even stereotypes are explored without any of the characters being stereotypes themselves. Some minor characters are types, if not stereotypes, but raise important issues worth thinking about.


A fight with punching and kicking briefly shows a bloody mouth. A man confesses to past murders when he was involved in a gang. Characters laughingly compare their mothers' use of corporal punishment when they were kids, mentioning being hit with a plate and beaten with a belt.


A character tries to provoke another with frank talk about enjoying sex with women, including the feel, smell, and taste of female genitalia. Another character jokes that he has "big-booty radar." Ironic mention of getting "moist between the legs." Mention of rubbing another's entire body in the shower. Some mild flirtation. 


"P---y," "f--k," "d--k," "bulls--t," the "N" word, "bitch," "hell," "damn," "piss," "crap," "ass," "f--got," and racist name calling like "shiftless" and "lazy."


A scene in a restaurant shows a Pepsi can and several Budweiser bottles. A couple of brief shots of a character with a Jolly Rancher stick in his mouth.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer in a roadhouse; no excess is shown. Some background smoking. An imagined scenario of a woman in labor with a large bottle of beer and a blunt. An unpleasant character smokes cigars and chews on one when he's not allowed to smoke.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Get on the Bus is a 1996 drama directed by Spike Lee that tells a fictional story about a dozen or so African American men who journey by chartered bus to the real-life Million Man March, which took place in Washington, DC in 1995. There's lots of strong language, including a minor character who uses the "N" word a lot to provoke a reaction. Other strong language includes "p---y," "f--k," "d--k," and "f--got." An instance of mild violence shows a fistfight with a slightly bloody mouth. Characters remember past crimes and laughingly remember corporal punishment. There's no depiction of sexual behavior, but there's some frank, talk about sexuality like being "moist between the legs" and enjoying the feel, smell, and taste of a woman's genitalia. Some minor characters are stereotypes to make a point or raise an issue. It's a good opportunity to talk and learn about the Million Man March and a broad range of issues about how African Americans can make their lives and their world a better place, both as individuals and as a community.

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What's the story?

GET ON THE BUS tells the story of a dozen or so African American men who in 1995 board a chartered bus to get from South Central Los Angeles to Washington, DC to participate in the Million Man March. Among the characters are a troubled father and son, an elder who missed the march on Selma, an aspiring filmmaker, a reformed gang member, an actor, and a same-sex couple. As the men get to know each other on the long trip, they explore a host of issues affecting the Black community and themselves as individuals. Will they return from the march better men than when they left?

Is it any good?

Thanks to a strong script and a very talented ensemble cast, this is an absorbing and thought-provoking story that captures a unique moment in American history. The large cast of characters in Get on the Bus are well developed thanks to both the writing and the abundance of charisma the actors bring to their roles. Veteran director Spike Lee takes a fluid, bouncy, sometimes grainy approach to the camera work, which helps keep the movie from feeling heavy-handed even though lots of serious issues are explored.

And while it's definitely stimulating and expresses plenty of controversial ideas, it's also full of wit and humor that keep the story moving and make the characters relatable. Adult themes, mature sexuality, and lots of strong language make it best for mature teens and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the positive representation of African Americans in Get on the Bus. Why is that important? Who were your favorite characters, and what were their strengths and weaknesses?

  • What about all the strong language? Was it realistic? Does it matter if it was or not?

  • Had you heard of the Million Man March before you saw this movie? What did you learn about it? How do you think it compares to the Black Lives Matter movement? Search online or use your local library as a resource to find out more.

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

Themes & Topics

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