A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Glory is a 1989 movie about the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first all-African-American volunteer company to fight in the Civil War. Racism in many forms is shown here: The "N" word is used, as are dated terms such as "Negro" and "colored"; African-Americans are compared to "monkeys"; and the bitterness and frustration of a lifetime of prejudice, abuse, and slavery comes through in the speech and actions of the soldiers. There is graphic war violence: A soldier's head is blown off by cannon fire. Battles with rifles and bayonets are shown. In a military hospital, the screams of the wounded are graphic, including one soldier heard begging doctors not to cut him anymore. In one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, a soldier found guilty of attempted desertion is sentenced to be whipped in front of the entire regiment. When he removes his shirt, the whip scars from slavery are clearly seen. Overall, this movie is an unforgettable history lesson about soldiers who transcended the profound racism and ignorance of their time to find dignity, courage, valor, and self-respect when given the opportunity to prove their worth.
What's the story?
GLORY tells the epic story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first unit of African-American troops that fought in the American Civil War. Progressive-minded Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is their leader. Shaw's college friend Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), a free-born African-American, eagerly joins the regiment, but most of the soldiers are proud but illiterate ex-slaves, some consumed with hatred toward the South. Troublemaker Trip (Denzel Washington) and the other blacks are kept in line, barely, by John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), who understands the need for obedience if they all are to be soldiers worthy of the name. Shaw imports a trash-talking sergeant to whip the recruits into shape. Feeling they're being treated as inferior, ill-equipped and destined for only boring, non-combat missions, Shaw demands the 54th be allowed to prove themselves in battle. Finally, in an assault on a well-defended Confederate fortress, the African-American regiment gets its moment of "glory," but at a horrific cost. Their ultimate sacrifice earned the honor that opened the doors for free African-American men to serve.
Is it any good?
This powerful and complex movie is best for mature teens and up; it may be too intense for younger kids, even those who are Civil War buffs. Rigorous, even pitiless codes of military behavior is something worth talking about with kids, especially in military families.
The movie is important, because, during a time when white Americans generally accepted the idea that African-Americans were an inferior race and incapable of serving with pride and dignity in the military, Robert Gould Shaw believed otherwise. He fought tirelessly against a corrupt bureaucracy and reluctant military establishment to prove that his all-African-American regiment would display valor and courage in the heat of battle. In the midst of intense racial prejudice from many in the North as well as the South -- and a lifetime of suffering the bitterness, anger, and frustration such prejudice engendered -- the African-American soldiers who composed the 54th Massachusetts Regiment overcame the false assumptions of many, resulting in President Lincoln ordering the recruitment of many more all-African-American regiments, which he believed helped turn the tide in the Civil War.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the history of racism in this country. How have things changed and how have they stayed the same since the Civil War?
What were some of the ways in which racism and bigotry were shown in the movie?
What parts of the movie seem to be an accurate reflection of what actually transpired, and what parts seem to be heightened or exaggerated for the purposes of a Hollywood movie?
Families can research the reasons why the U.S. split into Union and Confederacy and clashed in battle, some of which are not covered in this film.
- In theaters: December 15, 1989
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 1998
- Cast: Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman
- Director: Edward Zwick
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History
- Run time: 122 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: war violence, racism and mature themes.
Themes & Topics
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.