A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Grass Is Greener is a 2019 documentary that traces both the history of marijuana's influence on jazz and hip-hop musicians and also the racist underpinnings of the War on Drugs. Unsurprisingly, there's a tremendous amount of marijuana smoking, and when there isn't marijuana smoking, people are talking about marijuana smoking, as well as the perceived benefits of using cannabis. On the whole, this is a serious documentary that explores how the anti-marijuana laws from the 1930s onward have led to the persecution of minority communities and the unprecedented spike in convictions has led to the prison industrial complex. Furthermore, now that cannabis is, in some states and cities, decriminalized if not legalized, and turning into a burgeoning billion-dollar industry, this documentary addresses the shocking fact that less than 1% of legal dispensaries are owned and operated by African Americans. Parents will want to talk with their teens about the consequences of smoking marijuana since the numerous scenes of people using the drug will come off as glamorizing its use without discussing any possible negative effects.
What's the story?
GRASS IS GREENER explores America's extremely complicated relationship with marijuana, especially as it pertains to music, race, and the War on Drugs. The documentary follows two threads. The first is the relationship musicians from the 1930s onward have had with marijuana. Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong were regular smokers and advocated for its legalization, and numerous songs praised marijuana's use. As jazz grew, so did marijuana usage throughout the country, which led to the Beat Generation's praise of marijuana, which inspired its popularity in the counterculture of the 1960s and beyond. From there, hip-hop and reggae artists from the 1970s onward have championed its use and advocated for its legalization. The second thread of the documentary concerns the racist underpinnings of the War on Drugs -- from the 1930s, which saw a flood of inaccurate propaganda about marijuana's alleged negative effects on through the Nixon Administration, which saw the War on Drugs as a way to continue oppressing communities of color after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and also a way to counter antiwar activists in universities. This led to the "Just Say No" campaigns of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, where prison populations began to dramatically spike as "get tough" laws created mandatory sentencing for even trace amounts of marijuana. Grass Is Greener then takes a look at today, where, in states were cannabis has been more or less legalized, a thriving billion-dollar industry is literally growing, while in less progressive states, African American men continue to serve felony sentences for possessing one or two joints.
Is it any good?
With its punny title and 4/20 release date, it's forgivable to expect Grass Is Greener to be another dopey pro-marijuana movie. Fortunately, that's not the case. This is a necessary documentary that examines, from the relative enlightened vantage point of 2019, how the War on Drugs, and on cannabis in particular, was a tool used by the government to oppress people of color, or anyone opposed to, say, the Vietnam War. Grass Is Greener also traces how musicians have used and praised marijuana since at least the 1930s -- Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, among many others -- and how they too had their own "Branson" -- who has been name-checked in at least 70 hip-hop songs as the man who had the best weed in Harlem.
It's a thoughtful documentary, for all of its scenes of marijuana smoking. Grass Is Greener does more than simply address the possible creative or healthy benefits of cannabis, or even the positive impacts its legalization has had on states that are allowing its use. This documentary goes a step further, and calls out the continued racism that even permeates this burgeoning cannabis industry. One of the most shocking statistics in a documentary filled with shocking statistics is that fewer than 1% of legal dispensaries are run by African Americans, despite African Americans being the most persecuted in the decades when the War on Drugs was at a fever pitch. Interviewees even suggest reparations for those individuals, families, and communities who were destroyed by "get tough" prison sentences for trace amounts of marijuana. On the whole, this is a provocative documentary that does so much more than you might suspect at first glance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentaries. How does Grass Is Greener compare to other documentary films you've seen? How does it use historical footage, interviews, and statistic to make its arguments?
Does this documentary glorify marijuana use without giving reasonable space to any potential negative effects the drug might have? How might someone who is against the legalization and use of cannabis respond to the arguments presented in this documentary?
What were some of the arguments made in the documentary and how were they presented? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? What surprised you?
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