A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that He Got Game is Spike Lee's 1998 exploration of the pressures placed on a fictional number-one high school basketball pick as colleges and NBA coaches line up to offer money, women, and cars. A dad with impulse control issues tries to get back into the life of the talented son who rejected him long ago. Corruption in high school and college sports is shown, as well as graphic sexual scenes with bared breasts, depictions of drug use, violence, and manslaughter. Women are largely portrayed as whores, sex objects, or betrayers. Condoms, abortions, and STDs are mentioned; prostitution plays a large role in the movie. The predominating subtext is the exploitation of Black athletes, and also the circumstances from which they often come -- deprived neighborhoods and schools, broken families -- in some cases caused by racism. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "p---y," "d--k," the "N" word, "f-ggot," "scumbag," "ho," "bitch," "balls," and "poontang." Drug use -- cocaine, crack, crystal meth -- is discussed and shown in montage. A man accidentally kills someone when he's drunk. Denzel Washington co-stars.
- Parents say
- Kids say
Unexpected graphic sex (male-biased), prostitution, and overall misogyny throughout the film make it a horrible watching experience
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What's the story?
Jesus Shuttlesworth (NBA star Ray Allen) is the number-one college basketball pick. HE GOT GAME focuses on the week before the Brooklyn high school star announces which college's full ride he will accept. Life has dealt him a tough hand as his father Jake (Denzel Washington) is in prison for killing his mother (Lonette McKee). Jesus has had to raise his younger sister. An aunt and uncle have played a role, but as offers of under-the-table money, cars, homes, and other enticements come from colleges and sports agents, his uncle (Bill Nunn) openly demands repayment for helping out. Jesus' girlfriend Lala (Rosario Dawson) wants hers too as she insists the reluctant Jesus illegally meet with an agent. Jesus' plate is full when his father, who has been offered time off from his prison sentence, shows up requesting that his estranged son sign with Big State, the alma mater of New York's fictional governor.
Is it any good?
There's much to appreciate in this film, but it's not one of the great director Spike Lee's best by a long shot. Allen, in his first role, and Washington are both fine, but more important, Lee's love of basketball is unmistakable, as is his admiration for those who dedicate themselves to mastering the game. And Lee's eyes are open to the exploitation of talented players, especially those from lower-income backgrounds who look to sports as a way out of poverty. Many insights are true and powerful, but scenes go on far too long, with some subplots completely unnecessary, and characters make agonizingly bad choices in ways that don't advance the plot at all.
As for rooting He Got Game in realism, Jesus never spends a moment going over the pros and cons of any particular college even though he still hasn't decided just days before that decision is due. These missteps make the movie difficult and even cringe-inducing to watch at times, but the opening is flawless -- a sequence set to Aaron Copland's music shows an array of young players sweating on courts in good neighborhoods and bad, honing their skills, a tribute to the purity of the game. That creative, economic simplicity is missing from the rest of the film. A few judicious cuts could have made this far more moving and effective.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether being regretful for bad behavior makes a difference if the bad behavior continues. Do you think Jesus might have accepted his father's overtures in if the dad demonstrated that he had changed? Why or why not?
How does He Got Game show that many people are mixtures of good and bad? Do you think that Jesus' father had good intentions, even when he mistreated his son?
Do you think forgiveness is important? Do some acts not deserve forgiveness? Explain.
How are women portrayed in this film?
- In theaters: May 12, 1998
- On DVD or streaming: November 10, 1998
- Cast: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Lonette McKee, Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson
- Director: Spike Lee
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 136 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for pervasive language, strong sexuality, some drug content and violence
- Last updated: May 15, 2020
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