He Got Game

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
He Got Game Movie Poster Image
Spike Lee sports drama has strong language, violence, sex.
  • R
  • 1998
  • 136 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

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

Positive Messages

Maintaining integrity is important if you want to be true to yourself. It's possible to forgive terrible behavior, but probably not advisable to forget it. Many of us are products of our environments and cannot shake bad habits we’ve developed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jesus has an admirable work ethic and refuses to cheat, even when money, cars, and women are offered. Many people in his life betray him and want to cash in on the offers he's receiving. Jesus represents a great positive role model, in contrast to the many depictions of young Black men in American media.

Violence

A father with a temper and alcohol issues taunts and hits his young son, supposedly to make him a tougher competitor, but it closes the boy's heart to the dad. A man with impulse control issues violently pushes his wife away as she tries to protect their child and she's accidentally killed. A gun is pointed at a prisoner. A man punches strangers he doesn't like. A woman is beaten by her pimp.

Sex

Men and women have sex. Breasts are shown. Sex is discussed using graphic language. A man has a relationship with a prostitute. Prostitutes are seen on the street soliciting customers in cars. A college provides prostitutes to a top high school basketball pick to entice him to attend that school, and he has sex with them. References are made to homosexuality, particularly in prison. Women are largely portrayed as whores, sex objects, or betrayers. Men are shown as gentle and loyal and women are scheming seductresses with ulterior motives. Condoms, abortions, and STDs are mentioned.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "ass," "p---y," "d--k," the "N" word, "f-ggot," "scumbag," "ho," "bitch," "balls," and "poontang."

Consumerism

The movie discusses the financial exploitation of student athletes, many of them Black, who make money for institutions and individuals, many of them white-dominated, often without getting much in return.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drug use -- cocaine, crack, crystal meth -- is discussed and shown in montage. A man accidentally kills someone when he's drunk.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMovieLovingFamily November 21, 2020

Unexpected graphic sex (male-biased), prostitution, and overall misogyny throughout the film make it a horrible watching experience

I felt compelled to write my first review because this movie is not properly packaged or introduced to viewers. You might think you are getting a movie about ba... Continue reading
Adult Written byBigballin June 19, 2020

BEST BASKETBALL MOVIE

Any real basketball fan can tell you this is the GOAT of b-ball movies. Despite just casting Ray Allen and Denzel Washington, it is a heart felt great movie abo... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love basketball

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