I Know a Man...Ashley Bryan

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
I Know a Man...Ashley Bryan Movie Poster Image
Earnest docu about inspiring African American artist.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 57 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Art is a way of keeping things forever. It can help you face things that have hurt you and can transform your sorrow into something positive. You only have one life, so figure out how you can live it and express it. Each person is unique and has value. Don't take anything for granted; appreciate each day, notice each sunrise, and enjoy the trees because these things are gifts from forces beyond you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ashley Bryan is a great role model for sharing the transformative power of art. He never gave up on his desire to draw, paint, and learn despite setbacks like racial discrimination and getting drafted during World War II. He's an inspiring teacher. He doesn't take anything for granted, is thankful for what he has, and helps others who have less. He doesn't want to change his style because if he took out the "awkward," the works wouldn't have him in them anymore. He's also a great role model for using things other people have discarded or think are useless to make amazing works of art.


A character in a story is eaten and vomited back up many times. A few archival pictures show the landing at Normandy with injured or dead soldiers from a distance; no blood or gore are shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An old proverb mentions pipe smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Know a Man…Ashley Bryan is a documentary about an African American artist who's now 92 and lives on a small island off the coast of Maine. A lot of his work has kid appeal, like the puppets and illustrations for children's books, and there's no content of concern for the littlest ones. But the movie's unlikely to hold little kids' interest for very long as it covers a wide range of Bryan's activities, including cataloging his work, setting up a museum display, and more from an adult perspective. Bryan is a great role model for appreciating life, teaching that everyone has value, and turning items other people have discarded into amazing works of art. Older kids will learn a lot about historic events and eras from Bryan's fascinating perspective, they'll enjoy watching and hearing him describe his process and how he finds and uses unusual materials, and they'll be inspired by his humility, sense of wonder, and appreciation of life.

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What's the story?

I KNOW A MAN…ASHLEY BRYAN follows the 92-year-old award-winning artist as he talks about his life and work, shows some of his process, and travels the world inspiring adults and children with his enthusiasm, gratitude, and deep appreciation of the beauty in everyone and everything. We also see him preparing for a museum exhibit, reading from some of the books he's illustrated, working with puppets, and more. We see how his richly-varied life experiences have influenced his work, from being discriminated against in art school admissions, serving in the military during World War II, and listening to famed cellist Pablo Casals rehearse Bach, as well as his life on a small island off the coast of Maine.

Is it any good?

This earnest documentary has its heart in the right place and an admirable subject, but it doesn't make connections or transitions that give the viewer the feeling of watching a story. I Know a Man…Ashley Bryan is interesting and inspirational but would work better as part of an educational unit about American art, or the African American experience, which would provide some much-needed context for why the filmmakers chose this subject, or how Bryan and his work fit into modern African American culture and heritage.

That being said, kids old enough to have patience with the adult perspective will find a lot to admire about Bryan. They'll learn a lot about art and some aspects of history that Bryan lived through, and they'll hopefully be inspired to appreciate their own value and uniqueness and to find a creative outlet of their own.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how I Know a Man…Ashley Bryan shows he's a good role model. What do you like about him? How does he inspire you?

  • What do you think Bryan means when he says an artist can "transform the sorrow if he paints a picture of it"? Has creating artwork ever helped you feel better about something?

  • What kinds of art do you like to make? If you could try anything you haven't done before, what would it be? Sculpting, acting, dancing, painting, writing songs or poetry?

Movie details

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