Parents' Guide to

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Randy White, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Forceful telling of Angelou's coming-of-age book.

Movie NR 1999 96 minutes
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Adapted from Angelou’s novel about her life growing up in the South during the Depression, this is a direct and sincere telling of a young black girl's journey to knowledge and affirmation. Originally a made-for-TV movie, what this film lacks in glamour it makes up for in content. Angelou adapted her book herself for this filmed version, and it shows. In the first part of this engrossing movie, we are exposed to the virulent racism of the American South in the 1930s. The movie's unflinching gaze has lost none of its impact, despite the 20 years that have passed since it was made.

The second part of the movie shifts to life in the big city of St. Louis, and if the movie loses some of its dramatic drive, it gains in its breadth of vision. Life in St. Louis brings Maya to an understanding of her worth as a black woman. The movie also nicely juxtaposes the joy and tragedy of Maya's life with salient moments in history, like the scene in which the black community gathers around a radio to hear Joe Louis win the national heavyweight boxing title. While the movie's pacing is a bit slow by contemporary standards, the deep and stirring story rewards patience.

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