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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that John Lewis: Good Trouble is an inspiring documentary about the life and political career of activist and U.S. representative John Lewis. The film has lots of archival footage of Lewis as a young civil rights leader in the 1960s, including several moments of peaceful protesters facing brutal beatings and hoses at the hands of uniformed officers and armed White civilians. The footage also shows people saying the "N" word in a matter-of-fact way, reflecting its pervasive use at the time. "Negro" is used several times, and adults are shown smoking cigarettes. Director Dawn Porter interviews many politicians of all backgrounds, as well as Lewis' family and friends. Families who watch the film will be able to discuss the historical and political impact of Lewis' life and career, as well as the movie's relevance to the movement for racial equality that continues to this day.
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What's the story?
JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE is part chronicle, part tribute to Congress member John Robert Lewis, the legendary civil rights leader-turned-politician. Director Dawn Porter's film follows Lewis' life via both archival footage and contemporary interviews. It ranges from Lewis' early years in Troy, Alabama, to his time as a college student in Nashville, where he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and emerged as one of the "Big 6" leaders of the civil rights movement. In addition to focusing on Lewis' personal story, the film also follows the trajectory of his public service career and includes several interviews with politicians who've been inspired by him, including the late Elijah Cummings, former president Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.
Is it any good?
Porter's poignant, powerful documentary is both a tribute to a living legend and a call to action arguing that the work of fighting racial injustice isn't done. Those who've read March, watched Selma, taken a civil rights history course, or visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture may know a bit (or a lot) about the sharecroppers' son from Troy, Alabama, who preached to chickens, helped found SNCC, orchestrated sit-ins, was an inaugural Freedom Rider, marched alongside Dr. King, and outlived every other speaker from the March on Washington. For those in that position, some of what's in Porter's documentary may not be new -- but it's still important to remember, reflect upon, and take to heart as the United States' struggles around social justice continue.
Lewis' ascendancy from a young activist who was arrested dozens of times to one of the country's preeminent Black politicians is inspiring and impressive. His story brings to life the quote he has hanging in his office: "Hands that once picked cotton can now pick presidents." It may be hard for some to believe, but Jim Crow laws, segregation, and overt voter suppression (poll taxes, tests, intimidation) weren't that long ago. Lewis has made it his life's mission to remind everyone that even though the United States may have abolished some of its most egregious anti-Black laws, there is still plenty of injustice and inequality to fight. Frankly, John Lewis: Good Trouble is timelier than ever, and it's an educational testament to Lewis' place in American history.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence depicted in John Lewis: Good Trouble. Is it necessary to the story? Why or why not? How does realistic violence compare to stylized or fantasy violence?
What makes Lewis a role model? How does he demonstrate courage, empathy, and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths? When did he and fellow civil rights activists have to use self-control?
Despite being peaceful protesters, how were Lewis and others treated? Why is that relevant today? How are today's activists for social justice treated?
What do you consider John Lewis' legacy to be? Why is he such an important national figure?
- On DVD or streaming: July 3, 2020
- Cast: John Lewis
- Director: Dawn Porter
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including some racial epithets/violence, and for smoking
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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