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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Great strength can be found in hope. There's always potential for change. However, it is also suggested that intimidation and bullying get results and that it's OK to sacrifice a few to save the majority.
Positive Role Models
Joe Clark is passionate and has good intentions, but he uses bullying and intimidation to get results, humiliating those around him and showing great arrogance in his own views. He disregards the experiences of most people, though he shows great empathy toward a few individuals, and his actions do create positive change at the school.
The film shows the inequalities of the school system in a lower socioeconomic area. The main character is a Black man shown to be respected for his work in turning the school around, even if his approach proves controversial. Derogatory comments are made about families on welfare. Depiction of a single Black teen mother who's addicted to drugs is stereotypical. A White character uses the word "savages" toward predominantly Black teens, while another makes the offensive remark, "I thought you people didn't like chains."
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Violence & Scariness
Lots of fighting, with shoving, punching, kicking. A character has their head slammed against the floor, resulting in bloody injury and being taken away on a stretcher. Other fights include injury to the face. A knife is used to threaten, a gun is briefly shown, and an item is thrown through a window. Verbal bullying of staff and students by the principal, including public humiliation. A student has her shirt ripped off, and she's pushed topless into a hall (nothing sensitive is shown).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A woman appears topless after having her shirt ripped off, though she covers her breasts. Mention of teen pregnancy. Flirtation.
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Lots of profanity, including "bastards," "hell," "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "a--hole," "f--k," "damn," and "bitch." Use of racial epithets, such as "spic" on one occasion, and Black characters use the "N" word numerous times.
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Products & Purchases
Pepsi cans seen in cafeteria.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drug deals are shown and a student smokes pot in school. Mention of smoking crack and "getting clean."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lean on Me is based on the true story of a teacher's crusade to reform a violent high school. It has many inspiring moments, but the main character's tactics are often questionable. There's lots of swearing, including "f--k" and "s--t," as well as use of racial epithets, bullying, and humiliating language. Fights in the school result in bloody injuries to the face, and a knife and gun are shown, though they don't cause physical harm. Drug deals are seen, and there is a reference to smoking crack. A character has her shirt ripped off, but she covers her breasts with her arms. There is mention of teen pregnancy. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This high-energy portrayal of a true story will hold viewers' attention with its terrific performances -- particularly from Freeman, who is dazzling as the temperamental Clark. It certainly makes Lean on Me a compelling watch, but inspiration turns to discomfort at points when Clark appears as out of control as the school he's trying to reform -- which sets the film apart from more polished, cookie-cutter examples that can lose complexity in their attempt to portray heroism.
Some subplots are left a little unexplored, but serve more as a means of showing a much-needed softer side to Clark, such as the troubles of his student Kaneesha (an empathetic and very watchable Karen Malina White). Overall, the movie balances its inspiring message with enough gray areas to raise important questions about whether the ends always justify the means.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.