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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Miss Virginia is based on the true story of a struggling single mom (Uzo Aduba) who's determined to keep her teenage son on the straight and narrow. She puts him in a private school, only to find out that she'll have to fight the system to keep him there. While the story has clear themes of overcoming systemic oppression, exposing corrupt politicians, unifying as a community, and the unwavering love of a mother for her child and her community, it also has some mature content. A character is badly beaten by his high school peers, a young Black man is the victim of gun violence, drugs are sold as a form of economic empowerment, and manipulative politicians hide facts about the educational system. There's also some strong language ("ass," "damn," "s--t," etc.), smoking, and drug use. Yet ultimately the community comes together for the greater good, and it's likely that teens and adults will find it insightful, engaging, and possibly even inspirational.
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What's the story?
MISS VIRGINIA is based on the true story of Virginia Walden Ford, a struggling single mother (here played by Uzo Aduba) who's afraid of losing her 15-year-old son James (Niles Fitch) to the negative influences of the Washington, D.C., streets. Unwavering and unwilling to see him drop out of school and deal drugs, she puts him in a private school, and then has to fight to keep him there due to her lack of financial resources. When she can’t afford tuition, she launches a movement to change the system that's hurting him and thousands of other low-income students. Attacked and threatened by those who don’t want change -- from corrupt politicians to the local drug lord, who feels threatened by her for wanting positive change in the community -- Virginia must dig deep to muster more strength than she ever knew she had. And she won't be able to do it without the help of an unexpected ally, Congressman Cliff Williams (Matthew Modine).
Is it any good?
The Emmy-winning Aduba does a good job playing a mother who's full of conviction, love for her community, and unflagging energy to advocate for better education in inner-city communities. Fitch, as Virginia's idealistic and impressionable son James, is believable in his role, and he has a natural innocence that resonates on-screen. Modine steps into Williams' shoes with ease; he's convincing as a privileged politician who's disconnected from the inner city but has a heart for change. That said, under R. J. Daniel Hanna's direction, many of the scenes are predictable, and the screenwriting lacks in-depth cultural nuance. Some of the depictions of Black female characters feel stereotypical and caricature-like in terms of depicting what a strong, Black female or mother is "supposed" to be. (Spoiler alert: There's a scene in which Virginia forces her way onto a posh golf course at an exclusive country club. Williams asks her how she was able to get in, and her rebuttal is, "I told him that I was the maid.") Many of the movie's punchlines are redundant, and moments that could have been genuinely sweet and endearing are overlooked or stifled.
But there are many positive themes in Miss Virginia, including finding the courage to stand up against legislation, maintaining unity while mobilizing a community, asking for help and support when it's needed, persevering even when you appear to be the underdog, and fighting for the next generation to have access to quality education. The movie doesn't present Virginia as a victim, but rather as a victor; she's a relatable example of what many hardworking parents have to endure and overcome for their children's sake (in this case, scrub toilets at a second job so she can earn the extra income needed for James' tuition). Plus, this film does a great job of showing the resource disparity between private schools and public schools in disenfranchised communities that lack support. And there's positive representation of diverse educators of color who are committed to their students' education regardless of what the education system does or doesn't provide.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Virginia demonstrates the character strengths of courage and perseverance. In what ways could she be considered an underdog? How does she overcome the obstacles placed in front of her by those in positions of power?
What do you think about the idea that poor students often receive a different type of education than their wealthier counterparts? Is that OK? Should parents advocate for education reform, or should that responsibility rest with politicians?
How does the community in Miss Virginia come together to create change? Do you think that some politicians take advantage of the lack of information that many people have access to in order to pass unfair bills and laws?
How accurate do you think this film is to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the events in a fact-based movie?
- In theaters: October 18, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 18, 2019
- Cast: Uzo Aduba, Matthew Modine, Niles Fitch
- Director: R.J. Daniel Hanna
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: April 14, 2020
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