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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that No Safe Spaces is a documentary about the supposed restrictions on free speech in modern America, particularly on college campuses. The film -- which is hosted by libertarian-leaning comic Adam Carolla and conservative talk show host Dennis Prager -- puts an unapologetically conservative spin on the issues it covers. The material is too mature for younger kids, since it requires some grasp of nuance to understand how the film carefully curates facts and experiences to present a particular point of view. Many scenes show violent protests, with police officers pushing protestors and protestors screaming, holding angry signs, breaking glass, and setting things on fire. Historical images and illustrations show a head severed in a guillotine and piles of bodies at a prison camp. One scene briefly shows women in skimpy costumes fanning Carolla as he sits on a throne. Language is very infrequent: "Ass" is the only curse word, and "fascist!" is about the extent of the hate speech. In more than one scene, Prager theatrically smokes a cigar. Viewers may be inspired to learn more about the First Amendment and the Constitution after watching.
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What's the story?
According to NO SAFE SPACES, free speech is under fire in America, particularly on college campuses. And although comedian Adam Carolla and conservative talk show host Dennis Prager come from very different segments of the entertainment industry, they share a concern about what they see as a slippery slope. Through interviews with free speech pundits, animated segments that satirize political correctness, excerpts from Carolla and Prager's speaking tour on their "common sense values," and footage from relevant college campus protests, this documentary attempts to portray America as a country that's at a dangerous tipping point -- and headed in the wrong direction.
Is it any good?
Though this film tries to make the case that free speech suppression is one of the most important issues facing our country today, ultimately it's long-winded, obnoxious, and unconvincing. The crux of No Safe Spaces' logical hole is that although Carolla and Prager work really hard to convince us that curtailing free speech is tantamount to fascism, they're making their points on a stage, to an audience, with microphones -- freely. If free speech is truly in such terrible danger, where are the protestors and police to stop this not-so-dynamic duo?
The filmmakers further attempt to prove their points by interviewing people whose experiences have been free-speech flashpoints: right-wing poster boy Ben Shapiro, attorney Alan Dershowitz, and Evergreen State University professor Bret Weinstein. But, again, as the interviewees expound, again, quite freely on what happened to them and why it matters, it's increasingly difficult to buy their victimhood. As an animated satire of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill" says during No Safe Spaces, "You sure have to be careful what you say nowadays, or people will get offended!" Well, yeah. That First Amendment that Prager and Carolla seem to admire so much says nothing about offense. It promises that Congress will make no law abridging free speech -- not that speaking your mind won't earn you blowback. So while No Safe Spaces may feel comforting to some who feel vaguely victimized but aren't sure why, it's unlikely to win converts to its cause -- which was surely the whole point.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the various goals of documentary filmmaking: to inform, to entertain, to persuade. What's the primary purpose of No Safe Spaces? How do you know? Why is it important to understand the filmmakers' purpose?
What are the differences between fact and speculation or opinion? What tools do we have to help us determine which is which?
Do you think the film's interviewees are objective? Why do you think the director didn't include any views that were different from his own? Are documentaries required to be objective? Why or why not?
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