Our Friend, Martin

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Our Friend, Martin Movie Poster Image
Dated movie about MLK Jr. offers positive lessons for kids.
  • G
  • 1999
  • 61 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Movie aims to offer an entertaining and educational overview of King's life story, values, and lasting historical influence.

Positive Messages

Kids learn the value of love, nonviolent protest, and compassion for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, abilities, or social class.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Taught important life lessons by his own reverend father, Martin Luther King Jr. shows by example that love is the only cure for fear and hate, and that you can't run from your own destiny. The elder King's moral teachings include statements like "a man has no greater purpose in life than to serve his fellow man." Kids learn to stop teasing and bullying each other. Racist and sexist adults are shown to have no place in modern society. An uplifting end sequence shows kids and adults of all races helping others, including the homeless and disabled.

Violence & Scariness

Kids tease and bully each other and are thrown about by a crazy school bus driver. A racist woman tells a black child "the only hanging you'll be doing is from a tree." A racist and sexist school principal threatens two black boys, calls Latinx girls "lazy," and says "never send a woman to do a man's job." A combination of documentary footage and animated sequences show police attacking protestors, including kids, with dogs and water hoses. King's house is bombed and his wife and daughter feel threatened, and King is later killed. The assassination isn't shown on screen, but we do hear the sound of a shot fired.

Sexy Stuff

Assigned to work with a female classmate, a sixth-grade boy says, "Love at last." The girl replies, "In your dreams." King comforts his wife and newborn baby after their house is bombed.

Language

"Heck." Kids taunt each other with terms like "chump," "brat" and "butthead." Outdated racial language includes "coloreds," "crackers," and "Negroes."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Our Friend, Martin offers highlights and lowlights of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and work through the eyes of a group of middle-school classmates. Using a combination of documentary footage and animated characters, the hour-long movie puts the modern-day kids into historical situations where they experience first-hand racist policies like "whites only" spaces and witness King's struggle against the violence of his day. They try to save King's life by transporting him to their time period, but realize that if it weren't for his work and sacrifices, then racism might be even worse in the US. King's house is bombed and his wife and daughter feel threatened, and King is later killed. The assassination isn't shown on screen, but we do hear the sound of a shot fired. The kids learn the value of love, nonviolent protest, and compassion for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, abilities, or social class. But they also witness cruelly racist and sexist behavior from adults and authority figures. Kids taunt each other with terms like "chump," "brat," and "butthead." Outdated racial language includes "coloreds," "crackers," and "Negroes." On YouTube, the video has some technical snags, including sections where the sound is blocked.

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What's the story?

Two sixth graders are magically transported back in time to meet Martin Luther King Jr. and witness his fight against racism first-hand in OUR FRIEND, MARTIN. The boys, one white and one black, are best friends in the modern day but find they're treated quite differently when they travel to the US South in the 1950s and 1960s. They first meet King at his childhood home, where the elder Reverend King teaches life lessons about serving others and treating people with love and respect, even or especially in the face of hatred. They dip back in and out of King's life as he prepares to go to college early at the age of 15, plans a public transportation boycott in support of Rosa Parks, suffers serious threats for his efforts, and eventually rises to fame, culminating in the massive March on Washington in 1963. Two of the boys' classmates, a Latinx girl and a white bully, also travel to the March, and all four find their lives changed by their encounters with King.

Is it any good?

There's no disputing the good intentions of this educational movie or the importance and always-relevant lessons of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and work. Our Friend, Martin seems to have left a lasting impression on two decades of American schoolchildren. But kids today are more media literate than ever, and this animated tale may feel outdated for some and even a bit hokey for others. This could unfortunately undermine its valuable messages and educational usefulness.

Some of the voices of the late-1990s star-studded cast are also likely less familiar to the film's target audience today, diminishing another potential draw. Still, for young audiences, Our Friend, Martin remains a suitable and entertaining introduction to King's values and his role in US history. Middle schoolers and older kids may respond better to more contemporary and realistic movies about King and America's racist past, of which there are quite a few powerful alternatives available.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. Did you learn anything new about his life by watching Our Friend, Martin? How could you learn more?

  • If you could travel back in time, which historical figure would you want to meet, and why?

  • Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day every year in the United States?

  • Have you ever encountered racism or sexism? What do you think is the best way to deal with it?

Movie details

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