A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Themes of forgiveness, redemption, and love prevailing over hate. "We all get lost sometimes, what is important is what we do when we find our way back." Faith-based messages about the power of prayer and how God's love and involvement are ever present.
Positive Role Models
Jimmy is patient, calm, serves the less fortunate, and demonstrates immense self-control. Paul's mother, Minnie, is positive, perseverant, and loving. For a long time, Paul participates in racist activities because it's easier than defending those who are targets of prejudice, but he eventually finds the courage to do what he knows is right. The epilogue tells viewers that Paul dedicated the rest of his life to creating positive change toward racial harmony.
Set in 1967 Little Rock, Arkansas, this drama about racism centers the point of a view of a White man who's complicit in supporting racist culture, even though he's portrayed as knowing in his heart that it's wrong. Given the setting and topic, it's disappointing that there are only three Black characters and that they don't stray too far from cliches: Jimmy is patient and forgiving and chooses to approach racism "like Jesus" by turning the other cheek; Jimmy's wife is a kind nurse but not much more; and Jimmy's brother wants to retaliate against racism but is more or less hushed by Jimmy. Jimmy's portrayal could even be seen as an example of the "Magical Negro" trope, in which a good-hearted Black person helps a White person get on the right path.
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Violence & Scariness
White children throw stones at and chase a Black child with the intent to harm. A racist yells hateful things at a Black man. Arson attacks. Frequent verbal references to domestic abuse, reinforced by flashbacks to a man yelling at his crying wife.
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Racist attitudes are expressed using the words "coloreds," "negro," and "cracker." Other language includes "crap" and "hell."
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Products & Purchases
Jack Daniels is mentioned by name and shown, label-out, on camera. Other bottles and cans of alcohol are not, indicating likely product placement.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Frequent smoking, including at a hospital. Main character drinks to excess frequently, which is a recurring topic of conversation and concern. A few scenes show him making an active choice to stop drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Paul's Promise is a 1960s-set evangelical drama based on the true story of boxer-turned-firefighter Paul Holdenfield (Ryan O'Quinn), a poorly educated White atheist racist who turns his life and attitudes around to found an interracial church and ministry. Paul's heavy drinking is portrayed as problematic, and characters smoke frequently (historically accurate). Racist language and arson attacks are included to illustrate the prejudice and discrimination of the era. The movie's events take place against the backdrop of the Central High School desegregation-resegregation efforts that contributed to additional racial tension in Little Rock, but that's not explained. While it's always encouraging to know that a deep-rooted racist worldview can be transformed -- and Holdenfield definitely becomes an agent of change -- the fact that a film about racism centers the point of a view of a White man who's complicit in supporting racist culture is questionable. Still, the movie has clear themes of forgiveness, redemption, and love prevailing over hate. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Holdenfield provides a powerful real-life example of someone overcoming harmful mistakes by creating meaningful change. But the presentation of the material feels like it's tailored for White Christian families with teens. Paul's mother is a loving, caring woman whose commitment to God fills her every breath. She doesn't speak about much else and is relentless in her desire to get Paul to church, where she's sure he'll finally make a connection with God and be saved. To a faith-based audience, this message of constant evangelism will reinforce the idea of never giving up. But if you're not someone of faith, Minnie's insistence will be hard to take. It's even harder to accept her as a positive force once it becomes clearer that, because of her faith, she actively chose to stay in a violent marriage that subjected her children to continual physical abuse and trauma.
Of course, Paul does have a "come to Jesus" moment (otherwise there wouldn't be a movie). And it's inspired much more by facing his cowardice and racist complicitness than fulfilling his mother's dying wish. Paul denies knowing his childhood best friend, Jimmy (Josef Cannon), who's Black. Jimmy's faith, meanwhile, provides him the patience to calmly sustain the racist attacks on his home. It's through Jimmy's approach of turning the other cheek that Paul is overwhelmed by kindness he doesn't deserve and finally begins to make positive change. The filmmakers suggest that it's God who helps Paul find the right path through the help and support of other people of faith, of whom Jimmy is just one. There's plenty to dissect here for families who want to have a complex conversation, but the target audience is most likely to appreciate the movie's messages of forgiveness, approaching problems with actions of love, and that it's never too late to do the right thing.
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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.