Playing with Sharks

Movie review by
Sabrina McFarland, Common Sense Media
Playing with Sharks Movie Poster Image
Trailblazing scuba diver makes a splash in sea docu.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 90 minutes

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Positive Messages

Breaking social barriers. Having strength to overcome challenges and pursue dreams. One person can make a difference. Mutual respect for marine life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Australian native Valerie Taylor pursues a career in spearfishing, an occupation dominated by men in the 1950s, and she becomes a champion. She befriends sharks, which helps other deep-sea divers to learn about marine life behavior. Valerie writes to politicians about the need to save sharks, and due to her efforts, the grey nurse shark is reportedly the first to become legally protected. Colleagues discuss the pioneering roles of Valerie and her husband Ron. The pair support each other in their decision to leave the life of spearfishing behind to become conservationists. The couple goes on a promotional tour to inform the public that sharks aren't really like the fictitious one depicted in Jaws.


There are mentions that include sharks killed for their fins, elephants for their tusks, tigers for their skin, and sharks biting and killing people. Images include archival footage of Valerie Taylor showing an injury to her chin from a shark bite, and Valerie and her husband Ron wearing chainmail mesh diving suits to pretend they're bait and have sharks bite them. There's also footage and photos of sharks with fins cut off, dead sharks and other fish, sharks eating fish, spears used to capture fish, blood from fish, a human skull, knife used to scrape skin of dead fish, a man attacked by a shark receiving numerous stitches to his body, and Jaws film scenes, in which a shark attacks people and a gun is used to kill a shark.


There's a discussion about Valerie and Ron Taylor's courtship, which leads to marriage for the couple who are spearfishing champions. There's an image of the pair sunbathing, and Valerie has her arm on Ron's chest.


Language includes "slaughter trips" to describe shark expeditions, sharks referred to as "submarines with teeth," use of the word "beast" to describe sharks, mention of serial killer Jack the Ripper, an actor is called a "little man" due to his small physique, and a clip from the film Jaws features actor Roy Scheider shouting "son of a" to a shark. Valerie is described during her early career days as a "glamorous female," "mermaid," and "not one of these wimpish women." A media outlet calls the Jaws shark "murderous."


There are images that include the Jaws movie poster and book cover, as well as promotional interviews with the film's director Steven Spielberg, actor Roy Scheider, and Jaws book author Peter Benchley, and the display of magazine covers and apparel with logos and messages.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Images of cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Playing with Sharks is a documentary about Australian spearfishing champion/diver/conservationist Valerie Taylor. She pursues her dreams despite facing sexism in the male-dominated sport. Archival footage and photos include sometimes-bloody images of dead fish, sharks with their fins cut off, sharks eating fish, spears used to capture fish, blood from fish, a knife used to scrape the skin of dead fish, the gory wounds (and subsequent scars) of a man attacked by a shark, and tense scenes from the film Jaws. Divers are shown in situations that could make some viewers anxious -- in shark cages, swimming alongside sharks, etc. The term "slaughter trips" is used to describe shark expeditions, sharks are called "submarines with teeth," there's a mention of serial killer Jack the Ripper, a Jaws actor is referred to as a "little man" due to his physique, and a clip from the film shows another actor shouting "son of a" to a shark. Images of cigarettes. The docu has lots of positive messages about breaking barriers, pursuing your passion, making a difference in the world, and respecting and protecting nature.

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What's the story?

PLAYING WITH SHARKS is a documentary about groundbreaking deep sea diver Valerie Taylor. The Australian native becomes a champion in the male-dominated sport of spearfishing during the 1950s. Valerie and her husband Ron also lend their expertise to help make the blockbuster film Jaws. The 1975 movie, however, brings about an unexpected change in the course of their careers, and they soon head off to the world of marine life conservation, protecting sharks and preserving sea habitats.

Is it any good?

In this thrilling ocean documentary, a female scuba diver reflects on her remarkable image as a marine life trailblazer. "The first time I could ever see underwater, I was 14 years old, and I saw a piece of kelp," recalls Playing with Sharks star Valerie Taylor. "I thought it was amazing…and I knew I had to see more." She soon surfaces to the top as a spearfishing champion and films shark scenes for Steven Spielberg's Jaws before choosing to become a conservationist and friend of sea creatures. "Spearfishing was nerve-racking," notes Taylor, "but every single step along the way was an adventure, a step into the unknown. And every time you did it, you came out with a little more knowledge."

Playing with Sharks not only offers an informative, eye-opening viewing experience for kids and families, but also the chance to participate in engaging deep-dive discussions about Taylor's exceptional life journey.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the courage of Valerie Taylor in Playing with Sharks. How does she also demonstrate curiosity, perseverance, and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

  • What may have been the reasons for the Jaws filmmakers to depict sharks as violent animals? Why was it important for Valerie and her husband Ron to inform the public about shark behavior misinformation?

  • Why do the Taylors leave their spearfishing life behind for the world of befriending sharks and sea conservationism? How can kids go about pursuing interests and careers in the marine life sciences?

Movie details

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