A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this documentary's frank discussion of a sensitive topic -- racism -- includes some unbleeped swearing and racist language, including regular use of "N" word by both African Americans and Caucasians. Some violent acts are described, including fist fights between students, and there's a brief shot of a particularly grizzly photo of a dead man hanging from a tree. Students also talk about underage sex and drinking, but most of the teens who are prominently featured are positive role models.
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What's the story?
Filmmaker Paul Saltzman captures history in the making in PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI, an honest yet inspirational documentary about lingering racism in the deep South and a small-town Mississippi high school's first integrated prom. The kicker, of course, is that this momentous occasion takes place in 2008 -- not the 1950s. To give graduating seniors an incentive to partipate, local celebrity Morgan Freeman presents the idea as a challenge and offers to pay all costs. In the end, it's a story about change and the pockets of resistance that try to stop it.
Is it any good?
When it comes to content, Saltzman respects viewers' intelligence by refusing to candy coat the issue of racism, presenting candid comments from students who are all too willing to talk about it. For example, one African-American student describes a humilating incident in which the police pulled him and a Caucasian friend over, claiming they smelled marijuana. The cops made the first student drop his pants in public, while they left his friend alone. Another Caucasian student shares her father's reaction to the idea of an integrated prom: "N---ers ain't gonna be rubbin' up against my daughter."
Prom Night in Mississippi might not be as zippy as some other documentaries about high school life (including American Teen), but it's both sobering and refreshing in its honesty, making it a must-see for families with teens who are mature enough to handle the film's complex themes.
Talk to your kids about ...
How do stereotypes play into racism? Have you ever made a snap judgment about someone based on the color of their skin -- or anything else about their outward appearance?
Why is the South so often associated with racism? Do you think that -- particularly with the election of Barack Obama -- racism is less of an issue in the United States than it used to be? Why or why not?
What if Morgan Freeman hadn't presented students with the idea of an integrated prom and offered to pay for it? How long do you think it would have taken for the school to integrate proms on its own? Do you think the fact that the process was covered by a film crew influenced the outcome in any way?
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