Movie review by
Lynnette Nicholas, Common Sense Media
Rosewood Movie Poster Image
Action-packed historical drama; some violence.
  • R
  • 1997
  • 140 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Community members of different races try to unite (though secretly) to save lives.

Positive Role Models & Representations

John Wright shows fairness in his treatment of Black members of his community. Mann exemplifies integrity, courage in his choice to defend the community. Sylvester personifies benefits of education as well as courage in his perseverance to see justice, protect his family. Aunt Sarah and Beulah show grace, kindness.


Men are murdered, Black men are lynched, a woman is shot and dies. A woman is beaten by her lover and her husband. Gun violence, some blood, graphic scenes that include gore. Black men are badly beaten; at times their faces become deformed. Gun use. Men are hunted by dogs; scenes with dead bodies. A young boy is encouraged by his father to hold a noose around a man's neck. Talk of rape.


A man's bare buttocks shown in sex scene. Sex scene between married woman and her lover. Kissing, some sexual innuendo.


Frequent use of the "N" word.


There's bidding for property, and the working families are greatly impacted by their access to resources. This mostly Black community is middle and working class.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some adult drinking and cigar smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that John Singleton'Rosewood is based on real-life events that occurred in Florida in late 1922 and stars Ving Rhames, Jon Voight, and Don Cheadle. Characters are shot and murdered, Black men are lynched, women are beaten by men. There's gun violence, some blood, and graphic scenes that include gore. Black men are badly beaten, and at times their faces become deformed. Men are hunted by dogs, and there are scenes with dead bodies. A young boy is encouraged by his father to hold a noose around a man's neck. Talk of rape is heard. There are consensual sex scenes between adults, a man's buttocks are shown, and there's frequent use of the "N" word. There are themes of teamwork, honesty, and compassion. While this film has violence, it gives a fair depiction of what Black people in many Southern towns really endured. This film is appropriate for older teens who'd like to learn more about some of the unspoken topics in American history.

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What's the story?

ROSEWOOD is set in 1923 in Rosewood, Florida, a small town with an almost entirely African American community of middle-class homeowners. On New Year's Day, a lynch mob from a neighboring White community storms the town. Among the bloodshed, music teacher Sylvester (Don Cheadle) and an enigmatic stranger named Mann (Ving Rhames) stand tall and resist the invaders, while White grocery store owner John (Jon Voight) attempts to save the town's women and kids against this attempted genocide on the peaceful community. The film is based on a true story.

Is it any good?

John Singleton's historical drama based on real-life events is a must-see because it's the type of American history that's often left out of history books. While Rosewood does introduce some fictional characters and events, the reality that a peaceful Black community was burned to the ground out of spite is relevant cultural and historical information that's worth learning more about. Early on in the movie we see how racism is taught and passed down from one generation to the next, as well as the double standards and psychological dilemmas that accompany racial discrimination and prejudice. There are people of differing backgrounds who have empathy and compassion for one another, yet social constructs prohibit genuine, honest communication and contact in public. One little White boy, Everett, is even told by his father that he can no longer play with his friend, because he's a "little 'N' word boy."

This film provides a positive counter-stereotype with its depiction of civilized Black people who can read, own property, and live peaceful lives among themselves as well as with White members of the community. As evidenced in Cheadle's Sylvester, the people in this community were a people of pride and dignity. "I ain't no sharecropper, mama. I'm a music teacher." Classism is depicted in members of the White community being intimidated by Mann (Ving Rhames), a big, Black, intelligent World War I veteran, and his ability to bid higher for property than the White men in the room. There's also a light that shines on the peculiar reality of the history of Black women raising White babies in America. The family matriarch, Aunt Sarah, played with great ease and familiarity by Esther Rolle (Good Times, Down in The Delta), is given much respect as the town's Black female matriarch from both White and Black folks. Yet, when social pressure is applied to the community, the woman who presumably raised many of the White families' children was eventually treated like a piece of disposable property. Rhames as Mann perfectly personifies the hero that many Black communities have been dreaming of for generations. Jon Voight as John Wright is so intriguing to watch. Overall, the entire cast is nothing short of fantastic. This film is at times very uncomfortable to watch, but it leaves a powerful mental and emotional imprint. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it means to be an ally. What is an ally? Who were the allies in Rosewood? 

  • Teamwork, honesty, and genuine compassion are themes in Rosewood. What characters in the movie have these character strengths? In what ways do these character traits shape the narrative of the movie?

  • Rosewood is a historical drama. What's a historical drama, and are all historical dramas based on real-life facts?

  • How does teamwork save lives in Rosewood? In what ways does John Wright defy the social norms of this time period? How does he show compassion toward others who are a different ethnicity than him?

  • Are there any role models in the movie? How do their actions affect the community of Rosewood, Florida?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

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