A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
A cautionary tale about the abuse of power and control in (high school) social groups. Explores pressures exerted on teens from their peers and families. Observant take on how unrestricted behavior with few consequences leads to cruelty, authoritarianism, "mob" rule. Shows how quickly innocence may be corrupted and amorality becomes infectious.
Positive Role Models
A cautionary cast of characters. Insecurity in battle with a need for power leads to bad behavior and lack of moral courage. Main character Selah is a complex combination of the two; she uses her status to menace, control, and withhold approval. At the same time, her vulnerability is made clear, and audiences will likely feel some compassion for her. The only character who stands up to her is on her way to becoming Selah. Limited appearances of adult characters show both ineffectiveness and wrongheaded expectations. Ethnic diversity.
Violence & Scariness
In two sequences, teens show the effects of fierce beatings; they're bloody and bruised. A tone of physical menace, heightened by both music and visual storytelling, is pervasive.
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Occasional cursing and profanity: "s--t," "f--k," "hell," "goddamn," "slutty," "keep it in their pants."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Pervasive teen use of drugs and alcohol, including to excess. Illegal dealing and consumption are central plot elements. Even very young kids are shown to be involved in the process of buying and selling drugs and alcohol. Entire sequences are filmed in soft focus with images of kids boozy and stoned.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Selah and the Spades is a drama set in an East Coast private school. First-time writer-director Tayarisha Poe has created a vibrant world that begins and ends at Haldwell School. It's an unsettling place with five underground factions, predominantly led by girls, that divide the power structure. With the exception of a few scenes that include adults or take place off campus -- purposefully, no teacher is ever shown -- the students, especially one powerful senior girl, make and enforce the rules far from the eyes of school authorities. Underage drug use (psychedelics, cocaine, marijuana) and drinking are core elements of the story. Extended scenes show kids partying and getting stoned and drunk, as well as buying and selling both drugs and alcohol. Two teens appear bloodied and badly hurt after off-camera beatings. Occasional profanity includes "f--k," "s--t," "slutty," and "hell." This character-driven movie with serious themes and a pervasive tone of foreboding and menace is best for mature teens and up. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
An impressive blending of both style and substance, along with masterful performances from young actors and stellar camera work, grace this debut film from Tayarisha Poe. In Selah and the Spades, Poe shows a wonderful gift for working with the cast, and an inventive, original way of storytelling. Lovie Simone as Selah and Celeste O'Connor as Paloma are front and center for most of the movie. It's astonishing how much sympathy and rooting interest Simone elicits even when cruel and power-hungry, and how expertly O'Connor covers a steely inner core with gentle submissiveness. Though the story and messages of the piece are disturbing, it's an incisive and original way to portray the power structure inherent in many subcultures.
Did we miss something on diversity?
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.