Parents' Guide to

Son of the South

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Civil Rights biopic of White ally has racist crimes, slurs.

Movie PG-13 2021 105 minutes
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This is a well-acted history lesson about one of the Civil Rights movement's first Southern White allies, who forgoes a safe life in Alabama to become an activist. While Hollywood doesn't really need another story about a White ally, this one, directed by Barry Alexander Brown (Spike Lee's longtime editor) is different because it doesn't exaggerate Zellner's importance or involvement. Till plays Zellner as intelligent, confident, and kind, but his performance also reveals how naive Zellner could be about the level of organization behind the Freedom Movement. There are telling conversations about how Parks wasn't a tired, unwitting bus rider, about how Zellner emerges relatively unscathed from a protest while those around him were beaten and injured, and, later, about how he has to unlearn parts of his upbringing to participate in anti-racist activism. Unlike many other White characters in historical dramas, however, Zellner is more open-minded from the start thanks to his father, a Methodist minister who tore up his KKK robes and stopped believing in racist bigotry.

The transformation in Son of the South, then, is how Bob doesn't take the predictable, safe route -- an Ivy League law degree, a beautiful wife, living up North away from Jim Crow laws -- but instead delves straight into one of the least likely jobs for an Alabama-bred White man: Civil Rights activist. The movie can be frustrating, especially when it features talented actors in supporting roles not much larger than cameos. It would have been far more fascinating as an exploration of how and why White people got involved with the Civil Rights movement had the film explored Zellner's real-life relationship with activist Dottie Miller, a Jewish New Yorker who also became one of SNCC's few White secretaries. Frankly, it's a shame there's not a big, feature-length documentary about Zellner. Audiences won't learn more from Son of the South about the Civil Rights era as a whole, but it does offer a reminder to those who would be allies about the importance of standing up to injustice, disenfranchisement, and discrimination.

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