Sounder (1972)

Movie review by
S. K. List, Common Sense Media
Sounder (1972) Movie Poster Image
A strong family triumphs over poverty and racism.
  • G
  • 1972
  • 105 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Education and reading shown to be a way to improve one's standing in life. A young African-American teacher shows and lends books to David Lee about African-American heroes such as Crispus Attucks and W.E.B. DuBois. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

David Lee walks six miles to school in order to get an education. After his father is arrested and sentenced to hard labor in a work camp, David Lee's family works as hard as they can to remain self-sufficient in the midst of the economic injustice of the sharecropper system of farming. A young African-American teacher exposes David Lee to books by and about African-American writers and heroes. 


A deputy shoots at and nearly kills Sounder after the dog chases after Nathan, who has just been arrested. The man in charge of a prison work camp injures David Lee's hand with a riding crop when David Lee stands outside the camp asking prisoners the whereabouts of his father. 


"Bastards," "damn," "hell." "Colored boy" used in the context of a white teacher reading a chapter from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to a class of mostly white students. A white police officer repeatedly uses the term "boy" to talk down to an African-American teenager in rural Louisiana in the 1930s. "Chinaman" used as slur. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sounder is a 1972 movie about a young African-American teen's coming of age in 1930s Louisiana. It's based on the Newberry Award-winning novel by William H. Armstrong. Profanity includes "bastards," "damn," and "hell." There's also racist language. There are brief but dramatic moments of violence: A deputy attempts to shoot and kill a dog after the dog chases after his owner, who has just been arrested. The central character is hit in the hand with a riding crop by the white man in charge of overseeing the African-American men serving time in a work camp -- his hand is shown injured and bleeding. Overt and more insidious forms of racism are conveyed in a variety of ways. But one of the overarching themes of the movie is the power of education and literacy as a means to overcome a deeply rooted racist society in which wealthy white landowners exploit poor and uneducated African-Americans. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymichaeld5 April 29, 2016

Use in a classroom to compare book to movie **Language Review**

We finished reading Sounder and I found this movie online. I had scanned the assessment of language and sent the letter home to parents with that information. I... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old May 11, 2020

My MPAA rating is PG for mild langauge, and some violence

This is a sad movie so think twice before you let a younger kid watch it. Some violence includes the dad getting arrested unfairly, Sounder getting shot, David... Continue reading
Kid, 7 years old January 28, 2012


I loved it and so did my dad I think your family should watch this great movie about education.

What's the story?

Set during the Depression, SOUNDER follows the story of the Morgan family, black sharecroppers in rural Louisiana. Hunting late at night, David Lee (Kevin Hooks) and his father (Paul Winfield) fail to bring home some desperately needed meat. But a day later, David's mother, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), shakes him and his younger sister and brother awake to the smell of frying ham. In short order, the sheriff and a landowner show up to arrest dad Nathan for smokehouse burglary. When Rebecca leaves to learn her husband's fate, David shoulders the tasks of an adult. After Nathan is sentenced to a year of hard labor, Rebecca and David find out he's been sent far away. Rebecca sends David off to contact him and, on the way, David meets a trailblazing teacher in an all-black school and determines to attend. When Nathan comes home injured, he supports David's wish, but it takes the family -- and David himself -- some time to realize that this is the best course for all of them.

Is it any good?

Sounder stands out as an honest celebration of a strong family's triumph over poverty and racism. Without sugar-coating the hard lives of black Louisiana sharecroppers, the Morgan family's enduring ties to each other set alight this film depicting the poverty, desperation, and bigotry of the rural South during the Great Depression. The movie's beautifully enhanced by the country blues of Lightnin' Hopkins and the hollers and rough-hewn cakewalks of the inimitable Taj Mahal (who appears as Ike). The transformation of svelte, elegant Cicely Tyson into the ragged, destitute Rebecca epitomizes the sharp contrast between the life most Americans lead and the back-breaking, desperate circumstances the Morgan family transcends.

Winfield and Tyson skillfully balance between the proud flash of individuality and the drab obsequious shell society demands. In support, a range of actors with real -- if largely unknown -- faces add to the film's authentic feel, including Kevin Hooks as a convincing David, whose attachment to his father is palpable. It takes an argument before Nathan can acknowledge that love and before David realizes that it is out of an equal love that his father urges him toward the faraway school. The other children on-screen are frequently wooden, a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent production. The hard, hot light of the rural South floods its scenes, revealing the depths of feeling that saw some families through such trials.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether movies depict life realistically. Do movies usually gloss over distasteful but real-life experiences such as poverty, death, and loss? Why or why not? Does this movie do so? Do you think realism adds to or detracts from stories?

  • Compare and contrast the books David Lee is exposed to by his white teacher, the woman who owns the land on which his family works as sharecroppers, and the young African-American teacher who wants David Lee to start attending her school. What comment do you think this makes on reading and literacy for African-American children? How is it a comment on the time in which the movie is set, and how might it be relevant today? 

  • What were some of the overt and more subtle forms of racism shown in the movie? 

  • Have you read the book? How does the movie compare?

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