Stars and Strife

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Stars and Strife Movie Poster Image
Thoughtful documentary on division in U.S.; some cursing.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 97 minutes

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Positive Messages

Documentary addresses the deep divisions in contemporary American politics, and looks for ways in which we can work to find common ground, respect, and basic decency toward one another again. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Activists, officials, and politicians discuss the toxic state of contemporary American politics, and discuss their efforts in working toward solutions that restore respectful dialogue between disagreeing parties. 


Archival news footage of the aftermath of mass shootings, protests. 


"F--k" and "c--t" bleeped out in internet footage of a celebrity in the midst of a screaming tirade. Reference made to the "N" word. "Bitch," "goddammit," "crap," "hell," "butt-boy." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking in internet footage. Pipe smoking in archival black-and-white footage. Wine drinking. Talk of the problem of opioid addiction in America. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stars and Strife is a documentary that explores the problems and possible solutions to the division and discord in contemporary American society. The documentary features news and internet footage of quite a bit of the shouting and screaming that characterizes so-called "infotainment" these days -- including Roseanne Barr screaming "c--t" and "f--k" in an excruciating tirade. Some profanity, including reference to the "N" word. One of the interview subjects is a rabbi who survived the mass shooting of his synagogue in California. Cigarette smoking. Wine drinking. Talk of opioid addiction. Pipe smoking in archival black-and-white footage. The documentary interviews several politicians, pundits, activists, and government officials from all sides of the political spectrum who are trying to come up with constructive steps to address what's happening in a society that seems to be, in the words of one of those interviewed, "gorging on hate" -- everything from making compromise between opposing parties an acceptable outcome again, having the courage to work to find the common ground we all share, and how the exacerbated inequities of capitalism in recent decades can be reformed.

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What's the story?

STARS AND STRIFE is a documentary that explores the division and discord in contemporary American society. Through interviews with politicians, activists, pundits, religious leaders, historians, and former government officials, the documentary addresses how our society seems to be, in the words of one of the interviewees, "gorging on hate." As it paints a dire picture of current realities, of how we are, in the words of one of the documentary's subjects, "living in James Madison's nightmare," Stars and Strife also offers possible solutions to these problems. It takes a detailed look at how the widening economic disparities in the United States have exacerbated these divisions, and how reforming capitalism could have the potential to heal the division. It also discusses the lost art of compromise in politics and government, and how there's still hope yet for us to cherish what unites us as opposed to obsessing over what divides. 

Is it any good?

One of the best things about this documentary is that there's bound to be at least one person interviewed that the viewer will dislike, perhaps intensely so. If that's a positive, it's because it shows how a broad spectrum of the statespeople, religious leaders, historians, economists, and activists is given the space to share their experiences with a society and political system that often feels like it's being torn apart by hatred of "the other." The economy's role in this crisis is thoughtfully explored, and how vanishing social mobility and a shrinking middle class have exacerbated these trends toward hatred, division, and intolerance of other viewpoints. While it paints a dire picture, Stars and Strife offers some hope that we can get out of this mess. 

The biggest problem with Stars and Strife is its lack of age diversity. While there's diversity in gender, race, background, and ideology (if more on the center-right side of things), it's more than a little Boomer-heavy in its choice of interviewees, if not older. It's a glaring omission in a time when the youth of America are as active and engaged in what's happening in the world as they have ever been. Nonetheless, this is a thoughtful documentary that examines how economics and capitalism, reformed to level a playing field that has increasingly made upward mobility difficult, might help to bring back relatively saner disagreements and relatively better governance. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about political documentaries. How does Stars and Strife compare to other political documentaries you've seen? 

  • What points did you agree with in this documentary? Which points did you disagree with? Why? 

  • In terms of the problems addressed in the documentary, what solutions presented do you think might work? What solutions do you have that aren't presented in the documentary? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love politics

Themes & Topics

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