A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Poverty shames people. It's important to protect your reputation.
Positive Role Models
Tolani speaks her mind, but sometimes only after it no longer matters much. She has a conscience and tries to think it through before doing the right thing.
Black Africans play all the roles. Stereotypes of African poverty are certainly reinforced. Africans describe international prisons, stating that "Arabs will behead you," that in Bangkok they throw you in "dungeons," that in America prisoners are sexually attacked, but that in England you serve your time and go home. People describe the police as corrupt. Women are routinely harassed by male superiors at work. Some women try to claim their dignity and power by complaining, but a male-dominated system beats them down. A male villain is overweight.
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Violence & Scariness
An angry mother hits her child with a stick. Drug mules swallow wrapped drugs to smuggle across borders for money. One mule dies when the drugs burst inside her. Bank executives steal from the bank and their customers. One boss sexually harasses his female employees, then threatens to fire them when they try to report him. Women speak of fighting off unwanted touches by abusive men. It appears that a child has fallen into a dangerous hole in the ground, but it turns out he didn't.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A man says that a woman isn't good in bed.
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"S--t," bitch," "bastard, "anus," "fart," and "whore."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A drug dealer hires women to smuggle his drugs across borders. Characters discuss the ethics of selling drugs and whether by carrying drugs they're promoting drug use. Adults drink alcohol. A woman who carries illegal drugs by swallowing them wonders aloud if rich people who take drugs would "feel cool" if they knew the drugs come "out of an African woman's anus."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Swallow is a Nigerian drama (with English subtitles) based on the 2010 novel of the same name by a Nigerian American woman, Sefi Atta. With a cast of mostly non-actors often foundering in unusually long scenes, the appeal to teens old enough to understand the poverty and social issues raised here is doubtful. Some language -- "s--t," bitch," "bastard, "anus," "fart," "whore" -- is heard, and characters wrestle with the temptation to make a living through the drug trade. An angry mother hits her child with a stick. Drug mules swallow wrapped drugs to smuggle across borders for money. One mule dies when the drugs burst inside her. One boss sexually harasses his female employees, then threatens to fire them when they try to report him. Women speak of fighting off unwanted touches by abusive men. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
The subjects in Swallow would make anyone cry -- poverty, sexual harassment, drug dealing, systemic corruption -- but the movie and all the characters are flat and emotionless. People are either talking loudly or in a monotone, but nothing feels real, nothing seems to come from the heart. Perhaps it's because so many in the cast are non-actors. The result is two hours of valuable material -- oppression of the poor, downwardly-mobile lives, religions taking advantage of rather than helping the needy -- wasted in a drama-less social drama. Scenes dribble on far too long. Logic eludes most of the characters. People say nothing when they ought to speak up and when it no longer makes sense to speak, they go on and on. A woman is sexually assaulted by her boss but she says nothing, allowing others to gossip that she's having an affair with her superior. Weeks later, she files a complaint against him and is threatened by him and his disapproving underlings. A woman meets a man, asks his address, and out of the blue shows up at his home. They speak to each other as if they have no interest in each other and without a hint of flirtation he offers to pay for her rent and buy her clothes. A woman invokes African gods to curse her employer and her problems disappear. How?
The one theme that emerges -- far too late -- is that the film's most intelligent character finds her voice and finally starts to call it as she sees it. Perhaps the English subtitles are translated badly. Perhaps the cultural habits and customs of Lagos in the 1980s cannot be understood by Americans of the 2020s. But one thing is sure -- the movie doesn't get interesting or even seem to reflect any kind of emotional truth until a good 85 minutes in. The last 45 seem the most real, but it would be hard to imagine an audience sticking with this that long.
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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.