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The Century: America's Time
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film weaves together fascinating aspects of history in a thought-provoking manner. All of the major social and political issues faced by America in the 20th Century are explored. In general, this is best viewed by teens, as younger children may not understand the content. But the episodes may prove a good basis for future learning for young children if viewed in small chunks. Teens and adults will find the series as entertaining as it is educational. But serious issuesare discussed. Glimpses of lynchings and war atrocities are brief, but still may disturb some viewers. This series deals with social trends like racism and AIDS in an objective way, making a good introduction for family discussion.
What's the story?
Originally shown on television, THE CENTURY consists of 14 episodes. Arranged chronologically, they offer a political, social, and cultural portrait of America in the 20th Century. Segments consist of documentary footage as well as interviews. The series opens with America at the turn of the 19th Century, when the population of 76 million people was swelling with immigrants from Europe. The origins of World War I are discussed in order to explain America's eventual entry into that war. Between wars, the series looks at such other significant events as Prohibition (and the resulting increase in crime), the Great Depression, the economic boom that followed the end of World War II, and the social upheavals of the 1960s. The last episode follows century-long threads such as the role of the federal government in people's lives, racism, and our national fixation with scandals.
Is it any good?
The Century is a wonderful learning tool because it whets the appetite for more information about the events it describes. The segments are provocative and will spark conversations that can cross the gap between children and parents. Viewers young and old will be amazed at the variety of scenes and the skill of the filmmakers. We get to see the Panama Canal being dug, Manhattan in the 1900s, and soldiers in the trenches in WWI. The footage is all beautifully restored--no eyestrain here from watching grainy old newsreels.
At the beginning of The Century: America's Time, host Peter Jennings explains that this series will look at recent history not as historians usually do--in terms of rulers and political leaders--but rather as the common man experienced the century. This bottom-up approach means that younger viewers will be able to empathize with events much more than they might otherwise. Teens should have no trouble following the ebb and flow of events. Preteens may not initially see how all of these pieces fit into the context of modern history, but will enjoy it a bit at a time. (With a few exceptions, most notably WWII, events are not discussed any great length.)
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how specific 20th century events compare to 21st century events. What do you think has been learned from the 20th century, and how is it being addressed today? Families can also discuss the serious themes raised in the film. How have racism, sexism, and anti-semitism changed over time?