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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kindness, compassion, and miracles, even in the most dismal environments and circumstances. Through a graphic scene, capital punishment by the electric chair is shown to be cruel and unusual. The importance of ensuring that people be allowed to live out their final days with dignity.
Positive Role Models
The warden in charge of the Death Row block of a Louisiana prison in the 1930s demands that the officers under him comport themselves with decency and respect in their dealings with those incarcerated. A man mistakenly believed to have murdered two young girls in cold blood displays remarkable kindness and compassion despite the gross injustice levied against him.
Characterizations draw heavily from stereotype: Tall, broad-shouldered Black man is tokenized and "scary," his size emphasized through low camera angle that sometimes leaves his head off-frame. But he's "likable" to the film's White characters due to child-like traits, constant deference -- always calling White men "boss" and White women "ma'am" -- and, above all, his magical powers that help their afflictions such as a bladder infection or dementia. He's literally a "magical Black person," a media trend that dehumanizes Black characters by turning them into supernatural helpers of White protagonists. In this case, he willingly chooses to die after having cured a White woman's dementia and is survived by a White man (and a mouse). Disability is also poorly rendered; it's implied that the Black character has a learning disability given his slow speech. Disabled characters consciously choosing to die -- the implication being that death is a preferred fate to living with a disability -- is also an unfortunate cliché that this film indulges in.
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Violence & Scariness
A man is found sitting in a field with two dead little girls in his arms. Graphic depictions of execution by electric chair, including a botched execution in which the man being executed clearly suffers excruciating pain as he is burned to death. Altercations with one of the men on Death Row include fights, violent restraining, a kick to the groin, sexual harassment. (Someone grabs one of the guards and kisses him on the face while grabbing his buttocks. In another scene, he makes a lewd joke about how he wants Mae West to perform a sexual act with him.) A mouse is stomped to death, crunching sound audible. Little girls shown in peril as they're kidnapped by a criminal.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
One of the prison guards is shown leafing through a magazine of sex-themed cartoons. Implied sex between husband and wife.
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Frequent profanity, including variations of "f--k." "N" word used by antagonists. "Sambo" also used. Outdated terms "colored" and "negro" used in a 1930s setting. Slurs "retarded," "imbecile," and "f--got" used as insults. "Son of a bitch." "S--t." "D--k." "Hell." "Jesus Christ." "goddammit."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Beer drinking, no one drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Green Mile is a 1999 movie based on a Stephen King novel in which a newly incarcerated man on Death Row has a miraculous gift. The film hasn't aged well, most notably in the way it leans on the "magical Black person" stereotype that dehumanizes Black characters by turning them into supernatural helpers of White main characters. Disability is also poorly rendered, as people with mental disabilities are shown as either extremely violent or extremely meek, evil or angelic, with nothing in between. In the film's most graphic scene, a man is brutally killed by a botched electric chair execution: He screams in excruciating pain as his skin visibly and audibly sizzles; comment is later made about how the smell of the execution will linger in the prison for a long time. A man is shown sitting in a field with two dead little girls in both arms. Audiences hear use of the "N" word, other slurs like "f--got" and "retarded," and the obsolete "colored" designation. Frequent profanity includes variations on "f--k." In a tense standoff with one of the incarcerated men, a guard wets his pants. Themes of racism, criminal justice, capital punishment, miracles, and faith even in the direst environments and the treatment of adults living in nursing homes are conveyed throughout this movie and may provoke discussion and debate between parents and mature teens. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a compassionate and well-intended movie with outstanding direction. The plot veers into melodrama at times, with at least one coincidence that's overly convenient, but the humanity of the guards keeps the movie on track most of the time. Hanks plays his most recognizable character type: someone fair, kind, and capable. Bonnie Hunt's performance as Edgecombe's loving wife is a pleasure to watch. Doug Hutchison is terrific as Percy, the nephew of the governor's wife who's assigned to work for Edgecombe and whose combined arrogance and insecurity lead to disaster. And while it's unfortunate that Duncan is forced to shoulder an amalgam of stereotypes, his stellar performance showcases Coffey's innocence and goodness.
It's pretty easy to make a movie where the hero saves the Earth from asteroids or blasts the villains into smithereens, because those kinds of battles give us lots of very cool stuff to look at. It's a lot harder to make a movie that highlights the heroism of small gestures. Teens, who may feel that the problems of the world are too overwhelming to address, can learn from this movie that a small courtesy can have an enormous impact. Just be ready to discuss the ways in which The Green Mile reduces Black and mentally disabled characters into stereotypes.
Did we miss something on diversity?
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.