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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What's the story?
In this biopic, Denzel Washington portrays Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who triumphed over a brutal childhood to become a contender for the middleweight boxing championship, through pure determination. The story follows Carter's harrowing experience as he's wrongfully sentenced to three life terms for murders he did not commit, then uses the same discipline, integrity, and ineradicable sense of dignity that served him as a fighter to survive in prison. In a side-story, a boy named Lasra Martin, living in Canada with people who took him in to provide him with an opportunity to get a better education, buys his first book for twenty-five cents. It is Carter's book written in prison, The Sixteenth Round. Lasra writes his first letter. Carter answers. They develop a close relationship, and Lasra introduces Carter to his Canadian friends, who become so committed to him that they move to New Jersey, vowing not to leave until he goes with them. They uncover new evidence, the lawyers develop a new theory, and finally, 20 years later, Carter is freed.
Is it any good?
Denzel Washington's dazzling portrayal as Carter makes us see the man's courage and heart. And the astounding story of chance, loyalty, and dedication that led to his release gives us a chance to see true heroism and redemption. The devotion of the Canadians and the lawyers is truly heroic and very moving -- the movie gently contrasts them with the celebrities who stopped by long enough to get their photographs taken, and then moved on to other causes.
But, contrary to many "victims of racism saved by righteous white people" movie portrayals, the real hero of this story is Carter himself. In his first days in prison, locked in "the hole" for refusing to wear a prison uniform, we see him forging the steel that will keep his essence free, no matter how many locks are on the door. Then, in scenes that are almost unbearably moving, we see that he can still allow himself to hope and to need others. He has protected himself from despair and bitterness in refusing to be a victim.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the struggles for racial equality in the 1960's and 1970's, and about what has and has not changed. And they can also talk about the way that Carter keeps his spirit alive, in part by identifying himself with prisoners of conscience like Nelson Mandela and Emile Zola, and by writing, "a weapon more powerful than my fists can ever be."
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