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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Tree is an absorbing coming-of-age drama about a Black boy, fostered by a White woman in the English countryside, who goes to live with his birth mother in London. The movie focuses on identity, as Femi (played initially by Tai Golding, and later by Sam Adewunmi) must learn to adapt to his new surroundings. There are moments of violence, most notably when Femi becomes involved with local hoodlum, Mace (Demmy Ladipo). Mace orders Femi to beat and humiliate people. In one scene, Femi hits a fellow student to floor before Mace orders him to walk around on all fours and "squeal like a pig." Femi is also at the receiving end of violence. He is beaten in the street, receiving cuts to his face. As a child, he is also regularly beaten with a stick by his mother, Yinka (Gbemisola Ikumelo). She also makes him exercise on the spot while pulling his ears out as a further punishment. There are several instances of school bullying. Tope (Ruthxjiah Bellenea), a girl in Femi's school, is picked on for her dark skin -- she is constantly called "blik." Other language includes variants of "f--k," while the "N" word is also used on several occasions. Femi and Mace smoke pot together, with a subsequent scene playing out in a dreamlike sequence as as result of Femi's smoking. Though Femi behaves badly on occasion, his behavior is sympathetic, as he starts to find his place in the world.
What's the story?
THE LAST TREE tells the story of Femi (Tai Golding / Sam Adewunmi) who has spent most of his childhood in the idyllic English countryside with his foster mother, Mary (Denise Black). But when Femi's birth mother, Yinka (Gbemisola Ikumelo), returns and takes him to London, Femi is forced to reassess who he is.
Is it any good?
Identity is at the heart of this beautiful film. Beginning in the tranquil Lincolnshire countryside, Femi -- a young British-Nigerian boy filled with the innocence of youth -- plays blissfully with his friends. Femi appears happy, living with his foster mother, Mary, a White woman who promises Femi that no one is going to take him away. But then Femi's birth mother, Yinka, arrives and does just that, taking him back to a small flat in an impoverished part of London. There, Femi is forced to find a new identity in order to fit in with his more street-wise peers. They may look more like Femi, but they are from a world Femi has no experience of. The movie then fast-forwards a number of years, with Femi now -- on the face of it -- integrated into urban life, albeit with an uneasy relationship with Yinka, who favors the stick (quite literally) when it comes to disciplining her son. Yet beneath the surface, Femi's identity struggles continue. While his friends listen to Tupac, he prefers The Cure -- something he keeps secret for fear of being cast as an outsider once again.
The cinematography in The Last Tree is beautiful. The visual contrast of the English countryside with inner-city London, and later, the bustling streets of Nigeria, permeates from the screen. Despite only being his second feature-length film, writer and director, Shola Amoo conducts proceedings with a natural confidence, inter-cutting moments of slow motion and dreamlike sequences. Adewunmi as the older Femi is also superb, portraying Femi's complex emotions with a quiet subtleness, yet equally adept at moments of explosive rage and release. Femi's relationship with Mace -- the local hoodlum who tries to recruit him -- borders on cliché. But overall this is a thoughtful coming-of-age movie, beautifully shot, with a powerful central performance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in The Last Tree. What role did violence play in the story?
Discuss the language used in the movie. Does it seem necessary or excessive? What does it contribute to the movie?
Discuss the character of Femi. What are some of the issues Femi has to come to terms with? How do these affect him? Why do you think he is led astray by Mace?
What does the movie have to say about identity? Discuss your own heritage. What do you know about it? Does it impact the way you see yourself, or how you're seen by others?
Femi spends some time in foster care. What do you know about fostering? Why do you think Mary, and others like her, foster children?
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