The Long Shadow

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Long Shadow Movie Poster Image
Southern white woman's eyes opened in powerful racism docu.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 88 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Offers viewers plenty to talk about in reconsidering all the ways that racism has persisted in the decades since the official end of slavery. Encourages viewers to find the courage, compassion, and hope necessary to oppose this pervasive impact.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Causey shows a certain amount of bravery, both in making this movie and appearing in it -- questioning the values she was raised with, asking questions, looking for solutions. But she is not the center of the movie.


Images of aftermath of bloody shooting; blood and dead bodies shown. Images of hanged bodies. Reference to suicide. Descriptions of slave beatings and whippings. Disturbing images of slavery and slave torture devices.


Brief nudity in illustrations.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Long Shadow is a documentary that traces racism in America from the days of slavery through today. It looks at everything from laws and polices that were intended to keep black people down to violent, hate-fueled incidents. Director Frances Causey is a white Southern woman who has begun questioning the norms of her youth. Expect to see disturbing images of violence, including the aftermath of a shooting -- with dead bodies and blood -- as well as images of slavery: hanged bodies, and torture devices. There are also descriptions of beatings and whippings and a mention of suicide, and a brief illustration of naked slaves is shown. It's powerful, and can be seen as a good companion piece to Ava DuVernay's 13th.

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What's the story?

In THE LONG SHADOW, filmmaker Frances Causey describes how she grew up in the South: Her family had black servants, and she loved them like family. But as an adult, she began to reconsider her past, and so -- with this film -- she decided to trace the roots of slavery up through contemporary racism. She looks at positive examples -- such as Canada, which had no slave system, as well as a Virginia slave owner who released his slaves. And she looks at how, throughout history, legislation in America -- including the notorious Jim Crow and Fair Housing laws -- has kept black people down. She interviews many experts on the subject, and it all adds up to one sad truth: Racism is an integral part of America's history. But ultimately she hopes that kindness and understanding can still prevail.

Is it any good?

This film definitely brings Ava DuVernay's similar 13th to mind, but, because Causey's documentary is both eye-opening and hauntingly personal, there's room for both of these powerful works. Some might question whether a white woman has the right to tell a story about racism -- especially a white woman from the South whose family used black servants and whose ancestors owned slaves. And those questions are certainly valid. But it's also brave of Causey to admit to her feelings of doubt and outrage. She comes across as compassionate and honest, and her efforts feel admirable.

Despite the film's throughline, so similar to 13th, that traces American history and race from the end of slavery through the turbulent civil rights movement and up to today, The Long Shadow easily finds plenty of fresh ground to cover. Causey has good access to the southern regions of the United States and records many personal stories. Her interviewees are a mix of African American and white experts, all of whom contribute equally to the film's thesis. Causey traces the effects of slavery all the way up to a recent incident of hatred and racism on the factory floor at Lockheed Martin. Yet she ends the movie seemingly changed and still hopeful that humans' goodness can prevail.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Long Shadow's violence. How is it connected to slavery? How is it connected to racism today?

  • Is the film hopeful? What are some examples of the positive routes that history has taken? What are some ways that the future could improve?

  • Does a white woman have the right to make a movie about racism and slavery? Why or why not?

  • How does the movie compare to Ava DuVernay's 13th? How are they similar and different?

Movie details

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