A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Long Walk Home is a nuanced film about racial tension and the bus boycotts in 1950s Montgomery, Alabama. It contains frequent use of the "N" word, and in spite of its historical accuracy, this makes for some uncomfortable viewing. There is also realistic violence, including punching and slapping, and plenty of scenes of racial hatred and intimidation. Overall it presents a very nuanced look at the tensions of the era through individual relationships, and is an excellent addition to any teen or older tween study of the Civil Rights movement.
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What's the story?
Affluent Miriam (Sissy Spacek) must decide how to proceed when blacks begin the bus boycott in 1950s Montgomery, Alabama, leaving her maid Odessa (Whoopi Goldberg) with no way to work. As tensions increase between determined black organizers and threatened white families unwilling to budge, the two women must weigh their own individual risks to their friendship.
Is it any good?
THE LONG WALK HOME is a powerful movie. Not just because Spacek and Goldberg give excellent performances, but because it focuses directly on the relationships at the heart of the Civil Rights movement, personalizing the way we think of issues like basic respect, dignity, or the freedom to patronize any business, park, or seat of your choosing. Here we see those tensions play out between an affluent housewife and her maid, and rather than paint that relationship in the broad strokes of a white hero who comes around to save the day, both Miriam and Odessa are shown as having something to lose at this critical moment, and both of them have to learn to trust each other enough to understand the other's point of view. We see both families' experiences side by side, and see the issue of racial tension set against that of women's struggle for their own autonomy.
There are some elements that make for uneasy viewing -- frequent use of the "N" word, harsh and intimidating scenes of racial hatred, and some realistic violence. But for mature tweens or teens ready for a more nuanced look at what it was like to live through this era, and ponder some of the distasteful moral justifications used then for maintaining the status quo, it will be educational and illuminating. Parents will want to stick around for questions and discussions, especially with kids for whom this is the first exploration of the issue.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's narrator. Why do you think the filmmakers chose a white narrator for a film largely about the struggle of blacks? Does this help us better understand their perspective, or inadvertently prioritize white viewpoints during a conflict primarily about black struggles? Do you think the narrator added anything to the movie? Why or why not?
Why were so many otherwise seemingly "decent" white people in the film afraid to allow blacks the same freedoms and respect as whites? What did it take to change Miriam's mind about whether her black maid should be given a ride to work?
Though many Civil Rights battles were won, racism still exists today. Can you pinpoint some examples? How is it different? How is it the same?
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