The Rachel Divide

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Rachel Divide Movie Poster Image
Docu about controversial "trans-racial" woman; cursing.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 100 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Illustrates the impossibility of attempting to be something you're not. Shows crushing consequences of parental misbehavior on kids. Even strong resilience, talent, and intelligence cannot overcome significant damage to the heart and soul of a vulnerable child.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Complex woman is shown both positively and negatively. She is a courageous, well-meaning advocate; an attentive, committed parent; and appears to be loyal, determined, and compassionate. At the same time, she's dishonest, misguided, delusional, and either unable or unwilling to perceive and/or accept reality as it is. She has little awareness of her effect on others. 


References to physical abuse of children.


References to sexual abuse of children.


Profanity includes: "f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," "ass," "d--k," "piss," the "N" word.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Rachel Divide is a documentary about Rachel Dolezal, a woman at the heart of a contentious national discussion about race, cultural appropriation, and the essence of truth itself. In 2015, Dolezal was the president of Spokane, Washington's NAACP chapter, a member of the city's police ombudsman committee, and an instructor in Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University when it was revealed by a local journalist that she was not African American by birth. Laura Brownson's film, which seems intent upon both decrying the duplicity and damage done by Dolezal's near life-long deception and eliciting a measure of sympathy for a woman caught up in a devastating downward spiral of her own making, is provocative, complex, and impactful, particularly in concert with the racial politics so relevant at the time of its release. Appropriate only for mature audiences because of its themes, its references to child abuse (both physical and emotional), and the recurring swearing and obscenities (i.e., "f--k," "s--t," "crap," "goddamn," "d--k," the "N" word). 

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What's the story?

Filmmaker Laura Brownson's THE RACHEL DIVIDE takes an intimate look at Rachel Dolezal, deceiver, provocateur, and committed activist. Having been "outed" as a white American by birth, Dolezal, who for years had been presenting herself as an African American to gain status and credibility in the community of Spokane, Washington, refused to admit culpability. Instead, she made (and continues) to make a case for the notion that race, as she defines it, is a "construct." Because she identifies and thinks of herself as African American, she should be accepted as such. Much of the film follows Dolezal through a critical period in her life. She's writing a book, pregnant with her third son, dealing with the fallout of her exposure, and, importantly, raising two teen sons, both of whom are profoundly affected by their mother's behavior. Brownson also interviews a number of African American women who were taken in by Dolezal's deceit. And throughout, the filmmaker traces the history of her subject -- a disturbing childhood during which she was raised with four adopted African American siblings by a religious couple who have been accused of abuse by some of those children. 

Is it any good?

Laura Brownson's confounding yet mesmerizing documentary stars a bizarrely brilliant, talented woman whose penchant for both the limelight and deception sabotages her and threatens those she loves. Rachel Dolezal could only be worthy of a documentary film at a time when celebrity, racial politics, and dishonesty make headlines on a daily basis. To that end, Brownson has made an impressive movie -- one that leaves the final determination about Rachel Dolezal's intent, worthiness, even sanity, up to her audiences. The Rachel Divide isn't afraid of complex, unorthodox situations, and it doesn't attempt to find resolution. Most surprising are the shots of Dolezal's art -- she's an extraordinary painter, and it's sad that her actions will surely compromise that gift. Most touching are the scenes with her two older sons (one adopted, one biological). The bright, thoughtful, and articulate boys love their mother but simply cannot escape the damage she has brought to their lives. Mature audiences only.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the purposes of documentary films: to entertain, inform, or persuade. Which of these categories best describes The Rachel Divide? In what way(s) is this a timely film?

  • Do you think filmmaker Laura Brownson revealed a bias for or against Rachel Dolezal? Or do you think she was attempting to give a balanced portrayal of this controversial woman? How did you feel about Dolezal at the end of the movie? Were you sympathetic or offended by her, or were your feelings mixed?

  • Dolezal's actions resulted in a profound volume of hate mail, social media censure, and personal attacks. African American women, including those who had worked with Dolezal, were highly critical of her. To what do you attribute this outrage?

  • With all the new markets (streaming, specialized cable programming, et al), documentaries are finding audiences as never before. Why is this trend significant for both filmmakers and viewers? Which documentaries that you've seen have opened up your eyes to interesting or important issues? What is your favorite genre(s) of documentaries?

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