The Watsons Go to Birmingham Movie Poster Image

The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Warm family drama brings the civil rights movement to life.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 87 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Family love and unity, caring for one's siblings and loved ones, and racial equality are stressed, implicitly and explicitly.

Positive role models

The Watson family members are real people -- sometimes impatient with each other, often loving, always supportive. Kenny in particular is a sympathetic main character; he's kind and intelligent, caring and vulnerable.


A few characters engage in mild fighting that includes pushing and shoving. Near the end of the film there's a very violent bombing in which children are killed; we hear about the deaths and on-screen see people screaming, smoke, and a child's foot chillingly protruding from rubble. One character is in mortal jeopardy but survives. In another scene, a child whose lips have frozen to a car window is forcibly pulled away.

Not applicable

A few insults: "You better shut your stupid mouth."


This television movie is based on a book; viewers may want to read it.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Watsons Go to Birmingham tells the story of an African-American family who visits Birmingham, Ala., in the midst of the civil rights struggle. Although the warm, relatable family drama will bring the civil rights era to life for families, parents should know that the Birmingham church bombing is depicted, and one main character nearly loses her life. This scene, along with depictions of period-accurate racism and discrimination, could be disturbing to some kids but also could be a great conversation starter.

What's the story?

It's a freezing cold winter in Flint, Mich., when the Watson family starts thinking longingly about how warm it would be in Birmingham, Ala., where mom Wilona (Anika Noni Rose) is from. Not only that, but Wilona and husband Daniel (Wood Harris) are concerned that their son Byron (Harrison Knight) is going from bad to worse, thanks to the influence of neighborhood toughs. When Wilona discovers on the same day that he's lighting matches in the house and has gotten a hair-straightening process, she decides to take the whole clan, including angelic youngest child Joetta (Skai Jackson) and 12-year-old Kenny (Bryce Clyde Jenkins), to Birmingham for the summer to get Byron away from bad influences. But it's like going from the frying pan into the fire, with Birmingham being unsettled and still enforcing Jim Crow laws, schoolchildren marching, and police riots. All of this forms a backdrop to peaceful home life with Grandma Sands (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) and her live-in boyfriend, Mr. Robert (David Alan Grier). But the worst is yet to come: The family attends the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, the site of a famous flash point in the civil rights movement.

Is it any good?


This made-for-TV movie gets off on the right foot by spending some time with the Watsons before they go on the road. Watching the kids bicker and play together and their parents benevolently watching over it all turns the Watsons from the heroic African-American ciphers they would be in a worse film into realistic individuals, trying to live their lives the best they can despite many obstacles. Thus, when these kindly people are treated badly by whites, it hurts, and we feel the pain and shame viscerally.

Younger viewers probably will not have heard of many of the events depicted in this film: the Children's Crusade, the 16th Street Baptist church bombing. They may find these historical events disturbing, and that's a good thing, because they are. Watch with your kids to explain the historical underpinnings of what they see and to examine how far we've come today -- and how far we still need to go.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the events depicted in the movie. Were black people really barred from entering certain restaurants and using certain bathrooms and water fountains? Was there really a church bombing in Birmingham? What happened there that day, and what was the fallout?

  • Read about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits many forms of discrimination against women, religious minorities, and people of color. Are these groups of people still discriminated against? Why, and how? How did the act change things?

  • Would you like to have lived in Birmingham in the 1960s? Why, or why not? How do you think you would have handled the situations depicted in the movie?

Movie details

DVD/Streaming release date:November 26, 2013
Cast:Anika Noni Rose, David Alan Grier, Wood Harris
Director:Kenny Leon
Studio:Arc Entertainment
Topics:Brothers and sisters, History
Run time:87 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:thematic elements, some violent images and mild language

This review of The Watsons Go to Birmingham was written by

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Parent Written bylcswreview November 8, 2013

Great movie - loved it.

This movie was great. Bring Kleenex. My daughter and I had previously read the book and then watched the movie. It was better than expected -- followed the book very closely. There are plenty of good role models. The appropriate age for this movie is about 9 but only because of the violence. This movie should be shown in schools as a supplement to learning about the Civil Rights movement. This movie is not just good for its historical significance but also for reflecting positive interactions between family members. The parents don't bicker with each other and are presented as excellent role models for the children. Highly recommended.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Teen, 13 years old Written byariana vega December 15, 2013

the watsons go ti bermingham

im 13 years old and its a really good book to read it talks about the civil rights and one of them is the bombing of the church in bermingham, this book is really good to read.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 17 years old Written bychristmas123 December 21, 2013

One of the Best Movies I've Seen :)

This movie is really made me cry though when the church...never mind not going to ruin it for you. I am reading the book in class and it is the perfect book for a book report...there is really nothing wrong but there could be some scary images to some kids...
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models