The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Watsons Go to Birmingham Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Warm family drama brings the civil rights movement to life.
  • PG
  • 2013
  • 87 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

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 & Representations

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.


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

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult 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 b... Continue reading
Parent of a 11-year-old Written byMxSparke February 20, 2017

Great story

For a short movie, they really did a great job to convey the time period. I liked how each of the characters internalized the visit differently. I think it... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCanDAmeChibi February 21, 2020

Great Movie!

This movie is terrific, funny, and sad. This is an essential Black history movie for all families.
Kid, 8 years old May 19, 2019

Great book based movie some violence but empowering

Parents need to know that this story is based of the book by Cristopher Paul Curtis. Like the book there are several confrontations between black and white peop... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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