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 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.
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?
- On DVD or streaming: November 26, 2013
- Cast: Anika Noni Rose, David Alan Grier, Wood Harris
- Director: Kenny Leon
- Studio: Arc Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and sisters, History
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some violent images and mild language
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