The Women of Brewster Place

Movie review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
The Women of Brewster Place Movie Poster Image
Classic miniseries tackles weighty women's issues.
  • NR
  • 2011
  • 182 minutes

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

Positive Messages

As a whole, The Women of Brewster Place promotes the power of female bonding in a working-class African-American community and attempts to show women supporting each other through difficult times.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The female characters make errors in judgment but are generally positive in their attempts to support one another; male characters don't fare as well and tend to be stereotypical, although there are a few sympathetic role models. There's a definite attempt to show diversity in terms of skin tone, body type, and socioeconomic class.


Several characters are assaulted onscreen (one, by her father), enduring punching, slapping, and choking. Some visible blood, but nothing too graphic. The death of a toddler via electrocution is implied but not directly shown onscreen. A gay woman is likely raped as part of a hate crime; a woman gets an abortion.


A serious tone is applied to most sexual activity: A young unmarried girl gets pregnant after losing her virginity. There's kissing and implied sex with some bare skin showing, but nothing too graphic.


Infrequent use of terms like "damn," "ass," and "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One adult character smokes cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Women of Brewster Place is based on a National Book Award-winning novel of the same name and, like the book, tackles a selection of serious issues -- from teen pregnancy to sexism to homophobia. While some storylines involve sex and violence (including rape and abortion), onscreen images aren't incredibly graphic, although there is a little blood (along with visible punching, kicking, and choking) and some bare skin to suggest sexual activity. Cursing is limited to gateway terms like "damn," "hell," and "ass," and one character is shown briefly smoking a cigarette.

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What's the story?

Set in a crumbling inner-city housing project, THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE centers on seven African-American women who call the projects home and come to rely on each other for friendship and support. They include Mattie (Oprah Winfrey), an aging matriarch who lost her house when her son skipped bail; Ciel (Lynn Whitfield), the young girl turned woman she raised as her own; Etta Mae (Jackee Harry), a man-hunter looking for love; Cora Lee (Phyllis Stickney), a single mother with too many children; Theresa and Lorraine (Paula Kelly and Lonette McKee), a same-sex couple; and Kiswana (Lisa Bonet), a college-educated activist.

Is it any good?

Although this weighty but compelling drama takes most of its plot from novelist Gloria Naylor's source material, there were some significant changes made for the sake of TV audiences. Namely, the way black men were portrayed onscreen, considering the complete lack of positive male role models in the book. Still, several critics at the time took the miniseries to task for its heavy use of negative black stereotypes -- for both male and female characters.

Viewed through a modern lens, it's easy to see what the critics weren't crazy about. But Brewster Place was still a ratings success and brought together some of the most celebrated and popular black actors of the period, including Cicely Tyson, Paul Winfield, Moses Gunn, Lynn Whitfield, Mary Alice, and Lisa Bonet (The Cosby Show). And of course Oprah Winfrey, who not only starred but also produced the project through her then-fledgling Harpo Studios production company. It even spawned a short-lived series spinoff, Brewster Place, but it was canceled after just four episodes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the diversity of the female characters, particularly in terms of skin tone, body type and socioeconomic status. What messages does it send about beauty and acceptance? How does it compare to the ways in which African-American women are generally portrayed onscreen?

  • Do any of the characters fit into preconceived stereotypes? Is it possible to use stereotypes in a positive way? How do these women stack up as role models?

  • How does the miniseries compare to the book upon which it was based? Were there any significant changes made to the screen adaptation? Why do you think they were made?

Movie details

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