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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that To Kill a Mockingbird is the award-winning 1962 film adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel. Its powerful evocation of racism and bigotry in the 1930s Deep South still resonates today, as do themes of empathy, compassion, and justice. The "N" word is used as a weapon by the lead antagonist, and when Scout Finch uses the word because kids at her school are using it, her father tells her never to use that word. In the unforgettable courtroom scene, the rape of an impoverished young white woman is discussed in detail, and over the course of the trial, abuse -- and possibly incest -- is implied at the hands of her father. Overall, this film is just as much of a timeless classic as the novel and should inspire family discussion of not only racism and injustice but also how values such as empathy and compassion can overcome entrenched bigotry and profound ignorance.
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What's the story?
Based on Harper Lee's classic novel (which is often assigned to kids in junior high school), TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is set in a small Alabama town in the 1930s and follows the story of the Finch family -- 6-year-old Scout (Mary Badham); her older brother, Jem (Philip Alford); and their widowed lawyer father, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck). Two parallel story lines follow Atticus' difficult decision to defend an African-American man who has been accused of raping a white woman and the two young Finches' fascination with their mysterious -- and rumored-to-be-dangerous -- recluse neighbor, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall). Atticus and his children face disapproval and worse from those who believe the accused is guilty, with or without a trial. And Scout and Jem discover that someone is leaving strange little gifts for them in a tree near their home.
Is it any good?
This Hollywood masterpiece offers crucial lessons about prejudice and the fears that motivate it. Kids will appreciate a movie that respects their intelligence and reaches for the heart without gimmicks and overly cute characters. Peck's Academy Award-winning performance anchors To Kill a Mockingbird , which is finely crafted with a perfectly balanced script by Horton Foote. A paragon of decency who stands for tolerance and nonviolence at all costs, Atticus also is a loving, nurturing father who treats everyone around him, including his children, with respect.
Despite the ugly truths portrayed here, a gentle goodness pervades, even during the darkest of moments. Foote includes more than lynch mobs and courtroom fireworks; he also offers lower-key, intimate moments, such as when young Scout questions her older brother about their deceased mother. Or, on a lighter note, when Scout fidgets during her first day of school; she can't get comfortable in her new dress.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the challenges of adapting a classic novel like To Kill a Mockingbird. How do you think filmmakers decide what to keep and what to skip -- or change?
How do the movie's themes resonate in our time?
How has the media's depiction of racism and people of varying races changed over the years? How has it not?
What role can/should the media play in fighting issues such as racism?
- In theaters: December 25, 1962
- On DVD or streaming: January 2, 2001
- Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Robert Duvall
- Director: Robert Mulligan
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Classic
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Integrity
- Run time: 131 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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