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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Teaches perseverance. Mildly encourages racial equality but stops short of challenging British imperialism. (Main character uses some racist language and behavior himself, which blunts the positive effect.) Shows empathy for teens who may seem rough or disrespectful on the outside. It's right to stand up for what you believe in and especially to stand up for others, even if others might frown on it.
Positive Role Models
Thackeray mostly stays above the fray and leads by example, but also comes across as relatable and human, as in moments where he raises his voice to the students. The teens are initially rude in class but demonstrate curiosity. With some guidance, they eventually learn the benefits of decorum.
For a 1967 film, this positively stands out for casting a dark-skinned Black male lead. His character is non-stereotypical: middle class instead of poor, an object of attraction without undue fetishizing, and, crucially, he's humanized through a wide range of emotions, from laughing and joy to anger and yelling. A biracial male student has a small backstory. Two women of color appear in the classroom but remain silent. Unfortunately, film fares worse in its portrayal of women. Female students and teachers are never overtly sexualized, but traditional gender norms are in full swing: When female teens behave poorly, Thackeray warns them against acting like a "filthy slut" and adds emphatically, "No man likes a slut." Colonialism is embraced: Teachers and Thackeray praise Winston Churchill, known to be a racist who supported eugenics. Thackeray describes his time in South Africa to his students, saying, "The only women there were jungle Indians who carried blow pipes and poison darts." He calls the Guyanese Creole he grew up with "a simple English," mocking their dialect to the raucous laughter of his mostly White students. Bullying behavior by a teacher against a male student for being slightly heavier than his rail-thin classmates. Said classmates rally behind their friend, but their nickname for him remains "Fats" and feels glib.
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Violence & Scariness
A PE class gets out of hand when a student proposes boxing as an excuse to fight Thackeray; punches to the face, and a gut punch ends the fight. No blood. In another scene, Thackeray catches a kicked tin can out of midair and cuts his hand; brief blood on palm. Verbal hostility and aggressive body language -- some racially tinged, almost all directed at Thackeray -- takes place throughout.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Romantic crushes discussed. Very brief glimpse of suggestion of a naked woman in a magazine; no details or cleavage visible.
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"Bastard," "damn," "moron." Phrases like "filthy slut" or "sluttish behavior" are used without critique. "F--gots" used twice, in its original meaning of "bundle." Outdated term "colored" used twice, referring to Black people. Racist overtones in speech by a fellow teacher who's never held to task for calling Thackeray a "black sheep"; joking that Thackeray can do "black magic" and "voodoo" or telling him he would "row home if I were you."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Students smoke in a few scenes. In one freeze-frame, they're seen poised to light a cigarette next to a "No Smoking" sign inside of a museum.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that To Sir, with Love is a 1960s English drama about a teacher named Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier). Viewers will see students behaving rudely toward their teacher, including a one-on-one boxing match where the teacher takes punches to the face and the student is incapacitated with a gut punch. A bloody cut on a hand is briefly seen, as is the suggestion of a naked woman on a magazine centerfold. A student crushes on a teacher, but the story is handled appropriately by filmmakers. Issues of racism and classism come up and are explored with sensitivity, if never directly challenged. The way women are portrayed and spoken about feels extremely outdated; when Thackeray's female students misbehave, he angrily chides, "No man likes a slut." Language also includes terms like "bastard," "damn," "moron," and "f--gots" (used to convey its original meaning, "a bundle" of something). Racist overtones are repeatedly found in conversation by another teacher, who's never held accountable. The film offers a window into London's East End and its working-class residents. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Poitier is reason enough to watch this film, and his charisma makes the changes he brings to the students' world seem entirely plausible. To Sir, with Love's production design is marvelous and, along with the fine cinematography shot on location, captures the texture of London's East End in the 1960s. The music is a hoot, with song choices that surprise you like charming relics from another era.
Watching this dialogue-heavy movie requires a bit of effort, and young viewers may find their attention drifting. Making out the language can be difficult for those not used to hearing London cockney. But in a world of spoon-fed plots and predictable three-act structures, the film's organic storytelling sets it apart from more standard fare.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.