Gideon's Army

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Gideon's Army TV Poster Image
Thoughtful docu exposes the heroism of public defenders.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Against very long and tough odds, we see the men and women of the legal system trying valiantly to help even the worst criminals receive justice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The idealistic young attorneys featured in Gideon's Army work hard for their friendless clients, and take their position as defenders seriously. They are thoughtful, concerned, kind-hearted, and dedicated.

Violence

We see no violence onscreen, but violent acts such as rapes and robberies at gunpoint are discussed. Also talk about cases of molestation, incest, and rape.

Sex
Language

Rare language includes "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An attorney and her mentor crack open a bottle of wine at dinner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gideon's Army is a documentary about public defenders working in very poor counties in the south. Viewers will see no sex or violence onscreen, but will hear descriptions of many grave crimes, such as a man who rapes his 12-year-old daughter. Dire scenarios such as a man who planned to murder his attorney in court are also described. Viewers also see two adults opening and drinking a bottle of wine over dinner, but no other drinking, drugs or smoking, though drugs may be mentioned as an element in criminal cases. There are a few curses, but mostly this earnest and ardent documentary is unsuited for young children because it's thoughtful and talky and features a lot of dry courtroom footage. For teens and for adults, however, Gideon's Army could produce some very interesting questions and answers about the legal system and the public defender's place in it.

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What's the story?

A case filed by a petty thief named Clarence Gideon ensured in 1963 that those who could not afford an attorney in America would be appointed a free public defender. And in GIDEON'S ARMY we meet three of them. Idealistic attorneys June Hardwick, Brandy Alexander, and Travis Williams work in some of the poorest communities in the South, and each handle up to 150 clients at a time. Clients who each need court appearances, jailhouse visits, briefs filed on their behalf and so on, and who may or may not be guilty of the terrible crimes they are accused of. June, Brandy, and Travis feel strongly that they're standing between their clients and certain doom. But the job is so demanding and tough that at times they feel they just can't go on.

Is it any good?

Perhaps the most telling moment in Gideon's Army occurs early into the documentary, when Travis Williams shows the camera his bleak, small apartment and notes that it's right next to the office, which is its only selling point -- he can stop off there for a shower after working 16 hours. "I don't have a wife or kids," he says. "This is what I do. This is what I do for a living." Gideon's Army shows us the fearsome odds defenders like Williams face. His clients are poor, they're desperate, they're often guilty of the crimes they're accused of. He is the last thing that stands between the accused and the destruction of their lives. Lucky for these clients, Williams takes the job seriously.

To Gideon's Army's credit, it doesn't shy away from showing us the same attorneys in despair. Alexander cries as she discusses a client that she worked with for months, and cared about, who ultimately plotted her murder just for kicks. But the overall feeling viewers will get from the documentary is gratitude that caring attorneys like Williams, Hardwick, and Alexander are on the job -- and that we don't have to do it. Watching with teens will absolutely spur conversations about the justice system and criminals; be ready to answer their questions about why we do things the way we do.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what a public defender does. What do you think about the fact that public defenders defend people they know are guilty? Why do we as a society provide for this?

  • Would you like to be a public attorney? Why or why not? Did Gideon's Army inspire you, or discourage you?

  • Why do you think this documentary was made? What did director/creator Dawn Porter hope to show, or what changes did she hope would be made after people saw Gideon's Army?

TV details

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