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Jonah from Tonga
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jonah from Tonga has stirred controversy -- and spawned charges of racism -- for creator Chris Lilley's choice to portray the main character in "brownface." (Lilley is white.) Strong language is frequent and unbleeped, from "p---y" to "motherf--ker," and Jonah and his friends are bullies who target both students and teachers alike. There's also brief nudity (buttocks), sexual innuendo (including harassment), and characters who drink and smoke cigarettes.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
After being expelled from Summer Heights High and sent to live with relatives in Tonga, 14-year-old Jonah Takalua (series creator Chris Lilley) returns to Australia with his father to get his life back on track. But it doesn't take long for JONAH FROM TONGA to make trouble wherever he goes, bringing Jonah face to face with Kool Kris (Uli Latukefu), a youth worker who tries to set him straight.
Is it any good?
Although Jonah from Tonga has drawn criticism for its overblown take on Tongan culture, it's not the first time show creator Chris Lilley has courted controversy -- and it likely won't be the last. Lilley (who is white) previously portrayed the brown-skinned Jonah on his cultish comedy Summer Heights High, and he's even donned "blackface" to play African-American rapper S. Mouse on Angry Boys. But if you can look past the critical backlash, you'll see that Lilley's projects also include sharp satire designed to get viewers thinking.
As for Jonah itself, the Summer Heights spin-off isn't Lilley's most hilarious effort and has a lot less heart than the aforementioned Angry Boys. But it does take a stab at social commentary, particularly in the realm of race and the way "problem kids" are handled in the Aussie school system. That doesn't mean young viewers are mature enough to see past the show's crude surface, but there's food for thought there if they look hard enough.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the controversy surrounding Jonah from Tonga and whether or not charges of racism are warranted. Where's the line between funny and offensive? At what point does pushing comedic boundaries backfire?
Jonah is an obviously terrible role model, but is his character rooted in reality -- or stereotypes? Would critics of Jonah from Tonga be as outraged if the title character were played by a person of Tongan descent?
How does high school culture in Jonah from Tonga compare to that in the United States? Does the show make race, class, and gender out to be more divisive than they actually are?
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