What I Hear When You Say

TV review by
Ashley Moulton, Common Sense Media
What I Hear When You Say TV Poster Image
Docuseries tackles issues of race, class, gender, identity.

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

Positive Messages

Series emphasizes breaking down people's prejudices and how to treat everyone respectfully. Many sub-issues talked about in each episode may make an overall takeaway harder for teens to understand.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Series features interviews from diverse people across gender identity, race, class, sexuality, and more. Counter-stereotypes are explicitly mentioned in several episodes. People from stigmatized communities talk about overcoming prejudices.

Violence

People from marginalized communities talk about verbal hostilities and microagressions aimed at them. The series does not depict these events.

Sex

"Feminism" episode makes brief reference to future plans for sex between consenting adults.

Language

Slurs are mentioned in the context of challenges faced by social groups. "Slut" and "whore" are said out loud in one interview in the "Feminism" episode. The "N" word is mentioned in the "Cultural Appropriation" episode, but it is referred to by shorthand (full word is not spoken). In the "Model Minority" episode, one interviewee says "friggin" and displays the middle finger (but it is censored).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In the "Model Minority" episode, a comedian makes a passing joke about someone getting blackout drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that WHAT I HEAR WHEN YOU SAY is a PBS web series that tackles issues around race, class, gender, and identity, and discusses these tough topics in a frank and honest way. People talk about verbal hostilities and microagressions they experience based on some part of their identity. There is some language, mostly in the context of challenges faced by social groups: "slut" and "whore" in the Feminism episode, reference to the "N" word in the Cultural Appropriation episode (full word not spoken). The Feminism episode briefly mentions future plans for consensual adult sex, and the Model Minority episode contains a passing joke about being blackout drunk.

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What's the story?

WHAT I HEAR WHEN YOU SAY is a series of documentary shorts that tackle issues around race, class, gender, and identity. Diverse people from marginalized groups discuss how certain discriminatory phrases impact them. Each episode focuses on one problematic theme, like when someone asks, "When did you become gay?"; when someone who wants to know your racial background asks "What are you?"; or when someone talks about having "White Pride." Comedians, journalists, and academic experts are interviewed to give historical context about the topic. Various people from the communities affected by these issues are interviewed to share their personal experiences.

Is it any good?

This series is attempting to tackle very complex topics in the span of 7-minute documentaries. What I Hear When You Say does an admirable job of explaining things in plain language and presenting each topic in a frank and honest way. However, most episodes are trying to fit in so many diverse perspectives that the overall takeaway can become muddled and each issue is not covered in depth. Teens who are engaged in current events (or who experience these issues personally) may not learn anything new. But white/straight/cisgender/upper class (etc.) teenagers who have not investigated their own privilege or don't have much experience with people different from themselves will come to understand new perspectives.

While the series does interview some comedians and lively personalities, the talking-head interviews make it seem more like a teaching tool than something teenagers would watch for entertainment. This series could be used very effectively by high school teachers or college professors as a jumping off point for a class discussion.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about hurtful things people have said to them based on their identity. (Or if they haven't had that experience, why they think they haven't?) How did it make them feel? 

  • Are there any phrases or issues in this series that you didn't realize were offensive? Do you understand why the people in the interviews find it offensive? 

  • Were any of the issues discussed in the series new to you? What else would you like to learn about it? How can you help make a difference in your own community? 

  • Did any of the topics in this web series make you uncomfortable? Why or why not?

TV details

  • Premiere date: March 16, 2017
  • Network: PBS
  • Genre: Educational
  • Topics: Activism
  • TV rating: NR
  • Available on: Streaming
  • Last updated: August 4, 2020

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