The recent tragedy in Charlottesville shows that America is long overdue for a national talk about tolerance and acceptance. This is also a conversation parents need to have with their kids as well and to that end here are five films suitable for children in middle school and up to help get the discussion going.
West Side Story (1961) This musical romantic drama adapted from the Sondheim written Broadway smash of the same name takes Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet and transports it to fifties New York City with tensions between the European American street gang the Jets, and the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks. (Sadly sixty years later tensions between Americans of European descent and those of Latino origins remains entirely topical.) It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won ten including Best Picture becoming the record holder for the most wins of a movie musical.
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) Based on the classic novel by Harper Lee with its immortal child protagonists Jem and Scout. The courtroom drama where Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck in his most memorable performance) defends a black man accused of raping a white woman forms the movies’ backbone but it’s also a wonderfully bittersweet coming of age tale. Small wonder it earned back ten times its budget and was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three including Best Actor. The American Film Institute would name Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th Century.
Glory (1989) Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, Love & Other Drugs) directed this war film of the true story of one of the first military union units in the Union Army made up entirely of black soldiers from the point of view of its white commanding officer Colonel Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick). The powerhouse cast also includes Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington in one his earliest roles which helped establish him as a Hollywood powerhouse AND won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Glory was also honored by the Golden Globes, the NAACP, and holds an over 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Invictus (2009) Clint Eastwood directed this American-South African biographical film depicting the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup which South Africa hosted following the demise of apartheid. Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon Francois Pinnear the captain of the Springboks rugby team. Both of them would be nominated for Academy Awards for their performances and Freeman won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.
Zootopia (2016) This 3-D computer animated mystery, buddy cop, comedy, adventure film featuring a bunny cop teamed up with a con artist fox, is not only visually gorgeous, hysterically funny, and entertaining but a surprisingly thoughtful examination of how different groups discriminate and stereotype one another. For while the great city of Zootopia prides itself on being an idyllic place where all animals can live together in peace and harmony, in practice they don’t all get along. Big animals look down on little animals. Tension exists between predators and prey. And even likeable characters show they’re not without their own unconscious biases. In some ways the fantastical setting allows the movie to be even more honest and in depth about the issues it addresses. It features an all star cast voicing the characters, including Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, Octavia Spencer, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk, and Shakira. Small wonder it was a box office sensation, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature film AND holds over a 90% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.
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