I’ve long advocated the idea of parents taking their tweener kids to films that portray real history and stark present-day realities. Once in a blue moon a Hollywood film portrays violence as the truly horrid thing it is — I would take my ten year-old to that film in a New York minute. 20 years ago I wrote a piece for a parenting magazine that urged parents to take their younger kids to Schindler’s List. If it upsets their tender sensibilities to see what it was like to suffer and die in a Nazi concentration camp, good — maybe it’ll teach them something. I would also take my ten-year-old to see 12 Years A Slave, no hesitation. I would tell him or her “put your shoes on…you’re seeing this movie.”
I suspect that most parents don’t see it this way. My two sons are grown, but having been in the trenches in the ’90s and early aughts my impression is that most parents want to protect their kids from the harsh realities of life and raise them inside a kind of ultra-sensitive alpha bubble. One reflection of this is the way Screen It, a movie-screening website for parents, is noncommittal about 12 Years A Slave. It doesn’t ask if kids should see it because of the moral lessons it contains, or whether they should be taken to see it by their parents. It asks if kids will “want” to see it, and it answers as follows: “If they’re interested in the subject matter and/or are fans of anyone in the cast, they might. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem too likely.” That’s it?
Screen It webmaster Jim Judy knows that kids are constantly swamped with violent material in all media, mostly of a lurid or sensationalistic nature, but when a profoundly moral film like 12 Years A Slave comes along he essentially regards it as just another R-rated film with, in this instance, “violence [and] cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality.” No moral or educational distinction whatsoever between an obviously superior drama with rough passages and some piece of R-rated flotsam…same difference.
In a 10.18 Vibe interview, Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor says “I absolutely think that kids in school should see this movie…I think it’s never too late and it’s never too early to start learning and talking about human respect. I think that’s the overall message of this film.”