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As a child born right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, exactly six months after the assassination of Malcolm X, I have only my parent’s memories of those horrific and powerful moments in American history. When I started seeing the trailers for the Selma Movie I immediately felt the energy of the movement pour into me from the visual presence of powerful African-Americans moving forward in spite of the immense opposition. The pictures are always so powerful, and tell the stories that are starting to fade with the passing of each legendary activist and committed ancestor. As a woman I was both surprised and proud to see that this major motion picture was directed by Ava DuVernay who was also of African descent and extremely accomplished. I was excited and couldn’t wait to take the kids to see this film! I assumed that it, like the few MLK movies made for TV, would be rated PG and I set off immediately to secure tickets for us to see it after we volunteered on Martin Luther King Day. I was proud of myself for being so proactive until I saw that it was rated PG13. My heart dropped. My son was twelve and soon to be thirteen in a few months, but my daughter was seven and a half at most. Did I really have to deny her the opportunity to experience this African-American female director’s opportunity to tell the story of the March to Selma? Did she have to sit and listen to stories like I did as a young child never seeing the beauty and ugliness of those who both fought for and stood ignorantly in the way of universal love and freedom? I was torn between my own strong emotions about the project and being a responsible parent. My daughter, a very sensitive and loving soul was also practically begging me (no, literally) to take her to see the movie. I decided to poll my friends in social media who are teachers, parents, directors, storytellers and activists for their opinions in order for me make the best decision. Surprisingly I didn’t receive a resounding “YES, you should definitely take her” from the majority of those polled, but I took all of the suggestions and comments to heart and eventually decided to take her to see Selma. These are the reasons why I chose to ignore the film rating and take her anyway:
- She is the granddaughter and daughter of storytellers: My father wrote great short essays about his experiences growing up a young black boy in the fifties as well as experiences in the Air Force and the emotions and struggles that followed him into his adult life. Unfortunately he never published any of them. I started writing poetry in third grade and am just starting to tell stories that have been waiting to come out. My daughter is watching and may one day be a great writer too and I think it’s important for her to see stories unfold in front of her eyes. It’s her legacy, her reality and too important of a story to exclude from her growing library.
- She begged me: It was a different plea than the one I get a the toy store. My daughter has learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and other great men and women in American history and she wanted to know more. I thought about one friend’s comment about how she is “my child” and how she has been listening to and enchanted by storytellers since she was an infant. Some things you just do by instinct, but she was right. I even had a storyteller at my son’s 5th birthday while my daughter watched from her baby carrier. After enduring too many “please Mommy”, how could I argue?
- I prepared her ahead of time: A few of my friends warned me that there were a few graphic moments in the film, especially in the beginning that could be too harsh for someone her age but felt that with the right preparation and conversation beforehand she could handle it. My daughter promised me that she wouldn’t be scared and she wasn’t going to have nightmares and that she wanted to see anything that involved “her people and their struggle and Martin Luther King”. So I Googled “Bloody Selma” and sat next to her while she viewed the actual footage from the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge and she didn’t flinch. As I watched I realized that children such as my father and mother birthed in the midst of segregation didn’t have the option of being sheltered from the brutality of their oppressors.
- She would walk out more proud of her ancestors’ strength and perseverance: I did get a few strange looks when I walked into the theater with her in tow and I just knew every parent secretly shamed me. I even started to doubt my decision after the opening scene (which was both powerful, shocking and necessary) but when the movie ended and she turned to me with a big smile on her face and said “that was awesome!” I knew that I had made the best decision for her. Not only did she get to see images of courageous women of color in both strong and supporting roles, she saw them fight for their men, children and communities in a way that is not depicted in history books and definitely not on the Disney channel. The Civil Rights struggle was told from a different angle and with a different voice all guided by the vision of a female director and producer of African descent. Definitely a teachable moment!
Of course you have to take all of these factors into consideration before choosing to take your younger child to see this PG13 movie. I have to admit even with her excitement over seeing Selma I was worried that she would have nightmares, but none came. There was also one moment where my Mom instinct kicked in and I covered her eyes, but she abruptly moved my hand! The sad truth is, our kids are so exposed to brutality, injustice and violence today, that ‘Bloody Selma’ is not as jarring as we would expect. We cannot expect our children to reflect the qualities that we do not mirror back to them. Sometimes we are the mirror, sometimes it appears in the form of a book, a writer or motion picture but I believe it has to be done by any means necessary.