By Yoni Glatt
Back in Queens College, I had a weekly column in the school paper called “The Dean’s List.” Under the pseudonym Eddie Dean, I would write a weekly movie/TV review and then list the Top 10 films/shows in that genre.
My editor and I purposely made the lists controversial in order to facilitate reader response. I can only imagine that when the New York Times published their list of “12 Movies to See Before You Turn 13,” they had this concept in mind.
My jaw figuratively hit the ground when I saw the list included such films as Die Hard, Do The Right Thing, Blues Brothers, and Paris is Burning. All four of those films were given an R-rating for specific reasons (including nudity and language for all four). Catch Me If You Can also made the list, and while rated PG-13 it still has a sex scene loud enough that would make me uncomfortable watching it with my children (or my parents).
I re-watched much of Die Hard and Do The Right Thing and in no way would I suggest them for middle-school children…especially the former, which drops over 80 F-bombs and more N-words than I could count. I am not saying Spike Lee’s seminal film is bad; just the opposite. It’s as important as any film made on racial equality – it’s just not something I would want my children watching until later in high school.
Now, I’m not so naïve to think that middle-school children are not already exposed to some of the content the above films showcase. I also must point out that the New York Times did make a disclaimer that kids should ask their parent’s permission before watching these films.
But that’s almost like suggesting they ask their parents’ permission before cutting school to go wait on line all day to meet their favorite music star (which this writer may or may not have once done as a teenager). If their interest is piqued enough, they will find a way.
In the classic 1994 episode of The Simpsons “Homer, Badman,” Bart Simpson famously quips to his dad “It’s just hard not to listen to TV: it’s spent so much more time raising us than you have.” Any parent with screens in the house knows how much truth this holds.
No matter how much we strive to imbue strong (Jewish) ideals unto our children those screens are going to be a window to the world at large and can very well play a part in their (mis)education and upbringing. But perhaps by offering up more age-appropriate films we can still educate them and open their eyes more to an abundance of social and cultural issues without potentially scarring or staining their still developing adolescent minds.
If you want to discuss the ideas of systemic racism and misogyny in American history why not start off with Hidden Figures instead of jumping right into Do The Right Thing? If you want to
entertain them with a thrilling action-adventure film, why not show them Raiders of the Lost Ark instead of Die Hard?
Every parent has the right to decide what content their children view and at what age. Personally, my wife and I plan on exposing our children to the worlds of “Die Hard” and “Do The Right Thing” way after they turn 12.
12 (Much More Appropriate) Movies to See Before Turning 13
1. Life is Beautiful (1997)- Many parents might find it difficult to broach the topic of the Holocaust. Let Roberto Benigni get the conversation started for you. As a bonus this film will let your kids know that there are actually exceptional movies that are made in other languages.
2. Groundhog Day (1993)- As time goes by this classic about a surly TV weatherman repeating the same day over and over again keeps moving higher and higher on many critics “All Time Best” lists. It is also one of the most spiritual films of all time. Yes, the main character pursues physical pleasures (in a PG way), but the film ultimately shows the emptiness of these interactions.
3. Bully (2011)- While officially given a PG-13 rating to encourage more younger viewers, parents should be warned that there is some strong language and disturbing content in this documentary. Still, it tackles one of the most important issue every child is sure to be witness to at some point in his/her adolescence. The more they understand bullying, the more they understand those who are bullied, the better equipped they are to prevent it from happening.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)- The gold standard for adventure films. A great way to introduce kids to Spielberg and you can have intellectual discussions about the Ark and theological implications of the film’s climax.
5. Hidden Figures (2016)- You can address the issues of racism and women’s rights, as well as what it means to be a part of a team in one fell cinematic swoop with this 2016 Best Picture nominee.
6. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)- This Best Picture winner is sure to leave a smile on almost any viewer’s face, but more importantly displays the harshness of Third World slums, and the lengths many orphans who live in them will go to in order to survive.
7. The Miracle Worker (1962)- It’s surprising how many excellent movies about people overcoming disabilities are not appropriate for children under 13, as inspiring as they might be (e.g. My Left foot, Rain Man). Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke deservedly won Oscars for their portrayals of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller. It’s the only black and white film on this list. Hopefully your kids won’t complain, but it should be easy enough to point the irony out to them and teach them a valuable life lesson.
8. Rudy (1993)- Long before Sean Astin was schlepping Elijah Wood’s Frodo up Mount Doom he played one of cinemas most lovable underdogs: Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the real life 5 ft 6 in 165-pound shrimp who was determined to play football for Division I powerhouse Notre Dame. The life lessons are obvious, but that doesn’t mean your kids won’t be cheering his name at the film’s conclusion. (Rocky almost replaced this film, but might be too gritty for younger viewers.)
9. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)- The only movie on this list that might be considered a “kids movie,” and your kids will love it because it’s Robin Williams at his best. However, it also allows you to bring up homosexuality in a non-overt way, thanks to the brief, but memorable performances of Harvey Fierstein and Scott Capurro as Uncle Frank & Aunt Jack. Warning- You may be forced to discuss Williams’ suicide.
10. The Princess Bride (1987)- Rob Reiner’s classic is loaded with great morals and values. But the very idea of my children not knowing who Inigo Montoya is by the time they’re 13?! Inconceivable!
11. Freedom Writers (2007)- Yes, this film does have a Holocaust element to it, but it can perhaps be better used to introduce suburbia children to the lives of inner-city youths and their struggles. It can also show them that their teachers are real people who have personal lives of their own.
12. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)- My kids actually greatly enjoyed this movie as much younger children. The comedic elements hold up to time incredibly well, as do most of the musical numbers (yes, one or two might be a bit tedious by today’s standards). But no film better showcases the history of cinema and the introduction of sound into film.
Yoni Glatt is the Director of JTEEN (Jewish Teen Educational Experiences Network) for the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and is a former writer of the Movie Channel Trivia Game. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.