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 its list of “12 Movies to See Before You Turn 13” this weekend 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). Catch Me If You Can also made the list; 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 latter, 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 parents’ permission before watching these films. But that’s almost like suggesting they ask their parents’ permission before cutting school to go wait in 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. 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.
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.