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Is the Film ’12 Years a Slave’ Safe for Kids to See?

Oscar season is upon us, so there will be a lot of movie news and reviews in the next few months. We here at K12 wanted to give parents an idea of whether or not these Oscar contenders are appropriate for children to see. We won’t be covering all movies, and some will obviously be inappropriate for kids, while others are clearly tailored for a younger audience. We will be covering movies that lay in the middle ground and may be okay for your child depending on violence, language, educational value, or life lessons.

’12 Years a Slave’ is one Oscar-worthy film currently on limited release and opening nationwide November 1st.  The movie has been well-received, and currently has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it is rated R’ for violence and mature themes, it is a historical drama that is much like Schindler’s List, or Passion of the Christ. Some parents may choose to let their children see these types of movies due to the significance of the historical period and the events portrayed.

Movie Info:

Directed by: Steve McQueen (III)

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson

Rating: R for violence/ cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality

Length: 133 Minutes/ 2 hours 13 minutes

Is 12 Years a Slave’ Violent?

Yes, there is human-on-human violence in the movie. Because the film strives to show an accurate portrayal of slavery, there are extremely graphic scenes.  There are several scenes that involve whipping and a majority of these are shot so that you focus on the person’s face as they are being hit, and the actual strike is not shown. There is one scene near the end where you actually see the whip on flesh, which is very disturbing. While viewing the whipping is usually avoided, the very gruesome scars from the beatings are shown.

There are two scenes which involve hanging. One is used as intimidation, where the individual is hung for a few seconds, but is then left with their feet on the ground, this scene was suspenseful but not overly traumatic. There is another scene where you witness two slaves being hoisted into the air. The camera stays on the individuals for several seconds and watching them struggle can be difficult to watch.

Is ’12 Years a Slave’ educational?

The movie is not educational in that you will leave feeling like you have learned something. However, 12 Years a Slave’ is based off the memoirs of a real person, Solomon Northrup. The movie strives to be historically accurate showing what it would be like to live as a slave.  Solomon is put in several situations where he must think quickly in order to save himself.  Identifying these scenes and discussing why Solomon handled it that way would be good discussion topics with your child.

After viewing the movie, you can also discuss the moral questions raised in the film and the themes of right vs. wrong that are present throughout.

Is there foul language?

Yes. While the F’ word or S’ word are not used at all in the movie, there is a gratuitous amount of racial slurs. The B’ word is also used.

Is there nudity?

Yes, there are scenes that include nudity, where both female and male slaves appear fully naked,  however these scenes do not have any sexual content. There are two sex scenes in the movie as well. While neither of these scenes contain nudity, one scene portrays a slave owner taking advantage of a girl.

Your child should see this movie if:

  • They can handle violence and understand that this is a movie based on a traumatic time in our country’s history where people were treated as property and their human rights were ignored.
  • They are interested in History. ’12 Years a Slave’ is an accurate portrayal of what life was like in the mid-19th century. The locations, language, and lifestyle are all extremely well done and give the viewer a true sense of what life was like.
  • You would like to discuss life lessons. There are plenty of things to take away from this movie.  Being aware of when someone is trying to take advantage of you, doing the right thing even when it may be difficult, and standing up for what you believe in are some but certainly not all things that can be discussed.

Your child should NOT see this movie if:

  • They are sensitive to blood, violence or death. Open wounds and beatings are common throughout the movie. There are scenes where people are threatened with death as well as a scene where someone asks to be killed to avoid more suffering. The scenes where people are being harmed are very brutal and as someone who has been exposed to mature content, I still found several scenes difficult to watch.

Children have different maturity levels and are sensitive to different material, but this movie is rated R for a reason, and I would recommend heavily considering bringing a child to this movie.

We will continue to add to the list of films we review for parents. If you have any films that you would like to know more about, please let us know in the comments.

Check out our post on another recent movie:  Is the Film Gravity Safe for Kids to See?

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Peter Spain

Peter Spain

Peter Spain is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff and a manager at K12. A graduate from George Mason University, Peter has worked for several years in the education and entertainment industry. He strives to make learning fun for children by contributing to the games and activities section of the site, and keeping an eye out for advancements in edutainment.

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