I was (and still am) a parent for whom, from the time my daughter was born, almost all things were teaching moments and points of discussion for me and my daughter, particularly movies and television shows that most children her age did not watch. Watching The Maury Povich Show (She was around 4 years old maybe, so I first had to explain what a DNA test was) the point was to teach her to please not grow up to be a silly whore, don’t ever embarrass me by going on television to find out which of two or three or five or 10 men is your child’s father’s and the difference between a father and a “baby daddy.” Queer as Folk (age 10) helped us discuss the range of human sexuality and acceptance of different ways of life (although I had to keep the remote in hand, because if a sex scene was coming she would yell out “Man love!” and I would promptly turn and switch back when we thought the coast was clear). There was nothing that was off limits for her to watch, with the exception of HBO’s OZ. She could not watch OZ. I was NOT going to explain OZ to her. I wasn’t yet up to the task of explaining the dark side of human behavior. Not that dark. And thankfully it came on past her bedtime.
Parenting styles may differ, and for better or worse, this was mine. Most things we watched together were used to bring up conversation and situations that we would discuss together and about which she could do some independent, critical thinking. Morris from America would have been our movie. It would make an excellent conversation starter for parents and their children about all the things our little darlings may or may not be doing, or be tempted to do, or be thinking about doing, or heard someone else did, or may do in the future, or feel pressured to do, or their friends may do, or they just did yesterday, or not. This movie focuses on the things we really ought to be teaching our children about if we don’t want them learning about them “out in the streets.” The things we say we want our children to learn about from us, at home, but we do not discuss them. The things all parents should be discussing openly and regularly with their children, particularly considering the times in which we now live.
Morris from America, starring Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas is a coming of age story about a 13 year old black boy growing up in Germany with his widowed father. The reason I state that Morris is black is because he is the only black boy in his community. He is an outsider who is learning German, and he stands out from his peers in a distinct way that is fundamental to the plot of this movie. Otherwise, he is just a very typical 13 year old boy.
Morris is a strong-willed, highly independent, tough (to some extent) kid, but he is still just a kid. He is picked on, singled out and targeted by his peers at times, shows vulnerability and, despite his best efforts, a lot of immaturity. He has a love for rap music that, as his father must explain to him in a not-so-delicate way, is not based on his own life experience.
This is one of the most multifaceted coming of age stories I have seen. So many aspects of this child’s personality and so many issues are touched upon, and it is all honest. It features the social situations children can and do get into when adults are not looking, and how they really think and feel about and react to things, including but not limited to, their parents, peers, outsiders and newcomers, anyone different than themselves, peer pressure, drugs, sex, love, older people and life, to name a few. The movie reminds us how easily influenced children can be by “outside forces” and how a lack of real communication at home enables those “outside” forces to operate. We are reminded how ignorance and stereotypes develop from being misinformed/uniformed and sheltered. And how that ignorance spreads and becomes a cultural norm. It also reminds us of what a tumultuous, energy filled, curious and confusing time 13 years old can be.
Markees Christmas does a superb job of what looks like him just being himself. His acting is so subtle and authentic that if there are many differences between the character of Morris and Markees it is hard to tell. Craig Robinson gives an outstanding performance of a single father who is attempting to navigate the line that most parents must walk, and many times fall off of one way or another: the line between being a friend to your child so you can be included and know what is going on with them – letting them know you will not judge them and no matter what they will always have your love and support; and being the responsible adult who sets rules and boundaries and disciplines when necessary.
I know I recommended it for parents and children and I stand by that. You must be the judge of how mature your own child is and whether they should see it, or if that is the type of parent you are. (Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you, okay?) But, being Rated R, Morris from America contains some foul language, much of it spoken by Morris and his father, and contained in the soundtrack’s hip hop lyrics, which is Morris’ passion. It is definitely worth overlooking a few foul words that your children have heard before and will hear again, to get to the message of this movie, in my opinion. Use the language as another teaching moment of what not to do, if you must. Morris is consistently reprimanded for his use of foul language by his German tutor throughout the movie – his father doesn’t mind it so much.
Morris from America earned 8.0 out of 10 bloops. It is an endearing film. If you are really not the parent who is taking their child to see this movie, go see it yourself and support an independent film. For now the only place it’s playing in New York is the Angelika.