Bones of Crows parents guide

Bones of Crows Parent Guide

Searing, heartfelt, and sometimes overstuffed, this film illuminates a painful part of Canadian history.

Overall C

Theaters: Cree matriarch Aline Spears reflects on her life as an indigenous Canadian - the trauma of residential schools, service in World War II, and a lifelong quest for justice. (Canadian theaters only.)

Release date June 2, 2023

Violence C-
Sexual Content C-
Profanity D
Substance Use C-

Why is Bones of Crows rated Not Rated? The MPAA rated Bones of Crows Not Rated

Run Time: 124 minutes

Parent Movie Review

It’s 1942 and Aline Spears (Grace Dove) is learning Morse code as she trains with the Royal Canadian Air Force. The young woman is surprised when her commanding officer informs her that she will be sent to England once her training is complete. Aline is Cree, and her fluency in the language makes her valuable to a project that relies on the indigenous language to stymie German codebreakers. It comes easily to Aline – after all, she’s been speaking in code most of her life.

Born in Manitoba in the 1920s, Aline enjoys an idyllic childhood with her three siblings and doting parents. That sunlit life ends when the priest and police officers seize the children, forcibly dragging them off to a residential school run by the Catholic church. The students are treated with unimaginable cruelty, starved, beaten, and emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. Aline is a gifted pianist, which gives her unique opportunities at the school, but also puts her in danger…

Bones of Crows is a searingly painful movie to watch as children are brutalized and families destroyed by the combined might of the Canadian government and the Catholic church. Powerless in the face of institutional authority, Aline and her siblings try to survive – a daunting task that will crush some of them.

As she wrestles with the trauma of her childhood and tries to build a family of her own, Aline sees the scars carried by her husband Adam (Phillip Lewitski) and her sister Perseverance (Alyssa Wapanatâhk). The movie takes an expansive look at the damage, showing characters grappling with alcoholism, addiction, family breakdown, children seized by social services, injustices against indigenous veterans, employment discrimination, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, and the murders of indigenous women. It’s an exhausting list and although it accurately reflects some of the crimes committed against Canada’s First Nations, the issues overwhelm the narrative. In her efforts to depict the injustice and trauma of her characters’ lives, director Marie Clement sacrifices character development for the sweep of history. As the movie flashes back and forth through its characters’ lives, it often feels rushed and perfunctory – a sad contrast to other moments of profound insight and emotion. I sincerely wish that Ms. Clement had prioritized story over issues: it would make a stronger film that would have greater emotional weight.

That’s not to say that this movie lacks emotion – it inspires grief, heartache, anger, fear, and awe. Given the horrors of history, it’s also deeply disturbing. Not only are children seized and abused, but there is a callous disregard for their deaths. The movie contains two sexual assaults, a teen pregnancy, an off-screen suicide, and repeated bouts of drunkenness. There’s also a fair bit of profanity, including 11 sexual expletives. This film is unrated, but the negative content gives it a clear Restricted rating.

Flawed though this film may be, I believe that Bones of Crows deserves to be watched by adults and mature teens. It tells a terrible true story of institutionalized racism; one that tears at the soul of Canada. The movie reveals the hideous face of racism, shows the power of resilience, and reminds viewers of the strength found in familial and cultural ties. It is a demand for justice and a reminder of the dignity of every human person – and that’s something we can’t forget.

Directed by Marie Clements. Starring Grace Dove, Phillip Lewitski, Alyssa Wapanatahk, Summer Testawich, Sierra Rose McRae. Running time: 124 minutes. Theatrical release June 2, 2023. Updated

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Bones of Crows
Rating & Content Info

Why is Bones of Crows rated Not Rated? Bones of Crows is rated Not Rated by the MPAA

Violence:   A bird pecks at a mound of animal skulls. A man pushes and shoves children. A man is shot: there is brief blood splatter as he falls to the ground. Children are seized from their homes and taken to a residential school. An intoxicated man pushes and shoves his wife. Adults experience flashbacks to abuse in childhood. A woman repeatedly hits a man with a stick. A child dies. A man threatens a child with death. A child is forced to remain outside without proper winter clothes. A child is knocked to the ground, kicked, and stomped on, breaking bones. Broken bones are set without painkillers. A man slaps a woman. A character dies by suicide offscreen: his body is briefly seen hanging from a rope. There are scenes of sexual assault (without nudity). There is talk of a baby being killed. Blood is seen on a woman’s clothes after childbirth. There’s mention of children being sexually abused by priests.
Sexual Content: A shirtless man kisses a woman who is wearing a towel. A man and woman kiss at their wedding. A married couple have sex: the light is dim so there is no anatomical detail but the activity is clear. A woman is sexually assaulted without visible nudity. A man sexually assaults a teenage girl (there is no nudity): the girl becomes pregnant.
Profanity: There are under two dozen profanities in the film, including 11 sexual expletives, a half dozen scatological curses and a few terms of deity, anatomical expressions, and minor profanities. A racial slur for indigenous women is used. A woman is called a “whore”.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults smoke cigarettes. There are frequent scenes of alcohol consumption and a main character is seen intoxicated on several occasions.

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Bones of Crows Parents' Guide

For more about Canada’s residential school system you can read these articles:

The Guardian: “Cultural genocide”: the shameful history of Canada’s residential schools - mapped

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Residential Schools in Canada

Government of Canada: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

CBC News: Beyond 94: Truth and Reconciliation in Canada

Time: Life Inside a Catholic-Run Residential School for Canadian Indigenous Children

National Post: Why so many sexual predators at Indian Residential Schools escaped punishment (Warning: this contains disturbing content and is not suitable for children)

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Intergenerational Trauma and Residential Schools

CBC: How residential trauma of previous generations continues to tear through Indigenous families

Canada was not alone in its residential schools, a system it borrowed from the United States. For information about the American program, you can follow these links:

The Atlantic: Death by Civilization

Wikipedia: American Indian Boarding Schools


Home Video

Related home video titles:

Residential schools are the inspiration the futuristic dystopian film, Night Raiders, in which all children are forcibly removed from their parents and put in boarding schools. In this world, it’s indigenous communities that hold the key to freeing the children.

The Grizzlies tells the story of high school students in Canada’s Arctic who learn to play lacrosse, and for whom the sport serves as a refuge from the trauma that permeates their community.

Also directed by Marie Clements is Red Snow, the story of an indigenous Canadian soldier deployed in Afghanistan. Amid the horrors of war, he draws on his memories of life in the Northwest Territories.

If you’re looking for a movie that can help children understand the challenges of repairing relationships with indigenous peoples, you can watch Frozen II. This surprisingly complex film mixes entertainment with serious ethical and moral issues told at a child’s level.

Spotlight is the riveting story of how journalists at the Boston Globe broke the story of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic church.

The removal of indigenous children from their families is not a uniquely Canadian horror but can be found throughout settler colonies. Rabbit Proof Fence tells the tale of three Australian children who were seized by the government in the hopes that they could learn to “act white”. The siblings escaped, determined to make the 1500 mile journey back home.