Son of the South Parent Guide
Examples of moral courage are all too rare in film, but this production provides a strong one in Bob Zellner.
Parent Movie Review
Civil Rights icon John Lewis said “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” Although those words were spoken in 2020, they describe the attitude that inspired his activism – and that changed the life of Bob Zellner.
Born in Alabama in 1939, Bob Zellner enjoys a life of quiet privilege. The son of a liberal Methodist minister, he’s a top student at Huntingdon College with a beautiful fiancé and rosy prospects for a comfortable, prosperous future. All that changes when he’s assigned to do a group project on race relations. Zellner and his classmates are discouraged from talking to Black citizens about the issue but choose to attend a Black church service anyway. They narrowly escape arrest and are threatened with expulsion. For Bob, the experience proves to be eye-opening and puts him on the path towards full immersion in the civil rights movement.
Son of the South tells a compelling true story. How does a man whose grandfather is in the Ku Klux Klan become the first white southerner to serve as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)? For Bob, the answer is – gradually. Incensed that he’s being punished for his church visit, Bob is motivated to meet Alabamans pursuing racial justice. Unwilling to jeopardize his future, Bob cautiously provides logistical support for activists until he becomes inspired by Freedom Riders and decides to volunteer full time for the cause. One thing follows another and soon Bob is beaten, bloody, and being fitted with a noose by an enraged group of white men…
Parents wondering about sharing this movie with teens will take note of the violence, which is painful to watch. The production also features over six dozen profanities, almost a third of which are racial slurs. Considering the context, neither is surprising and, frankly, it’s impossible to produce a realistic film about the civil rights movement without disturbing scenes of violence and abuse. Thankfully, director Barry Alexander Brown has avoided gratuitous violence or extreme profanity which keeps this film appropriate for teens.
In fact, Son of the South is more than just appropriate for teens – it’s recommended. It’s not without flaws, including some clunky voice over narration and a few spots of stilted dialogue. These issues aside, the movie offers a sterling example of moral courage, which is a virtue we want our teens to see and to value. Bob Zellner demonstrates the ability to assess, and where necessary reject, the prevailing convictions of his culture. He has the courage to stand for his beliefs – even when his grandfather threatens to kill him. And he’s prepared to sacrifice and suffer for his convictions.
Early on in his journey, Rosa Parkes tells Bob that he’s going to get to a point where he sees something so upsetting that he’s going to have to make a choice. And she reminds him that “Not choosing is a choice.” Bob makes his choice to shun the evils of racism because, as he says, “I don’t want to be the horror in some little child’s eyes.” This is a message that is worth sharing with young people as they consider the mark they are going to make on this fractured world.Directed by Barry Alexander Brown. Starring Lucas Till, Lucy Hale, and Lex Scott Davis. Running time: 105 minutes. Theatrical release February 5, 2021. Updated October 2, 2021
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Son of the South
Rating & Content Info
Why is Son of the South rated PG-13? Son of the South is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for strong racial slurs and violence throughout, and thematic elements.
Violence: A man covered in blood is dragged to a noose which is put around his neck. There is newsreel footage of Black people being beaten and Klansmen burning a cross. There’s reference to Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake. Men throw punches in a boxing ring. A person in a car swings a baseball bat at Black pedestrians. A boy throws a bottle at a man from a car window. Men threaten a boy with a baseball bat. A mob attacks Freedom Riders – punching, hitting, and kicking them. A radio announcer encourages people to use weapons on protesters. A man hits someone and spits on him. A police officer fires into the air during a riot. A man is shown bleeding from the mouth. A mob holds a church congregation in its building. A main character threatens to break someone’s arm. A woman slaps a man’s face. A man threatens to shoot another in the head. A man pours hot coffee on a man’s shirt. People are seen being attacked in training for non-violent action. A white man shoots a Black man in cold blood for registering to vote. A man is beaten and kicked. Men point guns at each other. There are multiple scenes of men uttering threats.
Sexual Content: A young man and woman are heard kissing. A woman kisses a bare-chested man who’s in bed.
Profanity: The movie contains 20 terms of deity and 20 minor profanities as well as 20 racial slurs. There are three scatological curses and a handful of anatomical terms with a smattering of other crude terms.
Alcohol/Drug Use: Characters drink beer and smoke cigarettes. A man drinks and drops a cocktail.
Page last updated October 2, 2021
Son of the South Parents' Guide
Why does Bob Zellner become a civil rights activist? What principles or ideals guide his decision? What kind of opposition does he face? Why does he persevere? What price does he pay for his principles? What kind of impact does he have on American history?
It could be argued that this movie furthers the “white savior” trope, in which a white character saves non-white characters and by doing so furthers his own personal growth. Do you think that’s the case in Son of the South?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
For more information about Bob Zellner’s experiences in the civil rights movement, check out the book he co-wrote with Constance Curry, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement. For the perspective of a Black activist, you can read Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso. Virginia Foster Durr also wrote an autobiography. Entitled Outside the Magic Circle, it details her life in political activism.
A More Beautiful and Terrible History by Jeanne Theoharis takes a long view of the struggle for equal rights in America.
What leads people like Bob Zellner to make difficult and dangerous choices instead of simply going along with the crowd? Eyal Press explores that question as he studies people who have courageously lived according to their consciences in Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times.
Related home video titles:
This movie features an anniversary for the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The story of that 1965 march is told in Selma.
Another civil rights leader who appears in this film is the late John Lewis. For a more detailed look at his activism, check out the recent documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble.
A Black preacher helps a young man break away from the Klan in Burden. A Black activist finds herself working with the president of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter to desegregate local schools in The Best of Enemies. The violent racism of the period is depicted in Mississippi Burning, which covers an FBI investigation into the murder of three civil rights activists.