The Long Walk Home Parent Guide
This outstanding film teaches empathy and self assessment along with its history lesson.
Parent Movie Review
On a memorable afternoon in 1965, Rosa Parks decides she’s tired of standing in the bus so white passengers can sit and refuses to give up her seat. Her arrest for violating the segregation bylaws of Montgomery, Alabama prompts a bus boycott: Black churches in the area encourage their members to stay off the city’s buses, using economic pressure to force the city transportation department to eliminate its racist policies.
Rosa Parks’ defiance quickly ripples outwards into the lives of two very different women. Odessa Carter (Whoopi Goldberg) works as a maid during the day but lives in a Black neighborhood with her husband, teenage daughter, and two sons. Odessa joins the boycott, determined to eliminate the Jim Crow segregation laws so her children will have greater opportunities. That decision has ramifications for Miriam Thompson (Sissy Spacek), Odessa’s employer. Miriam enjoys an affluent suburban lifestyle, supported by two maids, who she treats with careless good nature.
Both women find themselves tested by the boycott. For Odessa, it means blisters and bleeding feet. For Miriam, it forces a reassessment of how she perceives the Black people who surround her. Initially, her own convenience is at the fore, and she starts picking up Odessa in the morning to make sure she arrives on time. But as Miriam is confronted by the racism of her relatives and neighbors, she is forced to acknowledge the humanity of her maids and the justice of their aspirations. Gradually, Miriam is drawn further and further into a world of social activism, to her own surprise and the horror of her conformist husband (Dwight Schultz).
The Long Walk Home is an outstanding film about the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. It manages to avoid an “us” versus “them” dichotomy: although there are some truly horrible white people and disturbing acts of racial violence, Miriam’s character is a reminder that good and evil can’t be predetermined by race and that everyone is capable of growth and personal evolution. The story also demonstrates the incredible power of united communities (particularly Black churches) in making change and it delivers a strong message about self-respect, dignity, and racial equality.
Best of all, this film is suitable for family and classroom viewing. The PG rating is somewhat optimistic: it fits more comfortably in a PG-13 range. There are over four dozen racial epithets in the movie, which are historically accurate but still manage to shock and offend. Episodes of racial violence, including the beating of a child and a scene where a mob threatens a group of black women, are also distressing. Director Richard Pearce walks a fine line here: he ensures that there is enough peril to give a sense of history without making the movie too brutal for family audiences. This movie is definitely suitable for teens and mature tweens and we recommend it for this age group.
It can be difficult to find movies that help young people engage with the past but The Long Walk Home, uses finely drawn characters to tell a highly relatable personal story. It gives viewers of any age the chance to learn empathy; to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Directed by Richard Pearce. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Sissy Spacek, Ving Rhames, Dwight Schutz. Running time: 97 minutes. Theatrical release December 21, 1990. Updated January 28, 2023
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The Long Walk Home
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Long Walk Home rated PG? The Long Walk Home is rated PG by the MPAA
Violence: Brothers tussle and one utters threats. A man stomps on a woman’s foot. A Black woman is chased and threatened by a group of white men who push her down a slope. There is a fistfight between young men and a child protecting his sister. The boy is punched and kicked and is seen with bloody injuries. A man mentions being lynched. There’s mention of a man’s house being bombed. A group of white men attack a black man. A man breaks the window of a woman’s car. A man slaps a woman and is knocked over by her husband.
Sexual Content: Young men threaten to “have some fun” with a young black woman.
Profanity: The movie contains over four dozen racial epithets, a handful of terms of deity and about a half dozen minor profanities. A sexual hand gesture is used and there are a few crude anatomical terms and vulgar expressions.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults drink alcohol in a social context. An adult smokes a cigar.
Page last updated January 28, 2023
The Long Walk Home Parents' Guide
Why did Odessa decide to participate in the bus boycott? Why did her husband support her? What do you think you would have done in her situation?
What factors influenced Miriam’s decision to help Odessa? How did her attitudes towards Odessa and the Black community change over time? What did her support cost her?
You can read more about the bus boycott here:
Encyclopedia of Alabama: Montgomery Bus Boycott
Wikipedia: Montgomery bus boycott
Wikipedia: Rosa Parks
Afro: 65 Years Later – Reflections on the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the bus boycott in his speech, “Walk for Freedom”.
Related home video titles:
Rosa Parks’ spine was stiffened by the racially motivated murder of Emmett Till. His story (and that of his indomitable mother) is told in Till.
Martin Luther King Jr. is heard speaking in this film but he takes a far more central role in Selma. This movie focuses on the peaceful protests by black residents of Alabama who demanded the right to vote.
Ruby Bridges introduces young viewers to issues of racism and segregation. In this true story, a six year old girl faces bigotry and violent threats as she becomes the first Black student in a white elementary school.
A white university student (and grandson of a KKK leader) finds himself drawn into the Civil Rights Movement in Son of the South. When research for a term paper makes him aware of the extent of racial injustice, Bob Zeller throws himself into making change.
A fictional story of the relationship between Black maids and white employers during the Civil Rights Movement is recounted in The Help.