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The Jazz Singer Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 10+

First talkie may lead to good discussion on race.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this 1927 film -- the first "talkie" -- features Al Jolson performing in blackface, a practice that was popular in its day and may need to be explained to younger viewers and put into context. The use of blackface is certainly racist, but in one instance it's handled well, suggesting a connection between African Americans and Jews experiencing similiar identities as outsiders. The movie reveals the domestic discord of Jackie's family life and depicts a cruel father who whips and disowns him.

  • Families can talk about the practice of blackface in American history and the themes it raises here. Is there a connection between Jackie's Jewish identity, his struggle with assimilation, and the black American experience? Families can also talk about the transition from silent film to the talkies. What new film technologies might we witness in our lifetime?

The good stuff
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    Messages: The most troubling issue in this otherwise squeaky-clean film is the use of blackface in performance. The genre of minstrelsy -- white stage performers imitating African Americans for the entertainment of white audiences -- was prevalent at the time this movie was made (the 1920s). The depictions here aren't the overt racist caricatures often presented by performers in blackface. In fact, the first scene -- in which viewers see Jolson's character applying his makeup -- is an artfully choreographed underscoring of his own status as an ethnic minority. A later scene in which he sings "My Mammy" is a more traditional (and racist) use of blackface on stage. The mammy archetype is an image of the black nanny and maid. In this scene, Jolson's character is singing to his teary-eyed mother, a woman he's been devoted to and has returned to as a good son and a star.

What to watch for
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    Violence: The father whips the son (off camera).

  • sex false0

    Sex: Not an issue

  • language false0

    Language: The mother worries that her son is romantically linked to a "shiksa," a mildly pejorative Yiddish word for a non-Jewish woman.

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    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false0

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Not an issue