Information for Parents
Common Sense Media says Iffy for 11+
Musical masterpiece tackles race, with some violence.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this updated Romeo and Juliet story explores race relations and immigration within a musical format. Street fighting and knifings are depicted, though some of the violence is lessened by the choreography. In one disturbing scene, a gang of boys physically abuses a young woman and a rape almost takes place. A major character is killed.
- Families can talk about the issues of racism, immigration, gangs, and youth culture. What do you think the two gangs would say about the American Dream?
- What kinds of stereotypes are explored in this movie? Does the movie serve to challenge or reinforce stereotypes?
The good stuff
Positive messages: This musical explores themes of social injustice and judicial corruption in mid-1950s New York and encourages viewers to question the meaning of "liberty." Although America is known to be "land of the free," the movie portrays how incoming immigrants struggle and are discriminated against. There are frequent gang fights based on race, but in the end there is a sense that lessons are learned and love and understanding of people as individuals, rather than groups, conquers all.
Positive role models: The leading female character, Maria is an inspirational role model who does not believe in fighting or war. She has the ability to view people for who they really are, rather than focusing on race or social class. The male role models in the film are lessons to be learned from. Riff and Bernardo are unable to let their hate for one another subside. Determined to hurt each other they will fight to the death, even if it's at the expense of someone else's life.
What to watch for
Violence: Although choreographed with dance moves, the big fight scene leads to two characters being stabbed to death. Another is shot to death. A female character is nearly raped.
Sexy stuff: A brief reference to prostitution. Some kissing.
Language: The words "hell" and "s--t" are used, as well as derogatory names: "spic" and "polack."
Consumerism: Coca-Cola bottles and boxes are moved about and classic Chevrolet cars line the streets.
Drinking, drugs and smoking: A musical number mentions drinking and the use of specific drugs. In dialogue, there are brief references to alcoholism. Many characters smoke cigarettes.