Watching Violent, R-Rated Movies: How Young Is Too Young?
At the time, I never imagined that the act of taking my 12-year-old daughter to watch Django Unchained on New Year's Day would be the subject of a future column, but I need to vent a little bit, and this seemed like a decent opportunity to possibly organize my own feelings on the subject. Also, please remember that Steven Lloyd Wilson's original review and Cindy Davis' discussion on the power of "that" word are both undoubtedly more well-rounded takes on the movie than I will provide here.
First a bit of background: I grew up with some relatively open-minded parents in terms of cinema. My mother worked 60+ hours per week, and my dad was (and still is) a teacher who also taught summer school, so I was basically a latchkey kid; and my summertime babysitter was pretty much cable television and, more specifically, HBO and Cinemax during their 1980s, movie-showing heyday. That means that I collectively watched Commando, Terminator, and the Death Wish movies more times than my young mind would have ever been able to count. As a result, I developed a rather unrefined taste for watching vengeance enacted onscreen, and this influence has followed me throughout my adult, movie-watching life. Now while my taste in film is somewhat questionable, I do believe that I grew up to be a law-abiding and (relatively) sane individual. So sure, I have no problem in taking my pre-teen to an R-rated movie that I'd already watched beforehand. Also, I refuse to shield her from the basic inhumanities of life, and I do believe that Quentin Tarantino's (albeit warped) history of slavery qualifies as an excellent display of what went down on slavery plantations in the United States.
In other words, I did in fact take my relatively mature 12-year-old daughter to watch Django, and the ticket-booth employee didn't even bat an eye since my girl just happens to be 5'9" and at this point, just as tall as I am. Having already watched the movie, I knew in advance when I should cover her eyes (and to be perfectly truthful, I only did so in Jamie Foxx's upside-down scene). She enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but most importantly, she realized a lot about her own grandmother (not my mother, who is dead), who to this day insists that seeing "a black guy" walking down her street is reason to run inside, lock the doors, and shutter the windows. In that regard, my daughter learned a lot from Tarantino's movie, so it truly was an educational film, but she also laughed at all the "right" moments too.
My daughter is a very sensitive child, yet she realizes all too well that the world can be a very cruel place -- mostly because of the way that human beings treat each other in both an isolated and an ongoing sense. Do I worry that she'll pick up a certain vocabulary from watching R-rated movies? Not really. She (at least in front of me) is afraid to even spell out curse words. Now, she could be pulling a massive one over on gullible old mommy, because ... hell, I used to actually hang out at the smoke hole during high school when my father was a teacher at the same school. At the same time, I feel like I have enough experience pulling a fast one on an authority figure to recognize if my own kid is heading towards juvenile delinquency. Because while I've caught her in a few lies ("Sure, I've brushed my teeth already, Mom!"), she doesn't really have it in her to be a "bad" kid. She's very guilt-ridden and confesses even when she took a peek at the answer key in her summer algebra workbook. While I obviously won't be able to tell whether my parenting tactics have worked until she's an adult (and perhaps not even then), I feel fairly confident that my own parents did a decent enough job in raising a hellion like myself who turned out to be a (fairly) respectable citizen.
Sadly, not everyone agrees with me. A few friends simply couldn't believe that I'd expose a 12-year-old to such onscreen violence, and my daughter's father grew really upset that I let her watch Django Unchained because it wasn't "historical enough." He is one of those types who is very literal about history and feels that Tarantino should have only put this movie into a theater if it was a History Channel-level documentary. Similarly, he also hated the fact that I let her watch Inglourious Basterds because (and I swear that I am not making this up, despite YouTube joke comments to the contrary) "Hitler didn't really die in a movie theater." For what it's worth, the dude also hated X-Men: First Class because it fucked with the comic's continuity too much. Enough said.
Some of you are undoubtedly wondering why I care about the people who have expressed disbelief that I've let my daughter watch such a gloriously violent film in the theater. I feel that I made the right decision for my kid, who is mature enough to know the difference between reality and fantasy. In no way am I saying that Django Unchained should be viewed by all 12-year-old children. Nor do I think that the parents of a recent group of children who ended up inadvertently watching the Django trailer before a Disney movie were complaining about nothing. But to my 12-year-old, Django was truly a positive experience. Would you take your pre-teen to watch this movie, or am I just the asshole?
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.