Education of Little Tree (1997)

Genre: Drama | Age: 8-9


Ages 4 & Under -- No
Ages 5 to 7 -- Probably Not
Ages 8 to 9 -- Yes
Ages 10 to 12 -- Yes
Ages 13 to 15 -- Yes
Ages 15 to 17 -- Yes

Education of Little Tree (1997)

DRAMA: (1997, PG.) (Paramount Pictures) (1 hr, 52 min) In 1935, after the death of his parents, 8-year-old half-Cherokee Little Tree leaves his Tennessee mining town to go live in the wilderness of the Great Smokey Mountains with his Native American grandparents. He learns about life and Indians. He meets Willow John who tells Little Tree about broken treaties and mistreatment of the Indians. Taking his Grandpa’s moonshine to sell in town, he meets a girl who mindlessly spouts racist slogans she learned from her father. When they go to church on Sunday, they hear a speech from a racist Congressman. When Revenue Agents arrive, Little Tree helps get away with the equipment while a dog attacks the agents. People from the State Department of Welfare take Little Tree to Notched Gap Indian School, really more a reformatory where they try to teach Indian children to be white. There they cut his hair, take away his clothes, his name, and his identity as an Indian. Grandpa helps him escape. After a fall, Grandpa dies. Soon after, Grandma dies. He joins Willow John as his teacher.

VIOLENCE/SCARINESS: A hawk catches a bird. While it doesn’t happen to Little Tree, it is common for parents of the day to hit their children with canes and belt buckles. Grandma gives Little Tree a knife. When Little Tree buys a starving calf, it dies – Grandpa cuts it open (off-screen) and finds it is diseased. We see some blood on his knife. A dog fights several men. A snake bites Grandpa and we see the effects of the poison. Grandpa slips and falls.

CRIMES: Fraud (U), Tax Evasion (U), Kidnapping (U).

MORALS, ISSUES & VALUES: Aunt Martha is prejudiced against Indians. The grandparents leave many of the decisions up to Little Tree. They have a tremendous respect and appreciation for nature and its beauties. White men’s greed is criticized. Grandpa was born white, but when he met Grandma, he began to see the world through Cherokee ways. Grandmother teaches Little Tree at home (using a dictionary as a text). Grandfather begins to teach him a trade – making whisky, which has been in his family for over 200 years. The government signed treaties with the Indians and then proceeded to break them and kill the Indians. Politicians are portrayed as racists. The family attends church every week. The white educators see being an Indian as a disease and try to “cure” the children. Since Little Tree works, Grandpa shares the income with him. The film demonstrates the great difference between the rich and the poor. Grandpa tells Little Tree that he will allow him to learn through experience. A dishonest man selling a diseased calf claims to be a “Christian.” Grandpa was been in jail for making whisky. The Indian School forbids the children from speaking “Indian.” Locked in a room by himself as punishment, Little Tree seems psychologically damaged. The film seems to be laced with white guilt: the Indians know everything, the whites nothing. According to the film: Good things should be shared. People who are mean are already dead. The more one tries to understand, the bigger one’s spirit becomes. Language: Occasional profanity and a few curses.

SEXUALITY & GENDER ISSUES: Nuclear family. Little Tree is orphaned and lives with grandparents. When a woman in church is about to confess the sin of fornication, several men leave quickly in embarrassment. Grandma turns out to be a very strong woman. The boys in the school dormitory have fun being flatulent. Little Tree is punished when he points that two deer in a picture are mating. We briefly see a chamber pot full of urine.

SUBSTANCES: Grandpa makes moonshine whisky. Many people taste and compliment it. The racist politician’s wife smokes. Willow John and Grandma smoke pipes.

COMMENTS: Depending on human relations rather than action or special effects, this film is charming and wise, surprisingly unsanitized and thoughtful. Strong sense of family with mutual love and deep caring. Serious with no easy or happy ending. There are many things to talk about in this excellent, highly recommended film.

BOOK: Forrest Carter (AKA Asa Carter), “The Education of Little Tree.”

STARRING: James Cromwell, Tantoo Cardinal, Joseph Ashton, Mika Boorem, Christopher Heyerdahl, Chris Fennell, Graham Greene.

ALTERNATES: “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Gentleman’s Agreement” are films that treat similar subject manner in a sophisticated way.


Nudity -- 1
Sexuality -- 1
Physical Violence -- 1
Emotional Stress -- 4
Blood or Gore -- 2
Language/Profanity -- 2
Immorality -- 3
Parental Guidance -- 3
Watchability for Adults -- 4
Overall (For Kids of the Appropriate Age) -- 4

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