For as long as modern civilizations have existed, there has been a strong emphasis in various cultures worldwide on the discipline of children. Many people feel that discipline, more than any other aspect of parenting, will determine what sort of people one’s children will grow into. If a child is rude, violent, truant, or simply non-conforming, many people will see these things as being the result of lax disciplinary measures and a failure on their parents’ part. Fortunately, as ideas about parenting evolve, many of us are forced to acknowledge something that our predecessors took for granted: Children are people. They are young, small people, but people nonetheless, and as people, their thoughts and feelings are as valid as anyone else. But as children, who by definition are still emotionally, financially, and socially dependent on their caretakers, those thoughts and feelings (while not always rational) should always be acknowledged.
Bébé’s Kids is a film which, at first glance, appears to be about three rotten, no-good kids, but is actually about three heavily-neglected, attention-starved children who engage in chaotic behaviour as a means to be acknowledged and feel validated. Based on legendary comic Robin Harris’s stand-up routine, Bébé’s Kids is the story of what happens after a fictitious Harris (Faizon Love) asks single mother Jamika (Vanessa Bell Calloway) out on a date. Hoping to impress her and earn cool points with her son, Leon (Wayne Collins Jr), Robin picks them up for a date to the popular amusement park Fun World, only to find three other children, Bébé’s kids, there upon his arrival. Bébé is a close friend of Jamika’s who’s far more interested in partying than being a mother, so she often leaves her children Kahlil (Marques Houston), LaShawn (Jonell Green), and Pee-Wee (Tone Loc) either in the care of Jamika, or all by themselves.
We should be feeling sorry for the children, but Bébé’s children are immediately presented as everything from cock blocks to menaces to society… basically everything but the needy children that they are. Bébé’s Kids plays on a lot of stereotypes which are already quite pervasive in media centering Black families: a woman who is significantly lighter than her male partner, a single mother with one child being portrayed as a woman who “made a mistake” while one with more than that is “damaged goods” and “lacking in morals”, the “bitter” ex-wife who simply refuses to let go and move on, and of course, treating any Black child who misbehaves like an adult instead of a child in need of guidance, further adding to the trauma that fuels their behaviour.
Though the bulk of the move is spent exploiting these stereotypes, Bébé’s Kids eventually does get around to humanizing and restoring the innocence of Kahlil, LaShawn, and Pee-Wee, but using their behaviour as the butt of nearly all the previous jokes only serves as a reminder that anything short of perfection from Black kids will not be tolerated, explored, or forgiven, even in fiction. A cultural icon and oft-used pop culture reference, Bébé’s Kids is still an entertaining film, if viewed from the perspective that, when it comes to how we treat Black children, we all have a lot of work to do.
I give this one 3.5 stars.