We think this movie stands out for:
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Color of Friendship is a Disney family drama about the relationship between a white South African girl and an African American girl during the apartheid era. The movie is based on a true story and mainly set in the Washington D.C. household of African American politician Ron Dellums (Carl Lumbly), who campaigned to end apartheid in South Africa. Racial slurs are used, including "kaffir" and the "N" word, and a scene shows a white man kick a black South African waiter. The storyline examines stereotypes and assumptions based on race and, through a heartwarming tale of friendship, the overall message is of working towards understanding and equality.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE COLOR OF FRIENDSHIP, Piper Dellums (Shadia Simmons) is a young African American teenager living in Washington D.C. in the late 1970s, who begs her parents to host an African exchange student. Her father, a politician who campaigns against the South African apartheid regime, agrees and they are assigned Mahree Bok (Lindsey Haun). The Dellums presume Mahree is black, while Mahree, a white South African, presumes her host family will be white. When Mahree arrives there is much confusion and disappointment on both sides. Pre-conceived ideas and snap judgments threaten to ruin the exchange before it's even begun. Mahree has been taught to regard black people in her own country as inferior, while the Dellums have come to view all white South Africans as oppressors. However, Mahree decides to stay, and she and Piper must shake off their first impressions and expectations to form a friendship based on learning and understanding that transcends race.
Is it any good?
A smart, intricate portrayal of racism and the political climate of the 1970s, both in the U.S. and South Africa. The movie won a Primetime Emmy and stands out from the usual Disney Channel Original Movies as an intelligent exploration of the more difficult issues of society -- while still maintaining a warm, family feel. The performances are complex and believable and the era well defined -- particularly in a fun mall montage, where Mahree and Piper unite as teenagers, messing around and trying on clothes.
The racism and segregation of South Africa at the time is portrayed in a few poignant scenes, and the effects of apartheid outside of the country, as well as the shadow of slavery in the U.S., are portrayed as complex and nuanced. Mahree expects the Dellums to carry her bags and is surprised that Ron (Carl Lumbly) holds a high-powered position and lives in a wealthy area -- assumptions based on the way her own society works. But the family gradually understands that her behaviors are based in systemic racism, rather than personal views. A scene when Mahree is on the verge of returning home shows how quickly relationships can break down when assumptions are made on both sides. The Color of Friendship tackles the subject of racism with intricacy and heart, and shows the power of education and love above all else. Its strong message is still incredibly important today and, wrapped in a tale of family and friendship, can be heard by all ages and races.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how racism is portrayed in The Color of Friendship -- both in the behavior of the black and white characters. Discuss some of the racist language used in the movie. How did it make you feel? The movie is set in the 1970s -- do you think society has changed when it comes to racism? What more can be done?
What assumptions do Piper and Mahree make about each other that turn out to be untrue? Discuss stereotypes and the problems with them. Tips for battling stereotypes.
Discuss how communication, compassion, and empathy all play a vital role in Piper and Mahree understanding each other better. Why are these such important character strengths to have? Can you think of any real-life examples when you've had to demonstrate these traits?
What did you learn about apartheid-era South Africa? What more would you like to know?
- On DVD or streaming: February 5, 2000
- Cast: Lindsey Haun, Shadia Simmons, Carl Lumbly
- Director: Kevin Hooks
- Studio: Disney Channel Original Movies
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism, Friendship, History
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: June 25, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love history
Find more movies that help kids build character.
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch