The Color of Friendship
By Kat Halstead,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Smart Disney drama tackles race and apartheid; racist slurs.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Racial equality is central to the film. It teaches the need to challenge prejudices within societies, families and individuals, and not to make assumptions based on stereotypes. Education, compassion, empathy, communication, and understanding are key themes.
Positive Role Models
Main characters come to understand that judgments they make about others based on race are wrong. Lead characters Piper and Mahree actively try to learn about each other's cultures and their friendship grows strong enough to see similarities over differences. Ron Dellums is a strong role model, fighting for what he believes in and standing up for others, though he doesn't immediately accept Mahree due to her background. His wife Roscoe is kind, patient and loving, and encourages others to see past their learned behavior. Racial inequality and racist behavior are seen in the South Africa scenes.
Violence & Scariness
There is a scene in which a white diner kicks a black South African waiter and calls them a racial slur. Mention of police brutality, suicide, terrorists, martyrs, slavery, death, and hunger strikes. Footage of protests -- though these are mostly peaceful. A funeral is shown on television.
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Racially charged language includes "kaffir" and the "N" word, as well as "bantu." "Bloody" is used as a curse word.
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Products & Purchases
A scene in a shopping mall refers to wealth, and anyone with money being able to shop there regardless of race.
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.
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The Color of Friendship
Based on 2 parent reviews
Pretty good Disney drama mixes feel good story with racism, politics, police brutality
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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
- Inclusion Information: Black directors, Black actors
- 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: February 18, 2023
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