In the U.S., Canada, and other nations, February marks Black History Month — an annual observance to remember heroic figures and important events in the history of African-Americans and the African diaspora.
When parents struggle with how to dialogue about multifaceted issues of racism and discrimination, historically grounded films can help. These four movies provide a lens to understand the challenges and opportunities of race relations, keeping the value of human life at the forefront.
Ruby Bridges (TV-PG, 90 minutes, Disney Plus)
Recounting an important chapter in the civil rights movement, Ruby Bridges takes some inspiration from Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting.
In 1960, a 6-year-old African-American girl named Ruby Bridges faced backlash for being among the first to attend a newly integrated public school in New Orleans.
Ruby and her family rely on their Christian faith to persevere, as her mother and father quote Scripture throughout.
There are a few intense scenes of shoving and racial epithets used, though this TV version feels tame compared to other films –- perhaps making it a good entry point for children.
Harriet (PG-13, 122 minutes, Peacock)
Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman comes to life as never before in Harriet, which features some period-accurate violence and racial epithets.
Notably, the film starts with a Black church service and ends with the words of Christ. In fact, some say Tubman's Christian faith is portrayed as a superpower.
After praying, she navigates past slave catchers.
“Tubman was so certain that this is what had happened to her,” director Kasi Lemmons said in an interview.
“It’s absolutely the way she presents her story, without faltering. I went through a process with it and ultimately decided I was going to take her word for it and take her point of view.”
The Color of Friendship (TV-G, 82 minutes, Disney Plus)
Amid countless bubble-gum DCOMs (that’s Disney Channel Original Movies), this one stands out for being a clear-eyed, historically rich view on issues of racism and prejudice.
In 1977, Piper, the daughter of a black U.S. Congressman in Washington, D.C. is excited to host a foreign exchange student from South Africa . . . until Mahree arrives and she’s a white girl.
In a time when apartheid was prevalent in South Africa, Mahree is shocked by the integrated school that Piper attends. the two clash on several issues including the death of a Black activist.
Using the DCOM formula, it wraps up a bit too conveniently to be called a fully true story. Still, for how The Color of Friendship brings issues of race into authentic kid-level conversations that challenge both of their assumptions, it’s well worth seeing.
Selma (PG-13, 128 minutes, VOD rental)
Actor-producer David Oyelowo, a devout Christian, first made a global splash when he portrayed Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in this remarkable biopic.
Historically significant scenes of the 1965 protest and violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, are accurately recreated, as African-Americans are beaten, tear-gassed and left bloody.
The film proceeds from there to Dr. King’s march to Birmingham, ultimately a journey of courage and hope.
In its focus on King, Selma does not omit mention of his extramarital affairs; an audio recording of a bedroom scene is played at one point by an FBI agent. It’s likely best suited for teens and up.
Image: Adobe Stock
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.