The Color of Friendship

Monday, June 08, 2020

I ended up muting myself after I found out about Blackout Tuesday last week. I took the time I'd normally be posting here, or on Instagram, or discussing unimportant things on Facebook to instead read the stories of the racism Black people have faced, show my support, and share information that could help others who want to be better allies. I did most of this on my personal Facebook page, but I will be adding a Black Lives Matter highlight to my Instagram, so be sure to check there if you're looking for good resources to learn more about racism and what we can do to fight it!

Like many kids growing up in the 90's and 2000's, Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs, as they're commonly known) were a staple of my weekend television time. I can literally count on one hand the number of DCOMs I haven't seen. Even now in my 30's, I still love to watch them and share them with my kids.

With everything going on right now, I thought this was the perfect time to talk about The Color of Friendship.

Premiering in February of 2000, The Color of Friendship tackled much tougher topics than your average DCOM. Based on real events, this movie does not shy away from its depiction of racism. Set in 1977, Piper Dellums begs her parents to host an exchange student from Africa. Her parents agree, and Piper is thrilled when she finds out that they will be hosting a girl her age from South Africa named Mahree Bok. However, both girls find their worldviews shaken when Mahree arrives -- and she's white. Mahree, the daughter of an influential policeman, benefits from apartheid, and assumed that the Dellums family, based on Piper's father Ron's position as a congressman, would be white. Piper and her family assumed that their exchange student from Africa would be black. Things get off to an extremely rough start, but over the course of the movie, the girls find out they have more in common than they realize.  Mahree is forced to confront the racism she doesn't realize has been permeating her entire life, and the Dellums family helps Mahree open her eyes to the plight of those who do not have the benefits afforded to her based on her skin color.

Disney wanted to do this right. To make sure the story and the topic were handled appropriately, they consulted the Dellums family all along the way. It was helmed by blackmen; Kevin Hooks directed (he would later go on to direct the BET miniseries Madiba, based on Nelson Mandela), and Paris Qualles (who would later write The Rosa Parks Story and the television adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun) wrote the script. The movie went on to win several accolades, including an Emmy and an NAACP Image Award.

The real Piper Dellums was 11 when this happened, and I was 11 when this film came out. I had gone to primarily white, rural schools, and knew basically nothing about South Africa or the history of apartheid, so this movie was very eye-opening to me. Is this movie going to help your child fully understand racism? No. But it's a good place to start the discussion.

The Color of Friendship is available to watch on Disney+.

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