When it comes to the Disney Channel, there have been many entertaining shows and movies throughout the years for kids of all ages. Some people see the Disney Channel as just fluff and admittingly a lot is in fact just meaningless entertainment. There is however a movie that, unfortunately, has been forgotten or just not seen at all.
The Color of Friendship premiered on Disney Channel in 2000 and stars Lindsey Haun and Shadia Simmons. It is about a black U.S. congressman who is welcoming a girl named Mahree into the home of his family. She is coming all the way from South Africa to Washington D.C. Piper, the daughter of the congressman, is excited about having another girl live with them. When Piper discovers Mahree is white and Mahree realizes Piper is black, they must both put their assumptions and prejudices aside.
They played this movie on Disney Channel all the time growing up during Black History Month. There were plenty of good movies on the channel at the time but this one sets itself apart by dealing with serious issues as well as being a true story. The movie is based on actual events during the apartheid that took place in South Africa.
This film shows the racism that took place in America vs South Africa. The movie takes place in 1977, while the civil rights movement was in full force in the US, and apartheid was still institutionalized up until the early 90s. South Africa had rules that separated races and limited black people from receiving certain opportunities. Ronald Dellums is a real person who was a huge fighter against apartheid. He is the father in this movie.
Another movie for kids would somehow turn this into a lighthearted type of film but overall the movie plays things pretty straight. I commend Disney for that. There is a scene where a waiter in South Africa is attacked for accidentally spilling something on a customer. A similar situation happens in America and Mahree is surprised when the outcome is different. Plenty of fish out of water scenes like this are compelling and show us how the other half lives and thinks sometimes.
There are plenty of misunderstandings in the movie. Mahree doesn’t see what’s so wrong with apartheid at first. She doesn’t understand how some slurs shouldn’t be said. Piper didn’t know there were white people in South Africa and at first, both kids want nothing to do with each other.
Hate is not born, it is taught. Throughout the film, the girls bond and come to understand the struggle that is going on at the time. The performances in the film are top notch and the script does not shy away from the hard conversations.
There is a bird shown throughout the movie called a weaver bird. This type of bird is known for communal nest building as well as having different styles of feathers. This is a metaphor for the whole movie. People working together and understanding each other. Even though there is a battle and death going on around them, Piper and Mahree are doing what they can to realize a person is not just the color of their skin.
Yes, there are some Disney-like moments such as the two girls trying clothes on together at the mall in a montage. Moments like these don’t destroy the impact of the movie though. They actually help when the girls realize how much in common they do have. Fun scenes like this one help create a bond. When Mahree realizes that when she goes back home there is a chance she might never see her new friend again just because of the color of her skin, it is a legitimately sad moment.
The Color of Friendship teaches young viewers and families about real-world issues as well as the importance of friendship and getting to know a person. I watched it as a kid and it opened my eyes to a lot. Rewatching it now, I am glad to say that it holds up. It isn’t a movie that should be forgotten just because it was on the Disney Channel. The message resonates still today and for all the loud funny musical moments that Disney movies have, it is nice to see a film that has strong quiet important conversations while being entertaining.
The Color of Friendship is available to watch on Disney Plus.