Thursday, January 29, 2015

Diversifying Our Movie Shelf

We all grow up with our favorite movies- the ones that we remember bringing us comfort or teaching us some important lesson for the first time or the ones that we watched over and over at sleepovers with our best friends, memorizing every line and spontaneous dance number. (Yes, I grew up in the 80's.)

As we grow, maybe our tastes diversify a little in genre - we watch movies with more daring ratings, maybe we have friends with different backgrounds who introduce us to movies we've never seen. I think, though, with the way that Hollywood is, we need to be pretty intentional if we want to expose ourselves and our kids to movies with racially diverse casts, movies that do not have a white savior theme, movies that may tell us a different story of what life was and is really like in America.

As my oldest son is finally at the age to watch movies with deeper themes and questions, I recently polled friends on Facebook asking for help, which turned into a list I am excited to dive into. I also did some searches of my own to try to find some movies to add.

I broke the list into two main categories- General Movies and Historically Based Movies. These are all movies that someone deems appropriate for children and I've included their ratings, if they have one as well as their descriptions as found on IMDB or Amazon. I have not seen them all yet so please have grace if something is NOT actually a great movie to include. I'll continue to update the post as I see them if anything needs to be omitted.

Without further ado, here is what I have come up with. So far. It is by no means exhaustive. If you see a glaring omission, I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments section and will gladly and gratefully amend the post to reflect any missed movies.


Children’s Movies with Diverse Casts



Spirited Away (and all the Miyazaki movies) - ANIME - A wondrous fantasy about a young girl, Chihiro, trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron - Join Spirit, a wild young mustang, as he sets out on an action-packed quest against impossible odds to regain his freedom and save his homeland. In his courageous and thrilling journey across the majestic wilderness of the American frontier, Spirit forms a remarkable friendship with a young Lakota brave, outwits a relentless squadron of soldiers, and falls for a beautiful paint mare named Rain.


The Emperor’s New Groove – G - Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama by his ex-administrator Yzma, and must now regain his throne with the help of Pacha, the gentle llama herder.

My Neighbor Totoro – G - Follow the adventures of Satsuki and her four-year-old sister Mei when they move into a new home in the countryside. To their delight, they discover that their new neighbor is a mysterious forest spirit called Totoro -- who can be seen only through the eyes of a child. Totoro introduces them to extraordinary characters -- including a cat that doubles as a bus! -- and takes them on an incredible journey.

Brother Bear- G- When a young Inuit hunter needlessly kills a bear, he is magically changed into a bear himself as punishment with a talkative cub being his only guide to changing back

Princess and the Frog – G - A waitress, desperate to fulfill her dreams as a restaurant owner, is set on a journey to turn a frog prince back into a human being, but she has to face the same problem after she kisses him.

Mulan – G - To save her father from death in the army, a young maiden secretly goes in his place and becomes one of China's greatest heroines in the process.


Lilo & Stitch – PG - A Hawaiian girl adopts an unusual pet who is actually a notorious extra-terrestrial fugitive from the law.

Big Hero 6 –PG -  The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.



Polly – TV Movie- An musical adaptation of the book "Pollyanna" set in the 1950's in which an orphan tries to use gladness to unite the people in a small southern town

Cinderella (Disney Rogers and Hammerstein Version) – TV  Movie- Updated version of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the classic fairy-tale, with an all-star, multi-racial cast.

The Tap Dance Kid – TV Show- Eight year old wants to be a tap dancer like his uncle.

The Way Home – (Korean w/ subtitles) – Seven-year-old Sang-woo is left with his grandmother in a remote village while his mother looks for work. Through his grandmother’s boundless patience and devotion, he learns to embrace empathy, humility and the importance of family.

Coyote Waits- TV Movie- Two tribal cops uncover a plot involving a lost fortune, an historical artifact and a mythical Coyote on a Navajo reservation.


The Wiz – G - An adaption of "The Wizard of Oz" that tries to capture the essence of the African American experience.


Spy Kids PG – The children of secret-agent parents must save them from danger.

Like Mike – PG – When a hoops-loving fourteen year old with a dream to play in the NBA finds a mysterious pair of old sneakers, he makes the leap from playground hijinks to superstardom.

My Lucky Elephant –PG- Shot on location in the jungles of Thailand, this action adventure focuses on an orphan boy and his relationship with an abandoned elephant named Lucky. Together they overcome one adversity after another to survive, ultimately succeeding when Lucky charms everyone and becomes the star painter at an Elephant's Art Academy.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham –PG - The film chronicles the ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, and how they are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.

Annie (new version) –PG -  A foster kid who lives with her mean foster mom sees her life change when business tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in.

Akeelah and the Bee – PG - A young girl from South Los Angeles tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee.

Karate Kid (new version) – PG - Work causes a single mother to move to China with her young son; in his new home, the boy embraces kung fu, taught to him by a master.

Space Jam – PG - Michael Jordan agrees to help the Looney Toons play a basketball game vs. alien slavers to determine their freedom.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – PG - Sean Anderson partners with his mom's husband on a mission to find his grandfather, who is thought to be missing on a mythical island.

Daddy Day Care – PG - Two men get laid off and have to become stay-at-home dads when they can't find jobs. This inspires them to open their own day-care center.

Corrina, CorrinaPG – When Manny Singer’s wife dies, his young daughter Molly becomes mute and withdrawn. To help cope with looking after Molly, he hires sassy housekeeper Corrina Washington, who coaxes Molly out of her shell and shows father and daughter a whole new way of life. 

Sister Act 2 – PG – Deloris Van Cartier is again asked to don the nun’s habit to help a run-down Catholic school, presided over by Mother Superior. And if trying to reach out to a class full of uninterested students wasn’t bad enough, the sisters discover that the school is due to be closed by the unscrupulous local authority chief, Mr. Crisp.

Linsanity – PG - The life story of basketball sensation, Jeremy Lin.


Dr. Doolittle –  PG-13 - A Doctor finds out that he can understand what animals are saying. And the animals find out that he understands.

Whale Rider – PG-13 - A small Maori village faces a crisis when the heir to the leadership of the Ngati Konohi dies at birth and is survived only by his twin sister, Pai. Although disregarded by her grandfather and shunned by the village people, twelve-year-old Pai remains certain of her calling and trains herself in the ways and customs of her people. With remarkable grace, Pai finds the strength to challenge her family and embraces a thousand years of tradition in order to fulfill her destiny.

Smoke Signals- PG-13 – Young Indian man Thomas is a nerd in his reservation, wearing oversize glasses and telling everyone stories no one wants to hear. His parents died in a fire in 1976 and Thomas was saved by Arnold. Arnold soon left his family and his tough son Victor and Victor hasn’t seen his father for 10 years. When Victor hears Arnold has died, Thomas offers him funding for the trip to get Arnold’s remains but only if Thomas will also go with him. Thomas and Victor hit the road.

Remember the Titans - PG-13 - The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.

Historically Based Movies

Ruby Bridges –  TV Movie – The true story of Ruby Bridges, an African-American girl who, in 1960 at age 6, helped integrate the all-white schools of New Orleans.

Selma Lord Selma – TV Movie- In 1965 Alabama, an 11 year old girl is touched by a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. and becomes a debout follower. But her resolution is tested when she joins others in the famed march from Selma to Montgomery.

Our Friend Martin – TV Movie – This is the story of a black teenager named Miles who has to go on a class field trip to the museum of learning what Martin Luther King, Jr. did for humanity, he thinks that he’d rather play baseball. But the trip turns into an exciting adventure when he and his best friend, Randy, who is white, are sent back in time, meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at several points during his life.

Heroes of Freedom: Stories of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks – Educational Video – summary unavailable

Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad – TV Movie-  A number of slaves risk their lives to escape their masters with their only help coming from the famous secret slave escape network.

March On and More Stories About African American History – INCLUDES 4 SHOWS –
MARCH ON!: THE DAY MY BROTHER MARTIN CHANGED THE WORLD (Written by Dr. Christine King Farris, illustrated by London Ladd, narrated by Lynn Whitfield) Martin Luther King Jr. s sister travels back to 1963 to present a personal, stirring account of the remarkable day when Dr. King delivered his I HAVE A DREAM Speech.

MARTIN S BIG WORDS (Written by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier, narrated by Michael Clarke Duncan) Using quotes from some of his beloved speeches, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to life in this profound and important biography about beliefs and dreams and following one s heart.

ROSA (Written and narrated by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier) On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama city bus and refused to give up her seat to a white man, an act that ignited a revolution and changed history.

HENRY S FREEDOM BOX: A TRUE STORY FROM THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Written by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, narrated by Jerry Dixon) The powerful true story of a young slave who mails himself to freedom.

Eyes on the Prize- NR -  Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today. Winner of numerous awards, Eyes on the Prize is the most critically acclaimed documentary on civil rights in America.

4 Little Girls – Documentary - A documentary of the notorious racial terrorist bombing of an African American church during the Civil Rights Movement.

Harriet Tubman : Inspiring Animated Heroes – True story of Harriet Tubman’s involvement in the underground railroad, helping to free 300 slaves.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman –PG -  Story of a black woman in the South who was born into slavery in the 1850s and lives to become a part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters First One Hundred Years – TV Movie- Tells the story of Sadie and Bessie Delany, two African-American sisters who both lived past the age of 100.
Betty and Coretta - TV Movie- The widows of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and how they carry on as single mothers after the assassination of their husbands.
The Rosa Parks Story – TV Movie- The story of the civil rights heroine whose refusal to obey racial bus segregation was just one of her acts in her fight for justice.

Polly Comin’ Home – TV Movie - Broadway style songs are used to tell this interesting story of an ingenious orphan who gets involved in matchmaking and striving for inter-racial understanding in 1956 Alabama.

Geronimo: An American Legend – PG-13 –The story of the apache chief and his armed resistance to the US Government’s subjugation of his people.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If We Don't Teach It

This past week my son had a friend over to play for a few hours. Most of their time was spent as usual...legos, playing in the snow, lots of giggling. After one particularly long stretch out in the cold, they came inside and settled at my table for some hot chocolate.

And then.

Then, this seven-year-old, this guest in my house, looked straight at me and told me a racist joke about a Chinese person and started laughing. My son looked at me- I think he knew something wasn't right about it but he wasn't sure what exactly was going on. I was speechless. What do you say to a young child who has just said something like this?

So, I engaged him in a discussion. I asked him where he'd learned the joke. He made it up. I asked him why he thought it was funny. He said "it just is" and told me the punch line again and started laughing. I asked him whether he thought it was kind to say things that make fun of people. He shrugged me off and said it was no big deal and that he was just trying to be funny.

No big deal? Really?

Now, I could have let this go, right? After all, he's just a kid. There was no Chinese person in the room that might be offended, right? No one would know he ever said it except for me and my son. Thi kid is not even my kid so it's maybe not really my place, anyway. Probably his "intent" was not to be malicious. You hear a lot about intent regarding racism, especially from us white people. Well, if he didn't INTEND for it to be mean, what's the big deal, right? Can't we just take things less seriously and laugh?

Ah. No, actually. Just because he didn't intend to be rude doesn't mean that he wasn't. Intent does not cover over all manner of sins. Just because there was nobody there to be offended or hurt does not mean that the offense should be left alone.

And here's the deal. MY son was watching and listening. MY son wanted to see what a person is supposed to do in this situation. And you know what? Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I subscribe to that school of parenting that says that when a kid is at your home, he abides by your rules. And in our house? Kind words are the rule. Non-racist jokes are the rule. And honesty in confrontation is the rule.

Let me backpedal a minute here. I do not think this child's parents taught him this joke. I doubt they walk around telling racist jokes in his presence. I don't know if he's told them this joke or not and how they reacted. I am not trying to make a statement about their parenting because I know our kids sometimes say crazy things we probably never hear about. But I do think that if I stay silent just because this is a kid and I might hurt his feelings, I am not only teaching my own child that silence is an acceptable avenue when presented with injustice but I am also missing a chance to say something that maybe this child hasn't yet heard. After all, us white people aren't exactly known for educating our kids about racism from a young age.

So I tried to be gentle and keep my frustration in check. I explained why the joke wasn't acceptable and why I felt he shouldn't tell it anymore. Again, he shrugged it off. I made it clear that it would be completely unacceptable in our home and that if he continued to speak that way he would no longer be welcome here. He understood that particular point and promised not to tell it again. Hot chocolate finished, they moved on to play.

And friends?

I am not kidding you, not 20 minutes later, that same child looked me square in the eye and made a sexist comment. Some of you who know me well know that at this point this kid was likely in danger of a full out rant. Seriously?

Yet again I engaged him. Yet again he shrugged it off. Yet again I made it clear that anyone who is going to speak about girls that way in my home will not be invited back. My son's big eyes followed both these confrontations. He took it all in.

Now, I don't know if this kid will come over again. To be honest, I wouldn't really mind if he was no longer in the social mix.(There's a deeper story there unrelated to this most recent interaction.)

But the bigger issue to me is this - how has this happened? How has a young boy of seven already learned to make racist jokes? To make comments that disparage girls and their interests? To ALREADY not care if someone is offended by the jokes. How? Where did he learn it? Why hasn't he unlearned it? Does his family talk about racism or sexism or injustice?

I don't know.

But I do know this.

Our kids are going to get an education about these issues somewhere. They are going to hear things we don't want them to hear. Sometimes they are going to say things we don't want them to say. But they are never too young to begin to understand the power of their words. That old "sticks and stones" crap? I think we've all learned that that saying only existed to help us pretend that someone's words can't hurt when in reality we know that some of the most painful memories we carry are those linked to words. And if I choose silence in the face of these things, I am teaching my children that silence is acceptable. That shrugging it off or laughing it off is the right thing to do. That not causing trouble is the kind route.

I don't want them to learn those things.

I want them to know that they can choose kindness and honesty and truth. And that when someone, anyone, says something offensive, they have the right to speak up. To defend themselves, to defend the target of the joke (whether or not he or she is present), to challenge the teller to think about his or her words. To encourage that person to choose kindness and goodness. And if I don't know exactly what to say in every situation that comes up? Well, then what a great chance to continue my own education. To listen well and read good books and articles and grow myself and still do my best to stand for truth in those moments. To apologize when I fail and get it wrong.

If we as adults don't place ourselves in a place of humility to continue to learn and then teach these things to the children with whom we come in contact, clearly and often, through directives and examples, our kids will likely learn that popularity and humor are more important than character and truth and justice.

May it not be so.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Poems and Rainbows

It's difficult at this point to remember the years upon years of bedtime prayers issued by my oldest son in humble petition of a baby brother and sister. The questions he would ask about why his friends had them and he didn't. The conversations about why he wanted one and how much he looked forward to what it would be like to be a big brother. The practice of those skills on the children of dear friends of ours. The yearning, really, to love someone in that special way only siblings can. Before he even became a brother, he knew that role meant something.

One year into that reality, this kid has gone through a big transition. An only child for seven years with only memories of one home, we uprooted him from that home, school, church and friends, moved him across the country and gave him a baby brother all in the space of 7 months. And those long-awaited dreams of playing with his brother and teaching him soccer and legos, well, those dreams were still deferred to the reality of a little person who really just laid around and cried. A lot.

We, of course, have the obligatory joys and memorable pictures. Older brother holding younger brother for the first time, feeding him, letting him sleep in his lap, reading him books, pushing him on the swing or stroller, holding his hand while he learned to walk.

But the real fun? It's just beginning.

These two are finally becoming friends. The younger one reserves the majority of his hugs for his brother during the day. He likes to ride on his back like a horse. He likes to imitate every single thing his older brother does. Already. If his brother is at the table, the meal goes better. In the car? Smoother ride. And my 8-year-old, who I worried would be bored until his brother was much older, returns the adoration. Asks for hugs. Loves to be the first one in the room when he's getting up from his nap, loves to chase him around the house and help him down the slide and teach him his sign language.

We see how they feel about each other in these sweet daily interactions.

But just yesterday, we saw even more clearly what is going on in my eight-year-old's heart when his teacher sent a poem home from school. Apparently the kids had been asked to write a poem about something they love during creative writing time. The teacher was so overcome with the sweetness of what he wrote that she made a copy and sent it home.


There it is. And in case you are having trouble making out that final line? "There is some magic flowing through us". I gotta admit, I don't totally know what that line means, but it's pretty dang sweet.

We worried so much about what it would be like for him to want something so badly and not be sure if the reality would live up to the hype. We worried about his transition from only child. We worried about those months when his brother kept us up all night and we had less energy and patience for him. And now that we are out of that first year tunnel that involves mostly survival, we are so grateful to see what God has done in his heart towards this little guy, towards this brother for whom he longed and waited and prayed.

This mama's heart is melting today. I know their relationship won't always be poems and rainbows. I know the first time the little one wrecks a lego creation we will have a serious issue on hand. Or when he won't leave my older son and his friends alone on a playdate. But right now? Right now I am taking a moment to be thankful for the ways that our family has changed, for the ways my older son has grown in his capacity to love and for the reality that my younger son is growing up with a brother who loves "everything about him."