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.

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