Many parents are holding space for conversations about racial injustice with our children in order to educate, foster empathy and promote an anti-racist future world. We know that our children are hearing our conversations, reading headlines and catching glimpses of the news. If they have TikTok they are also seeing unfiltered videos and commentary of current events between their friends’ latest dance moves. We are excited to highlight 30+ family movies addressing racial injustice.
Our children might not bring up their thoughts and emotions around what they are seeing or feeling. However, psychologists suggest that it is important to talk about upsetting events and racial inequality in age-appropriate ways because silence fuels fear, anxiety and uncertainty.
RELATED READING :: Talking to your children about race
One way that our family is opening up these conversations is by watching movies that address racial injustice and demonstrate how people of color have persevered in spite of racism. I have crowdsourced the following list of movies from mothers who are also having these conversations with their families. There are links to Commonsense Media reviews to learn more about each movie.
Family Movies Addressing Racial Injustice | G and PG Rated Movies:
Home (PG) (Suggested age 6+) is an animated alien movie that can allow families to discuss the movie’s messages about being friends with people who look different from you and live differently from you.
An American Girl Story – Melody, 1963: Love Has to Win (NR) (Suggested age 7+) is inspired by Melody, a character in the popular line of American Girl dolls and accessories. Melody is creative, principled, and smart, and she speaks out against the racial injustice she experiences as the civil rights movement rages on far from her Detroit home.
Zootopia (PG) (Suggested age 8+) follows the story of a small-town rabbit who achieves her childhood dream of becoming the first rabbit to join the Zootopia Police Department. It has messages about courage, empathy, tolerance, teamwork, and the dangers of reducing others to stereotypes. (Disney+)
Our Friend Martin (G) (Suggested age 8+) uses a combination of documentary footage and animated characters to show the highlights and lowlights of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work through the eyes of a group of middle-school classmates.
The Color of Friendship (NR) (Suggested age 9+) is based on a true story about the relationship between a white South African girl and an African American girl during the apartheid era. It is mainly set in the Washington D.C. household of African American politician Ron Dellum, who campaigned to end apartheid in South Africa. (Disney+)
Remember the Titans (PG) (Suggested age 10+) tells the inspirational true story about the struggles and victories of a newly-integrated high school football team in 1971 Alexandria, Virginia. (This movie was the most recommended movie when I was crowdsourcing for good reason.) (Disney+)
Hidden Figures (PG) (Suggested age 10+) is based on the inspiring true story of three brilliant African American women who worked at NASA in the 1950s and ’60s as “human computers” — making calculations and contributions that helped launch the manned spaceflight program.
Ruby Bridges (PG) (Suggested age 10+) is based on the real-life story of a 6-year-old African American girl selected by the NAACP due to her high test scores to attend an all-white school in New Orleans in 1960. (Disney+)
Glory Road (PG) (Suggested age 10+) is set in the 1960s and is based on a true story where Don Haskins takes a new job coaching the NCAA team at Texas Western University in El Paso. Don appears to “get” racism and specifically, racist violence against his players. He stays focused on the game, seeing winning as the best way to “instruct” opponents until he learns he’s been getting hate mail at home which his wife has been hiding from him.
Hairspray (PG) (Suggested age 11+) is a musical with messages around tolerance and acceptance of people of all sizes and colors.
To Kill a Mockingbird (NR) (Suggested age 12+) is the award-winning 1962 film adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel. Its powerful evocation of racism and bigotry in the 1930s Deep South still resonates today, as do themes of empathy, compassion, and justice.
Pride (PG) (Suggested age 12+) is based on the true story of how an African American coach and teens formed a championship swim team and saved an inner-city recreation center slated for destruction.
The Watsons Go To Birmingham (PG) (Suggested age 12+) tells the story of an African-American family who visits Birmingham, Alabama in the midst of the civil rights struggle.
The Long Walk Home (PG) (Suggested age 13+) tells the story of an affluent White woman who must decide how to proceed when Blacks begin the bus boycott in 1950s Montgomery, Alabama, leaving her maid with no way to work. As tensions increase between determined Black organizers and threatened White families unwilling to budge, the two women must weigh their own individual risks to their friendship.
Family Movies Addressing Racial Injustice | PG-13 Rated Movies:
42 (PG-13) (Suggested age 11+) is an inspiring biopic about the two years in which baseball legend Jackie Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier.
Harriet (PG-13) (Suggested age 12+) is a historical drama about Harriet Tubman’s evolution from being a young, married slave in Maryland, to her escape to Philadelphia, to her courage to become the “Moses” of the Underground Railroad.
The Help (PG-13) (Suggested age 12+) tells the story of a New York columnist who convinces her friends’ Black housekeepers to be interviewed for a project where they tell the truth about raising and loving white children who grow up to be just as racist as their parents.
The Hate You Give (PG-13) (Suggested age 13+) is based on Angie Thomas’ award-winning book about Starr Carter, a Black teen who witnesses the fatal police shooting of a close friend. The movie addresses the tension between the police and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect and the differences between teens growing up in predominantly African American neighborhoods and those from affluent White neighborhoods. (This was also a highly recommended movie when I was crowdsourcing.)
Selma (PG-13) (Suggested age 13+) is a highly-acclaimed drama about Martin Luther King’s fight for equal rights.
Just Mercy (PG-13) (Suggested age 13+) is a fact-based courtroom drama that tackles the subjects of racism and the death penalty. It centers on an idealistic young lawyer who travels to Alabama to help save a wrongfully convicted Black man on Death Row.
The Great Debaters (PG-13) (Suggested age 13+) is an inspirational fact-based drama that follows the 1935 Wiley College debate team from its modest beginnings in Marshall, Texas, to national prominence. It includes unvarnished discussions and representations of 1930s racism, including a brutal lynching scene.
Freedom Writers (PG-13) (Suggested age 13+) tells the true story of an idealistic young White teacher who inspires a group of “at-risk” students of color to believe in themselves. The movie is set in a Long Beach, California high school in the mid-1990s against the backdrop of deep racial tensions in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating by police officers.
The Banker (PG-13) (Suggested age 13+) is a 1960s-set drama about two of America’s first Black bankers. It deals with discriminatory banking practices and housing segregation and demonstrates how classism and racism affect not just Black people, but poor and working-class White people, too. Themes include teamwork, humility, courage, and self-control, and messages touch on social activism, economic empowerment, providing opportunities in marginalized communities, and systemic oppression.
The Color Purple (PG-13) (Suggested age 14+) is an intense drama adapted from a novel by award-wining author Alice Walker. It deals with serious themes and shows the difficulties women — especially Black women — experienced in the early 20th century. Many scenes include glimpses of violence and abuse, all against women, but there are also positive messages about the importance of women’s relationships with other women, the power of the sisterly bond, and the human capacity to overcome oppression.
Roots (NR) (Suggested age 14+) is based on Alex Haley’s best-selling book of the same name. It is a remake of the landmark 1977 TV miniseries that won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. It is graphic and follows the story of an enslaved African boy and his eventual descendants, tracing their long journey to eventual freedom after decades of bondage and unspeakable suffering.
Family Movies Addressing Racial Injustice | R-rated movies:
A Time To Kill (R) (Suggested age 15+) is a drama based on the best-selling novel by John Grisham. A bold young lawyer in a small Mississippi town defends a poor Black man accused of killing the two White men who raped his young daughter. This incites fury, and the Ku Klux Klan seeks revenge. It looks at America’s judicial system while giving viewers a glimpse of the psychological and physical trauma and consequences that come along with racial injustice, systemic racism, and oppression.
Black and Blue (R) (Suggested age 15+) is an action movie that follows a rookie police officer who is struggling with her identity as an African American cop in a primarily Black neighborhood that does not trust the police. The movie gives voice to those who are painfully familiar with racial profiling and the shame and frustration that come from feeling like you’re always under suspicion just because of where you live.
12 Years a Slave (R) (Suggested age 15+) is a graphic movie for mature audiences based on a book written in the 1850s by Solomon Northup recounting his experiences as a slave. There are scenes that show the extreme brutality, emotional cruelty and sexual assault that slaves experienced.
When They See Us (NR) (Suggested age 15+) is a dramatization of the Central Park Five case, in which five teenagers were wrongly convicted of the violent rape of a 28-year-old woman. The 1990 trial was widely publicized at the time and has become an example of institutional racism within the police and the American justice system. (Netflix miniseries)
Amistad (R) (Suggested age 15+) is a 1997 Oscar-nominated movie about a true story of West Africans on a slave ship who revolt against their captors but still must fight for their freedom in the courtrooms of America.
Crash (R) (Suggested age 16+) is a Best Picture Oscar-winner that weaves together a series of stories about post-9/11 fearfulness. It opens up conversations with older teens about racism, anger, anxiety, alienation and cultural divisions.
13th (NR) (Suggested age 16+) is a documentary that addresses racial issues confronting America in 2016. In a time of polarized attitudes about mass incarceration, brutality, and the explosion of for-profit prisons and their affiliates, director Ava DuVernay interviews social activists, academics, journalists, and political figures to make the case that today’s prisons, which house millions of persons of color, are simply the next incarnation of the centuries-old U.S. exploitation of those who have been deemed “lesser personages.” (Netflix)
Thank you for all of your efforts in teaching our children how to create a more tolerant, kind and anti-racist world.
I am grateful for the forward-thinking mamas who contributed to this list. Please add your suggestions in the comments of this blog post.