For parents trying to figure out how to talk to their children about racism, film can be a useful tool for generating empathy. But many family-friendly movies with diverse casts are told from a white perspective, for a white audience. That can rob people of color of their turns as the hero, nullifying their voices. And the stories are usually about racism, presenting the issue as a problem to be solved, wrapping up in a neat resolution.
The following eight movies, suitable for children 7 and older, are written by, directed by and star people of color. They depict stories of struggle, perseverance and joy. Most don’t end tied up nicely in a bow, which is more realistic and great for opening up a dialogue — even just to say, “What do you think happens next?” The beauty of that contemplation is that it gets families thinking and talking about the future, viewed through the lens of the past.
Hair Love (2019)
7 minutes; available on YouTube.
This Oscar-winning animated short, written and directed by Matthew Cherry, tells the story of a Black father learning to style his daughter Zuri’s hair while her mother (voiced by Issa Rae) is in the hospital. Minimal dialogue helps put the focus on the beautiful animation. HBO announced this month that the characters from the short will appear in a new series called “Young Love.”
The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (2000)
48 minutes (subtitled); available on YouTube and Kanopy.
Sili is a young disabled girl living in Dakar, Senegal. She begs for money in the same spot daily, but after being bullied, she decides to sell newspapers instead. She soon runs into opposition from the other sellers, who are all boys. The film tells an authentic story with a cast of nonprofessional actors and street children.
72 minutes, available on Netflix.
Ten-year-old Tepulpai dreams of becoming a shaman in his small Andean village during the 16th century in this animated movie. He sets out on a journey to retrieve a stolen relic and must battle enemies, who include the Inca and Spanish Conquistadores intent on destroying his people and all they have built. Each tribe is animated in a slightly different style, making for a unique patchwork effect. The writer-director Juan Antín labored on the film for 14 years.
115 minutes; available on Apple, Amazon and Google Play.
It’s 1973, the summer of Troy’s 10th birthday. She jumps rope with friends, steals snacks from the local deli and argues with her four brothers in their Brooklyn brownstone. After visiting her cousin in suburban Virginia, she returns home and is forced to grow up in a hurry. “Crooklyn” is the rare coming-of-age film told from a young girl’s point of view. The two-volume ’70s soundtrack, with songs from the Chi-Lites and Smokey Robinson, is killer. The screenplay was written by Spike Lee, his sister Joie Susannah Lee and his brother Cinqué Lee. There is some strong language and mild drug use (glue huffing among two peripheral characters).
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
101 minutes; available on Hulu, Kanopy and Amazon.
Ricky is a 13-year-old foster kid sent to live with a couple in the New Zealand bush. Bella is a loving caregiver, but her husband, Hec, is reluctant to bond with Ricky. After Bella dies suddenly, Ricky and Hec are forced to work together to survive. The writer-director Taika Waititi is expert at writing witty dialogue and fully formed characters, which make the film funny and sincere without being sappy — essential if you’re trying to persuade a skeptical tween to watch with you. There are two rather graphic hunting scenes involving a knife.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
113 minutes (subtitled); available on Netflix.
William is an eager student forced to leave school when his parents can no longer afford the tuition. Determined to help his family survive a drought-induced famine in his small Malawian village, he builds a wind turbine for electricity and irrigation. The film focuses on community and political dynamics in the village, which (along with the drought) necessitate William’s invention. Chiwetel Ejiofor adapted the screenplay, based on a true story, and stars in and directed the film. The political controversy can be confusing for younger children to follow at times; there is also some violence.
See You Yesterday (2019)
84 minutes; available on Netflix.
This debut feature from the director Stefon Bristol, who also co-wrote the script, is a sci-fi tale about two Black friends, C.J. and Sebastian, who try to build a time machine. During their experiments, C.J.’s life takes a tragic turn and she decides to jump back in time to right wrongs, realizing in the process that it isn’t as easy as she thinks to change the past. Strong language and police brutality feature in the narrative.
98 minutes (subtitled); available on Netflix and Amazon.
Wadjda is an independent 10-year-old girl, determined to acquire a bike in order to race her best friend, Abdullah. The only problem is virtuous girls aren’t supposed to ride bikes or have boys as best friends. The film was the first feature length movie shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and also the country’s first to be directed by a woman.