Here are 38 African American children’s movies that show us in leading roles defying the odds of society.
Over the decades, Hollywood has become more diverse in providing family films with leading African American roles. As always, every culture has its classics whether the story is historical or fiction. Here is a list of inspiring African American children’s movies that provide positive messages of courage, intelligence and strength to break barriers.
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Akeelah and the Bee (2006) Available at the Library
Akeelah and the Bee is the inspirational story of Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), an eleven-year-old girl from south Los Angeles with a gift for words. Despite the objections of her mother Tanya (Angela Bassett), Akeelah enters various spelling contests, for which she is tutored by the forthright Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne); her principal Mr. Welch (Curtis Armstrong) and the proud residents of her neighborhood. Akeelah’s aptitude earns her an opportunity to compete for a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and, in turn, unites her neighborhood who witness the courage and inspiration of one amazing little girl.
And the Children Shall Lead (1985) Available on Amazon
Mississippi in the early ’60s is the setting for this story of a 12-year-old African-American girl who, along with her white friends, tries to ease increasing racial tensions. To build a better community that exemplifies equality and human rights.
Bino and Fino (2014) Available on YouTube
The Bino and Fino Nigerian educational cartoon was created to give parents looking for genuine African educational content for their children to watch more of a choice. Created by Adamu Waziri, a Nigerian animator and produced by his Nigerian based animation company EVCL, Bino and Fino is an African educational cartoon about a brother and sister who live in a modern-day city in sub- Saharan Africa. In each episode, Bino and Fino, with the help of their friend Zeena the Magic Butterfly and their family, discover and learn things about the world. The show is for children mainly between the ages of 3 and 6.
Cinderella (1997) Available at the Library
Cinderella (Brandy) chafes under the cruelty of her wicked stepmother (Bernadette Peters) and her evil stepsisters, Calliope (Veanne Cox) and Minerva (Natalie Desselle), until her Fairy Godmother (Whitney Houston) steps in to change her life for one unforgettable night. At the ball, she falls for handsome Prince Christopher (Paolo Montalban), whose parents, King Maximillian (Victor Garber) and Queen Constantina (Whoopi Goldberg), are anxious for him to find a suitable paramour.
Cool Runnings (1993) Available at the Library
In the freezing weather Derice, Sanka, Junior and Yul are only laughed at, since nobody can take a Jamaican bobsledding team led by a disgraced trainer seriously. But team spirit and a healthy self-confidence may lead to a few surprises in the upcoming Winter Games.
Cooley High(1975) Available at the Library
In 1964, a group of high school friends who live on the Near North Side of Chicago enjoys life to the fullest…parties, hanging out, meeting new friends. Then life changes for two of the guys when they meet a pair of career criminals and get falsely arrested in connection with stealing a Cadillac. We follow their lives through the end of high school and the dramatic end to their school year.
Dr. Dolittle 3 (2006) Available on Amazon
Lisa Dolittle sends her daughter to ‘Durango’, a Dude Ranch, to find herself. While there, she uses her talent to talk to the animals in order to save Durango from being taken over by a neighboring Ranch.
Gandhi (1982) Available on Amazon
Gandhi’s character is fully explained as a man of nonviolence. Through his patience, he is able to drive the British out of the subcontinent. And the stubborn nature of Jinnah and his commitment towards Pakistan is portrayed.
Hidden Figures (2016) Available at the Library
Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson crossed all gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance and desire to dream big, beyond anything ever accomplished before by the human race, firmly cemented them in U.S. history as true American heroes.
Polly (1989) Available on Amazon
Wonderful World of Disney TV Movie – A revised African American version of Disney’s Pollyanna. Keshia Knight Pulliam plays the adorable Polly, A young girl who is full of music and love for the world. Phylicia Rashad plays Polly’s adopted mother and gives a great performance. Dorian Harewood a veteran black actor with many film credits to his name contributes with a solid effort as well. Directed very steadily and with great style by Debbie Allen. This TV Movie is set in the 50s where an orphan uses happiness to bring together people she touches from a small southern town.
Queen of Katwe (2016) Available at the Library, and Netflix
Living in Katwe, a slum in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona, her mother Nakku Harriet and younger members of her family. She and her younger brother help their mother sell in the market and scavenge for food and water. But her world rapidly changes after being introduced to the game of chess.
Remember the Titans (2000) Available at the Library
One Black and one White high school are closed and the students sent to T.C. Williams High School under federal mandate to integrate. The year is seen through the eyes of the football team where the man hired to coach the Black school is made head coach over the highly successful white coach.
The Color of Friendship (2000) Available on Amazon
This movie showcases the love of cultures no matter who you are or what you believe we are all human and need to love and embrace each other. No matter the color or background everyone can still get along and even become best of friends.
The Golden Blaze (2005) Available on Amazon
The bond between son Jason Fletcher and father Gregory Fletcher, known throughout their town as “The Fletcher Flops”, strengthens after an accident with one of Gregory’s inventions grants him the superpowers of Jason’s comic book hero, The Golden Blaze.
The Princess and the Frog (2009) Available at the Library
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.
The Proud Family (2001) Available on Amazon
The Proud Family follows the adventures and misadventures of Penny (Kyla Pratt), a 14-year-old African American girl who’s doing her best to navigate through the early years of teen-dom. Penny’s every encounter inevitably spirals into bigger than life situations filled with hi-jinks, hilarity and heart. Her quest to balance her home, school and social lives are further complicated by friends like the sassy Dijonay, Penny’s nemesis LaCienega Boulevardez, her loving, if not over-protective parents and her hip-to-the-groove-granny, Suga Mama.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham (2013) Available at the Library
When the Watsons make it to Birmingham, they meet Grandma Sands and her friend, Mr. Robert, who show them around town and the Watsons discover that life is very different there than in Flint – and not necessarily for the better. During that historic summer, the Watsons find themselves caught up in something far bigger than they expected.
The Wiz (1978) Available at the Library
A kindergarten teacher (Diana Ross) living in Harlem is lost in a blizzard, wakens in the wonderland of Oz, and must find her way home. Cast members also include Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Richard Pryor.
Woodlawn (2015) Available at the Library
After a government-mandate, Tony Nathan, a gifted high school black football player, and other black students desegregate Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973. As cross burnings and riots erupt in the city, Tandy Gerelds, the Woodlawn Colonels football coach, struggles to ease racial tensions between his players. It’s only when Gerelds allows Hank, an outsider, to speak to his team that real change begins. Hank, who has been radically affected by the message of hope and love he experienced at a Christian revival meeting, tells the players a “better way” is possible through following Jesus.
42 (2013) Available at the Library, and Netflix
In 1946, Jackie Robinson is a Negro League baseball player who never takes racism lying down. Branch Rickey is a Major League team executive with a bold idea. To that end, Rickey recruits Robinson to break the unspoken color line as the first modern African American Major League player. As both anticipate, this proves a major challenge for Robinson and his family as they endure unrelenting racist hostility on and off the field, from player and fan alike. As Jackie struggles against his nature to endure such abuse without complaint, he finds allies and hopes where he least expects it.
4 Little Girls (1997) Available at the Library
This film recounts the people and events leading up to one of the most despicable hate-crimes during the height of the civil-rights movement, the bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In that attack, four little African-American girls lost their lives and a nation was simultaneously revolted, angered and galvanized to push the fight for equality and justice on.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Available at the Library
Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.
Betty & Coretta (2013) Available at the Library
The widows of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and how they carry on as single mothers after the assassination of their husbands. Also, both Coretta Scott King and Dr. Betty Shabazz will keep their husband’s ideas alive even after death.
Coach Carter (2005) Available at the Library
An overconfident team’s behavior begins to stray with too many doing poorly in class, Coach Carter takes immediate action. To the outrage of the team, the school and the community, Carter cancels all team activities and locks the court until the team shows acceptable academic improvement. In the ensuing debate, Carter fights to keep his methods, determined to show the boys that they need good values for their futures and eventually finds he has affected them more profoundly than he ever expected.
Crooklyn (1994) Available at the Library
Crooklyn is a memory of growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, a time that now seems like a golden age before crack, guns and gangs ruled the inner city streets. It tells the story of the Carmichaels, a family with four boys and a girl, who live in a brownstone on a street where everybody knows everybody else, and have their problems, just like everybody else, but also possess a lot of life and love.
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Hoop Dreams (1994) Available at the Library
Arthur Agee and William Gates both start off at the same high school but unable to pay an unexpected bill for tuition fees, Arthur has to withdraw and go to the local public high school. The film follows them through their four years of high school and their trials and tribulations: injuries, slumps and the never-ending battle to maintain their grades. Through it all, their hoop dreams continue.
The Butler (2013) Available at the Library
Cecil Gaines was a sharecropper’s son who grew up in the 1920s as a domestic servant for the white family who casually destroyed his. Eventually striking out on his own, Cecil becomes a hotel valet of such efficiency and discreteness in the 1950s that he becomes a butler in the White House itself. There, Cecil would serve numerous US Presidents over the decades as a passive witness of history with the American Civil Rights Movement gaining momentum even as his family has troubles of its own. As his wife, Gloria, struggles with her addictions and his defiant eldest son, Louis, strives for a just world, Cecil must decide whether he should take action in his own way.
The Color Purple (1985) Available at the Library
This film follows the life of Celie, a young black girl growing up in the early 1900s. The first time we see Celie, she is 14 – and pregnant – by her father. We stay with her for the next 30 years of her tough life.
The Great Debaters (2007) Available at the Library
Professor Melvin Tolson coaches the debate team to a nearly undefeated season that sees the first debate between U.S. students from white and Negro colleges and ends with an invitation to face Harvard University’s national champions. The team of four, which includes a female student and a very young James Farmer, is tested in a crucible heated by Jim Crow, sexism, a lynch mob, an arrest and near riot, a love affair, jealousy, and a national radio audience.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) Available at the Library
Forced to live out in the streets with his son, Christopher Gardner continues to sell bone density scanners while concurrently taking on an unpaid internship as a stockbroker, with slim chances for advancement to a paid position. Before he can receive pay, he needs to outshine the competition through 6 months of training and sell his devices to stay afloat.
Barry (2016) Available on Netflix
A look at the early life of Barack Obama. Before he became President of the United States, he was one of the few black students at Columbia University NY in the early 80’s. Faced with judgmental and racist opinions all around him, he tries to find his place in the world.
Happily Ever After Fairy Tales for Every Child (2007) Available on Amazon
The award-winning HBO series Happily Ever After Fairy Tales for Every Child provides updated cartoon versions of the classics that will hold your kids’ attention without banging them on the head with themes. Four half-hour tales are included, each with a bevy of well-known African American vocal talent including Will Smith, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, Denzel Washington and more
The Boondocks (2005) Available at the Library
Based on the comic strip, Huey and Riley (voiced by Regina King) move away from the city and out to the suburbs with their irascible grandfather. Biting socio-political commentary ensues.
The Fits (2015) Available at the Library
While training at the gym 11-year-old tomboy Toni becomes entranced with a dance troupe. As she struggles to fit in she finds herself caught up in danger as the group begins to suffer from fainting spells and other violent fits.
The Gabby Douglas Story (2014) Available at the Library
The story of the international gymnastics phenomenon who overcame overwhelming odds to become the first African American ever to be named Individual All-Around Champion in artistic gymnastics at the Olympic Games.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Available at the Library, and Netflix
Small-town Alabama, 1932. Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck) is a lawyer and a widower. He has two young children, Jem and Scout. Atticus Finch is currently defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Meanwhile, Jem and Scout are intrigued by their neighbors, the Radleys, and the mysterious, seldom-seen Boo Radley in particular.
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Did your favorite film not make our list of African American Children’s movies? Let us know at The Voice of Black Cincinnati.
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