• Thu, Dec 12 - 1:00 pm ET

13 Awesome Kids’ Movies With Non-White Main Characters

non-white-kids-movies

Kids’ movies aren’t the most diverse group in the world, to say the least. While there’s usually a token person of color here or there, at least these days, it’s still rare to find an awesome children’s film that actually features a non-white person as the main character.

That sucks. It’s important for children of color, as well as for white children, to see people of color starring in their own adventures, telling their own stories, being heroes and heroines. So, here are thirteen examples of awesome kids’ movies with non-white leads. A few of them you definitely already know about, but I bet there’s a few you can add to your family’s Netflix queue.

mulan

Mulan: Not only does Mulan feature an Asian female protagonist, she’s also an Asian female protagonist who gets shit done. She goes after what she wants, fights for what’s right and happens to have a love affair in the process.

princessandthefrog

The Princess And The Frog: You probably already know about this one, but it’s worth mentioning because we finally got a black Disney princess!

karate-kid

The Karate Kid (2010): Jaden Smith stars in this remake, which updates the setting to Beijing and is pretty charming, so I hear.

golden-blaze

The Golden Blaze: A movie about two rival African-American boys whose dads turn into superheroes (and become pawns in their schoolyard war). It’s also stylized like a comic book, which is pretty cool.

lilo-and-stitch

Lilo And Stitch: Lilo and her family are Pacific Islanders in this cute little movie. I also love that the female lead is drawn like a little girl, not like a beautiful, willowy grown-up woman.

spy-kids

Spy Kids: This is a fun romp starring two Latino/a kids. I don’t remember much about it, but I know that a lot of children I used to babysit for liked it. So there’s your ringing endorsement!

Polly: This all-black remake of Pollyanna stars Keisha Knight-Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad.  Yes, from The Cosby Show! It was a made for TV movie in 1989, so I’m not sure how hard it is to get your hands on, but it’s a great adaptation.

cinderella

Cinderella (1997): With a black woman as Cinderella (Brandy), a black woman as the fairy godmother (Whitney Houston), a black woman as the queen (Whoopi Goldberg) and a Filipino prince (Paolo Montalban) this is one of the most diverse movies ever made for kids. Plus, it’s good. Like, really good. Like one of my favorite movies ever good.

kikis-delivery-service

Kiki’s Delivery Service: This is a Japanese movie about a little Japanese witch. Good news: It’s apparently being remade into a live-action film this year!

dr-doolittle

Dr. Doolittle 3: The 3rd installment of Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Doolittle series doesn’t actually feature Eddie Murphy, but it does feature Kyla Pratt as his smart teenage daughter.

For Slightly Older Kids

If your kids are a little bit older, they might like one of these movies with more mature themes (but still including child protagonists).

wajdja

Wadjda: A Saudi-German film that’s won about a billion film festival awards (and will be submitted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar consideration this year), Wadja is about a girl who enters her school’s Koran recitation competition in order to earn money to buy the green bicycle she covets. I haven’t seen it, but it sounds awesome.

whale-rider

Whale Rider: I actually saw this movie in the theatre when I was a teenager. It’s about a young Maori girl who yearns to be chief of her tribe, even though she’s a girl. Beautiful shots of New Zealand + intense family drama + a brave feminist heroine = a darn good movie.

akeelah-and-the-bee

Akeelah And The Bee: This heart-warming tale is about a little African-American girl and her adventures with friends, family and the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

All photos via IMDB unless otherwise specified

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  • keelhaulrose

    I also love how Lilo’s sister looks like a real woman with hips, and she still has a cute guy panting after her.

  • Tea

    I think Kiki is supposed to be vaguely European, since that story takes place in, well, generic fantasy Europe land/not a real place as far as I’m aware.

    My Neighbor Totoro is a great one, one of my favorites and the VHS was what got me into anime. Spirited away is fun, too, if your kids have a little more attention span and don’t scare too easily.

    • xvala

      Hell, ANYTHING made by Ghibli studios is great, regardless of the protagonist’s color. I love Sheeta from Castle in the Sky as much as Chihiro from Spirited Away as much as Kiki as much as Mei and Satsu from My Neighbor Totoro. Buy any movie with their name on it. Buy them ALL. :D :D :D

    • Natasha B

      My 9 and 4yo love Spirited Away! I’m not a huge fan of anime, but that one is good :)

  • pixie

    Lilo and Stitch, Mulan, and The Princess and the Frog are three of my favourites. Yay Disney for actually including non-white main characters! (and yay Disney for not using American accents in the movie Brave, though yes the characters are all white).

  • elle

    Wadjda totally lives up to the hype! Definitely see it. And I need to see Polly because I have such love (creepy obsession) of Phylicia Rashad! She is so fab I can’t even handle it.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I watched Polly A LOT when I was little. It’s such a good movie.

  • Kay_Sue

    Thanks for including the older kids. I’m heading over to Amazon to see if I can track down some of these for my older stepdaughter.

  • Ashlea Phenicie

    It seems like there was a lot more representation of children of color in the late 80s and early 90s but for some reason it really dropped off in the last decade. I guess people just decided racism was over (ugh, *headdesk*)

    • elle

      I know it’s weird right? When I go over to my mom’s sometimes she is watching old sitcoms from the 80s and 90s maybe 70s and there were so many shows that were about families of color and maybe like one white person and now it isn’t like that at all! I just don’t get it. And as someone who is mixed race I would have loved to see that when I was a kid.

    • Rachel Sea

      Those shows still exist, but they’re segregated to BET, and smaller networks.

  • Cee

    Princess and the Frog perhaps my close second favorite princess and my favorite Disney movie because a princess has a goddamn job. No no, scratch that, she has TWO jobs! And she aspires to be something other than a wife and wants to do it by herself. None of the white princesses want jobs, they just wanna get married. And well…Lottie is hillarical too. Best princess movie ever.

    Somewhat related: Someone once called Lottie a cunt while I was a bit tipsy and discussing Princess and the Frog, I drunkenly defended her to. the. death.

  • RayneofCastamere

    OMYGOSH THAT CINDERELLA MOVIE! While I did see the Disney version when I was little, Brandy’s version was THE Cinderella to me. She’s just the best thing ever! I wanted to be her because she was the most beautiful, awesome person I’d ever seen. She still is one of them.

    Great, now I gotta track it down to watch again.

  • brebay

    Loved Whale Rider, never realized it was Disney. So thankful my kids are past the Disney age, though, and that I never have to sit through another animated flick again!

  • Lcferna

    What about Pocahontas? And the jungle book?

  • Natasha B

    That Cinderella movie is THE BEST! My sister and I still randomly start singing ‘Impossible’ when we see each other

  • koolchicken

    I love Lilo and Stitch. I actually live on Kauai and have to say they did a good job with the characters appearance, speech, homes, and family life. The slang it’s quite as pronounced as it can be in real life, but I can see why they toned it down. The most important thing though was the body shapes of the characters. They look like the people here, they aren’t just tan white people (think Aladdin). Granted Disney has a real love of the wounded hero (kid with one or more dead parent) but the older sister raising her younger sister, yep seems right. The “non-conventional” family does exist, and it exists here. The only thing weird is how alone they were. There should have been aunties, uncles, cousins, etc.

    • Cat

      It’s pretty much the saddest movie ever and I love it.

  • Shea

    So late here that probably no one will see this comment, but I had to put in a plug for “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (the cartoon, not the awful live-action movie). The characters are just awesome in general, but two of the main characters are brown and come from a clearly Inuit-influenced culture, the title character seems to be fantasy-Tibetan, and a ton of other characters are strongly Japanese-influenced in culture and appearance. It’s appropriate for older child, but I watched the show as an adult and loved it.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    Most of Studio Ghibli (Kiki’s Delivery Service) films are based in and around Asia.
    If you want a great one for older kids, Grave of the Fireflies is incredible.
    Heartbreaking but amazing, the story of a 14 year old boy who looks after his baby sister during the war, how they struggle to survive.
    Scenes of animated war and bombs/fire, etc, but well worth the watch