Our Friday Night Tradition: Pizza & Movies Starring Black Characters
Friday nights’ main focus in our house is for our Black girls to see themselves reflected on the screen.
It's Friday night, and the search is on. Our handmade pizzas are in the oven, the picnic blanket is on the living room floor, and I'm surfing Netflix for tonight's movie. This is my family's Friday night ritual, and the most important thing (other than getting in this quality time) is finding a movie with Black lead characters.
I've always been hyper-aware of the people and images my kids are exposed to, and television is no different. When they were toddlers, screening what they watched was simpler because it's mostly talking animals like Mickey Mouse and Peppa Pig. Now that they are school-aged and watching slightly more mature shows, my husband and I filter their world through a diverse lens to make sure they are not implicitly taught that they (or anyone) are secondhand citizens just because of their skin color. Or that every story revolves around the lives of white people.
I won't let them be fed the same messaging that I got growing up.
As an ‘80s kid, no one actually said to me that white people were better, or that their hair was prettier, or that they were the standard. But a part of me believed it because of what I saw — cue Growing Pains, Full House, Saved by the Bell, Blossom, the list goes on. And television is just one platform pushing the norm of whiteness. When you compound that with the mass of one-sided visuals in other media outlets, it's the perfect subliminal poison.
That's why the saying “representation matters” is so much more than words.
Black children need to see that a Black character can be more than just the funny sidekick or a face occasionally splashed in the background. They can be the hero, the brilliant student, the adored princess, or the confident, but vulnerable leader, too.
In 2020, as a response to the demands for racial justice and equality heard across the world, Netflix added a Representation Matters collection (under genre), making it so much easier to find shows that cast Black lead roles and/or a racially diverse cast. This collection also allows white kids to be exposed to media reflecting people who don't look like them, promoting inclusivity and growth toward a new social norm.
Finding these shows felt like gold, and these are a few of our family’s favorites.
Young Ben is chosen to bear The Master Piece ( a magical wand) because of his big imagination. It opens a dimension to a gloomy musical world that he is responsible for restoring to life with his ability to create colorful works of art. This animated series is filled with classic songs from Motown (where they live), like "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." Hello, nostalgia and Black art.
Ben and his friends (a white girl and Latino boy) take adventures together as his confidence in his artistic ability grows. When his family is together, true to our ancestral history, they are singing and dancing. And one of the best cultural representations is his little sister's big beautiful kinky afro.
Outside of the first one, each episode is 15 minutes long.
Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous
Darius is a Black teen who won a spot at Camp Cretaceous. He and his dad have studied dinosaurs, and Darius becomes an unexpected (and reluctant) leader of the group, using his knowledge to get him and his fellow campers out of scary encounters in Jurassic World. And something is always going wrong. Although this series is animated, these kids do have to fight for their lives constantly, so it will definitely keep you on your toes. Darius's campmates are a mixed group, too — Latina, British, Asian, and white.
Three babies from a video game are separated from their superhero dad and accidentally transported to earth from another universe by a white teen gamer. He and his friend — a dark-skinned girl (Yara Shahidi) — scramble to protect the tiny ones from the bad alien who wants to steal their powers. Spoiler, all the superheroes are Black, and the babies are the ones who save the day. Watching their powers grow big enough to defeat the villain by the end had us all screaming them on, and the urban music perfectly accommodated the moments.
Fe@rless is loaded with Black celebrity voices, and we had fun trying to guess them. (Hint: Gabrielle Union is one.)
No matter what time of year it is, Jingle Jangle is a movie that makes you want to dance and then hold your fam tight. A toymaker played by Justin Cornwell and Forest Whitaker has his lifelong work stolen, causing him to lose his zest for his craft and his family. But his determined granddaughter bulldozes into his path and saves his company, and reunites him with his daughter. There is something otherworldly about seeing the cast break out into spontaneous, full-scene dances and hearing the soulful songs. These strong Black leads are powerful, and you can't miss the intentionality of the cast diversity.
The Main Event
Leo, a Black middle schooler, loves wrestling. Like, he literally dreams about it at night. He is cared for by his Black grandmother and white dad. He's considered a wrestling nerd and is bullied at school for his passions along with his two best friends, an Indian kid and a white one. While running from the bullies, he stumbles into a retro wrestler's room and finds a mask that, when he puts it on, shreds his shyness and makes everything he does extra confident and cool. (Even the fact that he wet the bed until he was 8.)
All About the Washingtons
Hip Hop legend Rev Run has gone from reality tv to the sitcom world with his show All About the Washingtons. Speed (Rev Run) is older and has decided to retire from rapping and touring in the show. This gives his wife a chance to pursue her dreams. Now he has to adjust to life on the deep side of the parenting pool. The show is light and fun with cute family banter. The cast is mostly Black because the story follows his family.
Mystery, unexpected turns, grief, and racial injustice. Raising Dion is based on the comic book by Dennis Liu. It follows a widowed mother who struggles with her husband's abrupt death while trying to protect her son's rising superpowers from being discovered.
In one scene, his mom is forced to have the talk with him. Dion (a Black boy) is punished by his white principal, who is clearly racist. Even though he's only 7 years old, his mom has the heavy but necessary conversation.
One good thing from our weekly search is seeing that this list is growing. Hopefully one day, shows with diversity and positive Black images will be the standard, and not a special category.