Have you ever enjoyed something as a child that you realize as an adult was quite possibly the most ludicrous, microaggressive drivel you’ve ever partaken in? The Color of Friendship is exactly that.
Set in 1977, The Color of Friendship is a story about “tolerance” and friendship between Mahree Bok (Lindsey Haun) and Piper Dellums (Shadia Simmons). Mahree is a White South African whose policeman father actively works to oppress Black people in the country under apartheid for the benefit of settlers such as himself. Of course, his wife and children, including Mahree, are varying degrees of disgustingly racist themselves, with Mahree stopping just shy of physical abuse of Black people, which she thinks is wrong, though she’s quite comfortable with passive racism. Mahree is so socially tone deaf that she actually assumes that, unless they encounter physical violence, Black people enjoy their position beneath her, and even assumes the Bok housemaid, Flora (Melanie Nicholls-King), whom she knows nothing about and has no interest in outside of her servitude, is her “best friend”. >___>
Piper, the daughter of a Black American conservative politician, might be even more tone deaf than Mahree. Her family agrees to host a South African student in their home, and the girl, cocooned safely in class privilege and without internet access, doesn’t know that there are White South Africans >___> She is so excited to host a real African (cue massive disappointment) and Mahree assumes her visit with the family of Congressman Dellums will afford her the same privileges that she has at home, with the novelty of interacting with (White) Americans.
Mahree is used to people like Flora, who must (for the sake of her employment) take a path of gentleness and persuasion, all of which Mahree is too privileged and self-absorbed to learn from, but she isn’t ready for the Dellums family to be Black, and she’s definitely not ready for them to be economically equal to her family. The girl is literally in tears to be in the home of an affluent Black family. *plays world’s smallest violin* Despite Piper’s disappointment, she doesn’t treat Mahree like an inferior, and tries to assuage her, but we are supposed to see Piper’s (understandable) anger at Mahree’s temper tantrum as racism, “working both ways”.
As we watch Mahree’s culture shock, fauxpression, and gradual ascension into becoming a bearable human being, with the Dellums being used as an unwitting teaching moment for the little brat, we are supposed to feel warmly towards her, forgetting that she has been surrounded by Black people her entire life, has them working in her home, and it took visiting an upper-middle class Black family in an entirely different country in order for her to see them as equals. Thank goodness the Dellums had money, or she’d still be racist! #sarcasm
The tagline of The Color of Friendship is that friendship has no colour, which is a dangerous narrative, pushing the idea that the only way to overcome racism is to stop seeing colour, culture, and other differences, rather than seeing and embracing them. The movie also passively pushes the patently false narrative that racism no longer exists in the United States. After all, Black South Africans are being beaten, routinely passed over for jobs, abused, killed in jail, and killed when running for political office. Nothing we can relate to at all. >___>
I give this thinly-veiled piece of Kumbaya propaganda a 3.25, and I’m taking off 0.25 because Disney had the audacity to broadcast this rag every single Black History Month. They tried it.