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August 1977: a thirteen-year-old African American girl stands at the gate of an airport holding a bouquet of flowers. Standing with her mother, she is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mahree, a South African school girl her family has offered to host for the upcoming academic school year. The young African American girl, Piper, is excited to meet this South African girl, hoping their African heritage will bond them together. The passengers all exit the plane, and Piper starts to worry that they are at the wrong gate because neither Piper nor her mom spotted a fourteen-year-old South African girl leaving the plane. In hopes of locating Mahree, Piper calls out Marhee’s name. Suddenly, a young white girl turns around and says “I’m Mahree Bok.” Both parties are stunned; Piper pictured Mahree to be black South African, while Mahree pictured her host family to be white.
The scene described above is a scene from the children’s movie, The Color of Friendship, released in 2000. From the outside, this scene seems to be an innocent interaction-- two young girls are meeting for the first time. However, put in the context of the South African apartheid, one learns that this scene carries certain historical truths that warrant a deeper understanding. Its 1977 and South Africa is still entrenched in a strict and oppressive system of racial segregation. When meeting her African American host family for the first time, is it safe to assume that Mahree’s shock comes from a set of apartheid cultural ideologies that believe blacks to be inferior to whites. Directed by Kevin Hook, The Color of Friendship is a children’s TV film that seeks to address issues of race in the context of the South African apartheid. The Color of Friendship raises important questions about the genre of children’s film, memory, and history when analyzed through a historic lens. How can children’s film be used to address important but difficult themes of discrimination and race? Can directors use children’s film to accurately portray historical injustices? These series of questions can be answered through a deep historical analysis of the film, The Color of Friendship. The film’s representation of South African race relations through the portrayal of Steven Biko’s death and Afrikaner ideologies illustrates that difficult historical themes can be accurately portrayed through children’s cinema.
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Koch, Keira B., "Through the Eyes of a Child: The Portrayal of South Africa’s Apartheid in Children’s Cinema" (2017). Student Publications. 644.