12 Black Disney Movies, Both Cartoons & Real Acting
Walt Disney Studios has a complicated history with race, with quite a few unspeakable failures. However, in more recent years, the House of Mouse has begun to tackle racism, both as a storyline and an industry-wide problem. Here are twelve Black Disney movies you can watch on Disney Plus right now.
Animated Black Disney Movies
There are quite a few animated Disney movies that feature Black characters, but they’re often in supporting roles. But for this list, we will focus on those movies where the Black characters are the protagonists. These three movies are great examples of Blackness for children of all ages, and two of them have some serious feminist vibes, too. Watch them all on Disney Plus.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Disney’s modern retelling of the classic fairy tale, The Frog Prince, is set in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the 1920s. A hard working waitress, Tiana, is working hard to make her dream of owning her own restaurant come true. Her friend Charlotte, an heiress, wants to have a party to win over Prince Naveen, and Tiana is overjoyed when Charlotte asks her to cater the event.
Meanwhile, Prince Naveen has an unfortunate run-in with the “evil witch doctor,” Mr. Facilier, who turns him into a frog. By coincidence, he finds Tiana, who he mistakes for a princess, and coerces her to kiss him to turn him back into a prince. She reluctantly agrees, but instead of restoring Prince Naveen to his original form, Tiana turns into a frog herself!
The first animated Black Disney princess (more on that later) is a powerhouse of ambition, but the movie isn’t perfect by any means. For example, Tiana spends most of the movie not as a Black princess but as a frog, and the evil Voodoo “witch doctor” imagery is a little insensitive. Besides, why is Disney’s first Black princess catering a party for her wealthy white friend to meet the handsome white prince?
Still, even with all that, Tiana is a princess that children of all ages can look up to, with her ambitious dreams and dedication to herself, and the world was long overdue for Black representation in the House of Mouse. The music is a blast, as you can hear in the teaser trailer video, and overall, The Princess and the Frog is a great time.
Like Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, Joe Gardner has big dreams, too. After years as a middle school music teacher, Joe finally gets his big break as a jazz pianist when he auditions for legendary jazz singer Dorothea Wiliams. She loves him, and just like that, she gives Joe the job of his dreams on the spot.
As he races home to get ready for his first big performance as a professional jazz musician, Joe falls into a utility hole and wakes up in a strange place somewhere between life and the afterlife. Rather than giving in and going on to the “Great Beyond,” Joe decides to find a way back to Earth where he’ll finally get to live out the dreams he fought so hard for.
A cynical new soul named 22 may just be Joe’s ticket home, but to get there, he’s going to have to convince 22 that life on Earth is worth living. It’s an inspirational story about what it means to be passionate about something and what makes life worth living, but it’s not without its flaws.
Like The Princess and the Frog, Soul falls back on the familiar trope of turning Black characters into non-human entities, separating Joe from his Blackness by turning him into an amorphous blue-green blob. Throughout the entire movie, Joe spends roughly 20 minutes as a black man.
Still, it’s another step in the right direction toward a more even representation of race in the media. The movie is funny and touching in all the right ways, and despite its flaws, it’s a great time all around, as you can see in the trailer video.
The Proud Family Movie (2005)
Penny Proud and her multigenerational family became one of the first Black family dynamics to air on The Disney Channel when the original series first aired in 2001. The Proud Family Movie finds Penny getting ready to celebrate her 16th birthday until her father, Oscar, catches her kissing a boy.
Instead of a Sweet 16 party, Oscar decides to take the whole family on a magical cruise, including Penny, her mother, Trudy, her twin siblings, Bebe and Cece, and their grandmother, the loud and proud Suga Mama.
Unfortunately, the cruise is not what it first appears to be, and Penny has to rescue her family from the evil Dr. Carver, who’s kidnapped them in an attempt to steal Oscar’s top-secret Proud Snack recipe. Meanwhile, peanut-shaped Proud Family clones are back in Penny’s hometown, wreaking havoc on her home and life.
The Disney Channel Original Movie trailer video shows its age, but there’s excellent news for Proud Family fans. A brand new original series, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, a brand new original series, is coming to Disney Plus in February! The teaser video looks like everything the original Proud Family was and more.
Other Black Disney Movies
The list of animated Black Disney movies is sadly pretty short, and the few that are there tend to erase their characters’ Blackness. But the House of Mouse does a much better job with its collection of live-action Black Disney Plus movies. Some are a new twist on an old tale, while others tell true historical stories in a way we’ve rarely seen them before.
Other Black Disney+ movies don’t go out of their way to embody or promote diversity – they just do. These movies are radical in how normal and unremarkable they make Blackness. Because the only thing surprising about a Black hero or heroine is that we don’t see them more often. You can find all of these movies on Disney Plus now.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997)
Tiana may be the first official Black Disney princess, but Brandy as Cinderella wore that tiara more than 20 years before The Princess and the Frog hit the big screen. Only 18 years old at the time and brand new to the big screen, R&B icon Brandy embodied the traditionally European Cinderella in a new and delightfully modern way.
But Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a movie beyond its time for more than just the main character’s race. Everything about the film is diverse, from the cast to the wardrobe, which ranges from medieval to midcentury and still manages to look cohesive.
The most magical thing about the movie is how it never addresses the diversity of the characters as anything other than fact. There’s no comment about how Cinderella is Black while her stepmother and stepsisters are white. No one questions how a Filipino prince is an heir to the throne of a Black queen and white king. The cast is diverse because it is, and it goes completely unstated.
Even in 2020, this quiet war cry of diversity would be worth praising, but in 1997, it was utterly revolutionary. The original trailer video is dated, but you can still watch Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Disney Plus and see for yourself how timeless it really is.
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
Meg Murry’s father, Alex, disappeared suddenly and mysteriously four years ago, but she can’t seem to get past it. Her teachers still whisper speculatively over why he left, and the other kids tease her relentlessly for it. Even her principal thinks Meg is still using his disappearance as an excuse to act out and misbehave.
Then Meg meets Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, three wise women who tell her that her father is alive and that she has the power to save him. Together, the Misses take Meg, her brother, Charles Wallace, and her classmate, Calvin O’Keefe, on a strange adventure through time and space to save Alex.
A Wrinkle in Time was written in 1962 by Madeleine L’Engle, a white woman whose novels deal with equality issues but never really explicitly tackle race. Nothing in the series says that Meg is a biracial girl or that the Misses are such an ethnically diverse trio. But director Ava DuVernay chose to represent Black girl magic in a bold yet quiet way.
Like Cinderella, A Wrinkle in Time simply is diverse, and it doesn’t bother to make any kind of overt statement about it. Meg may be a Black girl, but in Ava DuVernay’s universe, there’s nothing remarkable at all about a Black girl saving the day. A Wrinkle in Time normalizes that in a very inspiring way. Check out the trailer video, and watch the whole film on Disney Plus.
The Cheetah Girls (2003)
The Cheetah Girls is a fictional pop musical group of four teenage girls trying to make it in the music business. This diverse group of young women stars Raven Symone as Galleria, 3LW’s Adrienne Houghton (formerly Baylon) as Chanel, Kiely Williams as Aqua, and Sabrina Bryan as Dorinda. They form a “girl group” so dynamic they look like the Spice Girls reloaded.
The Cheetah Girls Disney Channel Original Movie follows the group as they’re offered the opportunity of a lifetime by music producer Jackal Johnson. He promises to make their dreams come true. Of course, all that glitters isn’t gold, and Galleria, Chanel, Aqua, and Sabrina have to decide between fame, dreams, and friendship.
The movie is playful, fun, and a little cheesy, but the music is as catchy as every other pop song released in the early 2000s, and the actresses are genuinely talented performers. In its time, it ignited a whole new wave of “Girl Power” attitude and gave a generation of Disney fans four diverse role models to look up to and be inspired by. At its core is the message to be true to yourself.
The trailer video will remind you of how far movies have come in nearly two decades, but the nostalgia will have you wanting to watch it all over again. And if you love it, there are two sequels – The Cheetah Girls 2 and The Cheetah Girls: One World. That sounds like one empowering movie night.
Sister Act (1992)
Deloris Wilson, played by Whoopi Goldberg, is a Reno lounge singer performing in a Casino owned by her lover, Vince. But her whole world is turned upside down when she walks into Vince’s office to find him killing one of his employees. Now, as a critical murder witness, Deloris is on the run from the mob, and the police have to keep her alive until trial so she can testify against Vince.
So they put her in the last place Vince would look – a convent. Mother Superior reluctantly takes Deloris in, keeping her secret as best she can and putting her in charge of helping the choir learn to carry a tune. As the choir improves and the church grows, Deloris’s true identity becomes increasingly challenging to keep under wraps.
As you can see in the trailer video, Deloris is loud, flashy, energetic, and Black – everything that the other nuns are not. Despite everyone’s initial reservations, they all find a way to open their hearts and see the world from another person’s point of view. By Sister Act 2, the tables have turned, and now the nuns need Deloris as much as she once needed them.
But did you know that Bette Middler was initially considered for the role of Deloris? Sure, she would have stood out like a sore thumb amongst the nuns, too, but the choice to cast a Black woman in 1992 when nothing in the licensing materials required it was a bold one. Even better, instead of falling onto the old “white savior” trope, Deloris teaches the nuns as much as she learns from them.
Black Panther (2018)
The Black Panther character was born in 1966 amid the civil rights era. Unlike other Marvel superheroes whose titles were secret alter egos, Black Panther was the official title of the King of the Wakanda nation. After 17 Marvel movies, the character came to life on the big screen, bringing Black representation to mainstream film in a brilliant way.
Even before its release date, Black Panther had already made history as the first mega budget Hollywood film ever with a Black director and majority Black cast. That’s not just among Marvel movies or even superhero movies either – that’s among all mainstream movies, ever. Black representation in entertainment is the best it’s ever been in Black Panther.
In the film, T’Challa ascends to the Wakanda throne after his father’s death and must protect the energetic source of his nation’s secret technological legacy from internal and external threats. It’s one of the most exciting Marvel movies ever, and it brought Blackness to a mainstream audience in a way that no film had ever done before.
The trailer video taps into the superhero side of the franchise, but don’t be fooled. This film is for everybody, superhero fan or not. It’s the most brilliant representation of a majority Black culture that Hollywood has ever seen. You can watch it all on Disney Plus.
Remember the Titans (2000)
Remember the Titans may be a movie about a football team, but it’s so much more than a football movie. In the 1990s, more than 20 years before Black Panther would bring a predominantly Black cast to Hollywood, Gregory Allen Howard struggled to get a story about Blackness made at all.
Time and time again, film studios told him to make it about football and get rid of the “race stuff,” but Howard stood firm in his vision, and it was Disney that finally gave the movie a chance. Even then, Howard refused to let it become overly “Disney-fied.” When the movie was released, Remember the Titans was a sensation that its own crew couldn’t have even predicted.
The film tells the true story of the T.C. Williams High School Titans, a newly integrated football team with a new Black head coach at a formerly white school. The Titans face their own internal racial struggle while their community does its best to oust their coach from the team and from the town.
The young men of the Titans manage to pull it all together, inspiring their town and the people in it to take a step toward the right side of history. In the same way that Black Panther is more than a superhero movie, Remember the Titans is a movie for more than just football people. Its plot is absolutely irresistible to sports fans and non-fans alike. Check out the trailer video, and watch the whole thing on Disney Plus.
Glory Road (2006)
Glory Road, from the same producer who gave Remember the Titans its big break, is not a sports movie, although it is about college basketball. In the same way that its predecessor illustrates the growth of an integrated team through football success, Glory Road tells the story of the redemption and triumph of a basketball team.
The Texas Western Miners have never been a stellar team, but their new coach, Don Haskins, isn’t afraid of a challenge. As a former high school girls’ basketball coach, he’s dealt with budget constraints before. But the team can’t recruit good players when they have such a weak team, to begin with.
But Don knows that there are talented Black basketball players on the streets who the other colleges won’t take. He recruits seven of them, making the formerly all-white Texas Western Miners more than half Black. As in Remember the Titans, the team faces continuous discrimination, but they fight through it to win the 1966 NCAA national championship.
Nearly 20 years later, the “white savior” trope is played out, but in 2006, this movie was nearly as revolutionary as its predecessor. Watching basketball today, it’s easy to forget that the game wasn’t always as diverse as it is now, and Glory Road is one piece of the story of how we got here. Watch the Glory Road trailer video, and catch the whole movie on Disney Plus.
Hidden Figures (2016)
In 1961, the United States and Russia were in a fierce competition to make it to space, and when Russia’s Sputnik 1 made it to orbit, NASA decided to go one step further, putting a man into orbit. Hidden Figures tells the previously unknown story about Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, the three brilliant Black women who made that mission possible.
In Hampton, Virginia, these three women broke racial, gender, and professional barriers as they blazed a trail through NASA with their genius, determination, and bold determination to take up space in a room full of white men. Along the way, they brought attention to those barriers in a way that left the door wide open for Black men and women to follow in their footsteps.
Today, we know the story of John Glenn, the first man in space, who orbited for three days, beating Russia’s space program to the punch. Until the release of Hidden Figures, we didn’t know that three Black women got him there and ensured that he made it safely back to Earth.
Black Is King (2020)
Black Is King, a visual album by Beyonce, tells a story inspired by the recent remake of The Lion King. In the film, a young African king returns to his homeland to take the throne after being sent away as a baby. The story is a genuinely Afrocentric tale and a celebration of Blackness and Black heritage.
As the narrator and guide, Beyonce calls upon Black people to see themselves as the powerful royalty they are. The inherent and institutionalized racism in America and around the world has limited the mirrors in which Black people could see themselves. Beyonce calls on the Black diaspora to remember their magic in this musical masterpiece.
Even now, there are very few movies that celebrate Blackness the way Black is King does. Where some Black Disney movies are revolutionary in the understated way they do Blackness, this one does the complete opposite. It is a loud and brilliant proclamation of the gift it is to be Black, and absolutely everyone should see it. Check out the trailer video and watch the whole film on Disney Plus.
Best Black Disney Movies Ever, Final Thoughts
For so long, media representation of Blackness has been limited to supporting characters, but the tides are beginning to turn. Each of these Black Disney movies is a step in the right direction towards normalizing Blackness in Hollywood and celebrating the power of diversity. And when you’ve watched all the movies on this list, there are plenty more Black movies to choose from.