9 Family Films That Were Better With a Black Lead

Just like 'The Little Mermaid,' these binge-worthy family films got better with Black actors.

The Wiz
Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

From the moment Disney announced in 2019 that Halle Bailey would play Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, publicity about the film has brought a wave of outrage over the fact that a Black woman is playing the main character.

One scroll through social media and you'll be inundated with racist comments about character changes, such as in The Little Mermaid or Jodie Turner-Smith playing Anne Boleyn, and movies that feature strong Black leads such as The Woman King and the upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever movies.

Black characters who take on roles that weren't initially Black have been met with backlash and trending hashtags about boycotting the movies. Strong Black leads have created a growing course of abuse and anger that Black actors and moviegoers have endured for years.

However, what's missed in the backlash is that many movies became better when a lead was changed to a Black person. Here's a list of nine family films that are better with a strong Black lead. Add these movies to your must-watch list.

The Wiz

The Wiz is a musical reimagining of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, produced by Universal Pictures and Motown Productions. The film features an all-star, all-Black cast, including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Mabel King, and Richard Pryor.

The movie became a cult classic with Black audiences, Michael Jackson's fanbase, and Oz enthusiasts. It's still watched and loved by audiences worldwide. The remaking of a classically white film with a cast of Black music legends made the series more inclusive and incredibly entertaining. The film was innovative and broke barriers when it was released.

Gabrielle Union as Zoey Baker in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
Merrick Morton/20th Century Studios

Cheaper by the Dozen

Originally released in 1950, and remade in 2003, a new remake of Cheaper by the Dozen was released in March of 2022. The movie was directed by the Black-ish producer Gail Lerner.

This version changed the main characters with Gabrielle Union as Zoe Baker and Zach Braff raising a blended family. The remake does a great job capturing the nostalgia but brings a fresh perspective with Union's portrayal as the matriarch.

The change to a Black lead modernizes what has always been a uniformly white family in these types of movies. It brings in the element of an interracial relationship while showing Union as a strong, relatable Black lead.

Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Marvel Studios' THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Captain America

Anthony Mackie has been a staple in the Avengers movies playing Sam Wilson, the Falcon — sidekick and friend to Steve Rodgers (Captain America).

In Disney Plus's series The Falcon and the Winter Solider, we see Sam Wilson's character struggling with the responsibility Rodgers left him at the end of Avengers: End Game. Wilson was to take up the mantle of Captain America.

In the series, Wilson struggles with his responsibilities as a superhero and being a person of color. He learns that Isaiah Bradley was one of 300 African-American soldiers used as guinea pigs as part of the government's attempts to replicate the Super Soldier Serum.

There comes a point when Wilson has to accept his calling to represent the under-represented in a crucial societal role and become Captain America.

Casting a Black lead in the Falcon series and future Avenger movies strengthened the Marvel series. Mackie is a perfect Sam Wilson, will make an excellent Captain America, and reflects better representation.

Cinderella, Brandy and Whitney Houston


Rodgers & Hammerstein's (1997) Cinderella is a remake of the 1957 musical. The remake is co-produced by Whitney Houston, who also appears as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. The new version of the classic features a change in characters with Brandy as Cinderella and a racially diverse cast.

Brandy as Cinderella makes this a better version of the film in that diversity is reflected more accurately and in Brandy's talent as a singer. The story of this remake of Cinderella stays fairly consistent with the original but what's different is the representation and a shift to reflect how society changed from 1957 to 1997.

The decision to use a diverse cast came as producers wanted to show how we've evolved. Brandy became the first Black actress to portray Cinderella on screen. This movie should be on your watchlist.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sony Pictures Animation

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

This 2018 animated superhero film features the Marvel Comics character Miles Morales who becomes the Spiderman of his Universe. Actor Shameik Moore plays the role of Miles Morales. The film changes the lead from what has historically been a white role to a person of color playing one of the main characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film was released during the same period as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, delivering entertainment in an inclusive way. What also makes this film special is a focus on Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teen living in Brooklyn, and the diversity of that community.

The storyline is fresh and exciting, and everything in the film reflects current times. It's a fun family movie that will keep your kids interested and show them a different version of Spiderman.

CREED II, from left: Sylvester Stallone, Wood Harris, Michael B. Jordan, Jacob 'Stitch' Duran
Barry Wetcher/MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

Creed II

Based on the original Rocky movies, the Creed series brings a fresh take with Michael B. Jordan playing Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed.

The first Creed movie was powerful, introducing the new storyline and shining a light on this young Black boxer. The second movie is underrated and a must-watch.

It tells the story of Adonis becoming the heavyweight champion of the world and trying to make a name for himself in the shadow of his father's legacy.

Creed lost a heavyweight fight to Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, but kept his belt due to a technicality. The story follows Adonis as he has to rebuild his mind, body, and spirit while becoming a first-time father.

The journey back to redemption was a representative experience of many families of color. Michael B Jordon was the best choice, and a strong Black lead created a series of movies we'll be able to enjoy and feel represented in for a long time.

I AM LEGEND, Will Smith
Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

I Am Legend

This 2007 American post-apocalyptic film is based on a 1954 novel of the same name. It stars Will Smith as US Army virologist Robert Neville and is set in New York City. A virus created to cure cancer morphed and turned humans into nocturnal mutants. Dr. Neville is immune and works on a cure.

This movie shows a strong Black lead as an intelligent scientist focused on helping humanity. Smith's performance is masterful, and the message makes for fun family viewing. What's good is this movie shares some interesting concepts that would entertain even younger children.

Eddie Murphy In 'Dr. Dolittle 2'

Dr. Dolittle

This 1998 family film is based on a series of novels of the same name from 1920. There was a version of the movie released in 1967. The movie was remade in 1998 with a Black cast, starring Eddie Murphy as the main character. Murphy was masterful in his performance as Dr. Dolittle.

The movie's premise is that John Dolittle can hear animals from a young age. As an adult, he's a doctor and surgeon. On a family vacation, a dog starts talking to him, causing him to think he's having a mental breakdown. Over time, he learns to appreciate his gift and embraces being able to hear and help animals.

This is a fun family movie in which changing to a Black lead strengthens the storyline.

LAST HOLIDAY, Queen Latifah, LL Cool J
Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

The Last Holiday

A remake of the 1950 film of the same name, the Last Holiday changed leads to Queen Latifah and LL Cool J.

The premise is that Georgia Byrd is a salesperson in the cookware department at Kragen's Department Store and a Baptist choir singer who longs to cook professionally.

She bumps her head and, in the hospital, discovers she has several brain tumors resulting from a rare terminal neurological disorder called Lampington's disease. Her insurance doesn't cover the operation, so she becomes at peace with only having a few weeks to live, quits her job, liquidates her assets, and sets off on a dream vacation.

Georgia heads to Europe to live her best life, only to be told she should spend the last few days with family. She goes back, accomplishes some of her goals, and marries LL Cool J's character. She lived her best life until the end.

Changing the leads to strong Black characters works well in this remake. Queen Latifah and LL Cool J do a great job bringing the story to life in a diverse way.

These are some great movies you should consider watching (or rewatching) this weekend. As you watch them, take pride in knowing these Black leads made these films better and more representative of our society and often overlooked achievements of people of color.

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