7 BEST Movies on Disney Plus to Celebrate Black Excellence (2021)

There are so many movies on Disney Plus for you to watch that celebrates Black excellence!

Disney has taken small steps to embracing and showcasing inclusion through their properties including television, films and in their theme parks.

Today, I will be looking at what’s on Disney Plus and what they have featured in their “Celebrate Black Stories Collection. Everything in the collection ranges from shorts and specials, Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOM), Animated and live action films and shorts.

For this list, I will be focusing on the live action and animated films but recommend that you explore all that is available in this collection. This list is not rated in any particular way as well.

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1. Black is King: A Film By Beyonce (2020)

This visual companion to Beyonce’s 2019 album for the live action Lion King film was highly anticipated as it came right on the heels of Hamilton’s film debut on Disney Plus.

The Lion King: The Gift mirrors the plot of the film while telling the story of Africa and its people’s journey as they reclaim and embrace their beauty. The visual companion explores the traditions, cultures while questioning the black identity as a whole.

Black is King Photo from Disney Plus
Photo Courtesy of Disney+

The film was critically acclaimed by all and nominated for best music film , while the song “Brown Skin Girl” was nominated for best music video.

Knowles spent all of her time and effort into curating this project, including placing all of her earnings from Disney into making sure the project had the best of everything from costumes, cast, cinematography and more.

She researched art styles of different African cultures as well as choosing her starring cast and special guests with careful consideration, in order to make sure the film fully maintained diversity and connectivity.

What to Expect from this Black Disney Plus Film

The film goes over many themes such as stereotypes of Africans and Black Americans, Pan-Africanism and Afro-Futurism, black pride and identity as well as the roles of masculine and feminine in the black community and the community as a whole and the role we all play in it.

Black is King Poster Disney Plus
Photo Courtesy of Disney+

This companion to the 2019 Lion King Disney film truly breathes a different life into the beloved 1992 animated classic.

2. Rodger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997)

Considered by some to be the best versions of Cinderella to grace the screen, the film pioneered the way for Walt Disney Television to continue making musical made for TV productions.

This film has been praised over the years for being groundbreaking due to its diverse cast and Singer/Actress Brandy’s role in the film.

Brandy Cinderella on Amazon

At that moment in time, Brandy was considered the first Black American woman to portray Cinderella on screen and only happened because Whitney Houston suggested her for the role.

What to Expect from this Black Disney Plus Film

The film features some of the greats of Broadway entertainment and of the film industry including Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg, Natalie Reid, Victor Garbor and of course, the incomparable Whitney Houston.

Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston on Disney Plus
Photo Courtesy of Disney Co.

The goal of having a universal appeal with its cast was achieved. The score and musical numbers along with the choreography was done masterfully and costuming was done so that everything was vibrant and would stand out.

This film was so well received by all, being praised by Eileen Fitzpatrick of Billboard for staying true to the source material and calling on Brandy as a perfect fit for Cinderella.

The film itself was nominated for seven primetime Emmy awards. It was nominated for three NAACP awards while Brandy and Whoopi were nominated in the same category for Outstanding lead actress in a television film or mini series.

The film debuted in 1997 and to this day, stands the test of time as one of the best incarnations of the classic tale ever produced, even by Broadway standards.

3. Hidden Figures (2016)

This 2016 film of the same name as its source material, a biographical book, tells the tale of three Black American women in the 1960s and their experience while working for NASA during the space race.

Hidden Figures Movie on Amazon

Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, a NASA engineer, Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, the first Black American NASA supervisor, while Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, mathematician on the space race project who calculated flight trajectories for Mission Mercury and several other missions during her time with NASA.

What to Expect from this Black Disney Plus Film

The film was praised for bringing awareness to STEM within the African American community, a push that has being happening for several years as its been noted that many Black American children did not have access or interest in STEM programs.

Kennedy Space Center Apollo White and black rocket.
Kennedy Space Center in Florida

It brought attention to “hidden figures” as the title of the film stated as this story was not well known by many, not even in the African American community regarding these women and the effects they made on such an integral part of American history.

This film also displays Black American women in an excellent manner of intelligent role model.

While the film was criticized for including a “White Savior” trope and slight historical inaccuracy to better fit the story that was being told, the film itself is absolutely enlightening and well crafted with its cinematography, phenomenal cast and the emotional points that hit home for the audience.

Hidden figures was nominated for thirty five awards within the film industry and won twenty eight.

4. Soul (2020)

The most recent of Disney films featuring Black Americans on this list is Disney Pixar’s Soul. Released on Disney Plus on Christmas day 2020, we follow Joe Gardner , a middle school teacher, gets a shot at his dream to play jazz for an audience.

What to Expect from this Black Disney Plus Film

His dream is stopped short as he is transported to the spirit world and inadvertently becomes a mentor for 22, a soul who isn’t ready to go to earth quite yet.

While trying to find a way back to his body, 22 ends up in Joe’s while Joe ends up in a cat’s body instead. The duo work to fix it and along the way learn the lessons they both needed.

Soul Pixar Movie on Amazon

Soul is the first Pixar film to have a Black American protagonist and was praised for the way it showcased the black characters and using Jazz as a character in the movie, and not as a background.

Viewers marveled at how well Pixar animators were able to capture the various skin tones of Black Americans and the various hair textures. Pixar was careful with this as they wanted to be sure that they did not depict racist caricatures or stereotypes within the film.

All-Star Cast

The cast features Jamie Foxx as Joe, Tina Fey as 22, Phylicia Rashaad as Libba, Joe’s Mother, Angela Basset as Dorothea Williams, and Questlove as Dorothea’s drummer who gets Joe his big break. Jon Batiste composed original jazz music for the film and was used as a model for the piano animations.

Critics have praised the film as Pixar’s most ambitious and successful project to date. It has already won several awards and was one of the most watched straight to streaming titles of 2020.

5. Red Tails (2012)

Red Tails follows the stories of the Tuskegee airmen of World War II, Black American members of the United States Army Air Forces. While the characters in the film are fictional, they are based on real men who fought during that time period.

Similar to the women of Hidden Figures, the stories of these men aren’t widely known. During this time period, they were still subject to Jim Crow laws.

Red Tails Movie on Amazon

The military was still racially segregated and therefore these men had to deal with this in and out of the military workforce as the first Black American airmen, fighter and bomber, in the faction.

What to Expect from this Black Disney Plus Film

This film is the last developed by Lucasfilm before the company was sold to the Walt Disney Company and was first developed by George Lucas in 1988.

The film has a genuinely talented cast of African American actors including Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard, who had both starred in different projects about the Tuskegee airmen prior.

It also stars Singer Ne-yo, Rapper Method Man, Michael B. Jordan, Leslie Odom Jr. Nate Parker, David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelley.

The film itself is masterful with its storytelling and emotional tone, making the audience really appreciate Anthony Hemingway’s direction of it in his directorial debut.

Red Tails on Disney Plus
Photo Courtesy of Disney+

However, it does suffer from the issue of historical accuracy as Hidden Figures did and is sadly reduced to a good versus bad plot.

Regardless of this, it does not take away from the core of the story which is that the Tuskegee airmen did suffer through trials and tribulations and still did their job with a manner of dignity and bravery within the military that segregated them from their white counterparts.

Despite this, the film still won 2 NAACP awards and is worth watching even to give audience members who are unfamiliar with this aspect of Black American history a glimpse into how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

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6. Princess and the Frog (2009)

Princess and the Frog debuted in December 2009 and left its mark in animation and Disney’s history with the first Black American Disney Princess, voiced by the spectacular Anika Noni Rose.

What to Expect from this Black Disney Plus Film

Set in 1912 New Orleans, we follow Tiana, an extremely talented, ambitious and hard working young woman who strives to fulfill her and her late father’s dream of opening a restaurant.

Princess and the Frog Film on Amazon

As she runs into a snag when she is so close to her goal, she runs into a talking frog who asks to kiss her in exchange for making her dream a reality.

Instead, she turns into a frog too and together, her and Naveen, a Maldonian prince cursed as a frog, must find Mama Odie, a voodoo priestess deep in the bayou to help them reverse the spell while avoiding the shadow man who wants to use Naveen for his nefarious scheme.

Fun Facts About Princess and the Frog

The film was the last traditionally animated film created by Disney and directed by the incomparable Ron Clements and John Musker, who worked on other Disney films including The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Hercules.

Princess Tiana in a beautiful gown at the Magic Kingdom
Princess Tiana in a beautiful gown at the Magic Kingdom

Disney Legend Alan Menken and Randy Newman collaborated together on the soundtrack. The film itself was a majorly big deal for the Black American community regarding representation.

Disney is considered the biggest animation company in the world and the Disney Princess Franchise line is known worldwide. To have Disney create a positive representation of a Black American woman and have her within this franchise was truly progressive.

All-Star Cast

Oprah Winfrey, who voiced Tiana’s Mother Eudora in the film, was a major champion for the project.

Disney's Villains Party Friday the 13th Dr. Facilier at Walt Disney World
Dr. Facilier at Walt Disney World

The cast also featured big players in the African American acting community and newcomers like Terrence Howard, featured for a second time on this list voicing Tiana’s Father, Keith David as Dr. Facilier, Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen , Jennifer Lewis as Mama Odie and Michael Leon Wooley as Louis the Gator.

Box Office Hit

The film was a critically acclaimed and financial success debuting #1 at the box office on opening weekend at 24.2 million.

Now there have been some issues where some state that Tiana should have showcased more natural looking hair based off her concept art and the seemingly long issue with the length of time in which she was actually human versus a frog.

Nevertheless, this is the first time a Black American in Disney animation had been placed as a main character and it was a huge and progressive step.

Disneyland Splash Mountain
Splash Mountain in Disneyland

The film continues to showcase its importance with Princess Tiana’s inclusion in the Mickey’s Friendship Faire show at Walt Disney World, the Splash Mountain refurbishment where it is being completely transformed into a Princess and the Frog attraction, and a Princess and the Frog television series coming to Disney Plus in 2022.

Questlove Summer of Soul Movie Preview at Disney Springs
Questlove Summer of Soul Movie Preview at Disney Springs

Honorable Mention: Although Questlove’s film (Summer of Soul) is not on Disney Plus, it’s still a powerful documentary that you must watch! It tells the story of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that happened in the same summer as Woodstock, making it a film that definitely deserves to be on this list.

7. Black Panther

It seems only fitting to finish our list with another film that broke barriers with its introduction.

Black Panther Film on Amazon

Black Panther is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and features the first to feature a cast with majority being African American and having a Black American director. It also features the first black superhero to grace the silver screen since Blade.

What to Expect from this Black Disney Plus Film

Black Panther, played fantastically by the incomparable and late Chadwick Boseman , has just taken the title of King of Wakanda after his father lost his life in a bombing in Captain America: Civil War.

We get a chance to see the glorious yet mysterious country of Wakanda as he is officially crowned king. Along the way, there are other people at work , a man named Killmonger, who is determined to find Wakanda and take over as king.

Black Panther on Disney Plus
Screenshot of Disney+

The story is masterfully done with Ryan Coogler at the helm. The costume design and music truly embraced the traditions and cultures of real life African countries while blending afro futurism.

All-Star Cast

The cast is mostly all African/ Black American with the exception of Martin Freeman as Agent Ross and Andy Serkis as Klaue.

This cast is mixed with an old and new generation of fantastic Black actors and actresses featuring the spectacular Angela Basset as T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda and Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s super intelligent sister.

Fun Facts About Black Panther

One of the most notable points of the film is the strength of the women in the film. While T’Challa is the main hero of this film, the women are not simply background players.

The newly crowned king of Wakanda is flanked by the Dora Milaje, a group of skilled and powerful warrior women led by Okoya played by Danai Gurira, known for her role in “The Walking Dead.”

Black Panther Mavel Movie on Disney Plus
Photo Courtesy of Disney+

Even his love interest, Nakia, is seen first on a mission freeing enslaved women from traffickers as a spy and War dog.

Both these women fight by his side in an amazing scene during the film. Even Shuri is seen in Avengers: Infinity War to be far more intelligent that Bruce Banner and Tony Stark, becoming one of the keys to the attempt to stop Thanos.

Box Office Hit

The film broke many records and won several awards. The film grossed $1.347 billion globally. As of this post, it is the highest grossing solo superhero film , third highest grossing superhero film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the highest grossing film directed by a Black American.

The list for accolades is so long, that it has its own Wikipedia page. This film was nominated for several academy awards and won three, with its nomination for Best Picture was a first for a superhero film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Studios.

The cultural importance and impact of the film left its mark in cinema history.

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Wrapping Up…

All the films I have addressed in this post, does not even scratch the surface of all the amazing cinematic contributions Black Americans have brought us. Having this collection on Disney Plus is simply incredible and in its own collection.

Now would be a great time to explore all of the pieces in the collection and begin to grow that appreciation for the culture, joy and pride of the black community within our own Disney community.

7 BEST Movies on Disney+ to Celebrate Black Excellence
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Did your favorite make this list? Share yours in the comments with us!

Until next time, Happy Park Hopping Hipsters!

About the Author

Victoria Wade Disney Writer at ThemeParkHipster

Victoria is a professional solo traveler here to make your solo trips as stress free AND enjoyable as possible for you.

She has over 5 years of Disney and Non-Disney travel experience and was featured by POPSUGAR as one of the Top 50 Black Disney Creators you should follow.

She is a Proud Native to Baltimore, Md but always will call Disney World home. You can find her at Disney Tea with V.

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