People of Color in Cinema About Civil Rights, Romance and Holidays

Minorities are underrepresented in film but gaining ground

Although Hollywood movies now routinely feature people of color, the film industry still has strides to make in its portrayal of racial minority groups. Take the scores of holiday films Hollywood cranks out each year. Actors of color rarely star in such vehicles. While a number of black films about Christmas exist, holiday movies starring Latinos and Asian Americans remain few and far between.

On the other hand, actors of color can always be found in interracial romance films. In the decades since “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” first debuted, this film genre has grown tremendously. Filmmakers have explored interracial love stories involving same-sex couples, couples where both partners are ethnic minorities and historic couples who faced fierce discrimination for marrying interracially. In the same vein, the fight for civil rights in the U.S. has been chronicled extensively in cinema. Both documentaries and fictionalized accounts of the civil rights movement have succeeded in Hollywood.

This roundup of films about civil rights, interracial relationships and the holidays highlights some of the film industry’s notable offerings on such subjects.

Multicultural Holiday Films

"The Preacher's Wife" is a Christmas movie starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington. Touchstone Pictures

Do you watch the same classic Christmas films every year? If so, consider a change. Contemporary movies about the holidays stand out for having racially diverse casts, romances and comedic situations absent from their black-and-white counterparts. If you want to mix it up this holiday season by taking in films that depict how a variety of ethnic groups observe Christmas and other religious events, learn more about movies such as “The Preacher’s Wife,” “Nothing Like the Holidays” and “Christmas in the Clouds.”

In recent years, filmmakers have begun to portray how blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans celebrate the holidays.

Interracial Romance Films

"Liberty Heights" depicted an interracial romance between a young couple. Warner Brothers

Just a handful of decades ago, movie theaters in the U.S. South refused to screen films that depicted interracial romances. How times have changed. Now films about interracial relationships run the gamut. Filmmakers have portrayed interracial teen romances, interracial romances involving historic figures and interracial romances from the perspectives of women of color on the big screen. And while movies about interracial love once almost exclusively focused on black-and-white couples, today filmmakers have depicted how interracial relationships play out among Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and others.

This exhaustive list of interracial romance films has something for everybody—from the romantic at heart to those interested in viewing cinema about how interracial couples have overcome discrimination.

Contemporary Films About the Civil Rights Movement

HBO's "Boycott" depicts the Montgomery bus boycott. HBO Films

The civil rights movement came to a close in the late 1960s. In the decades since then, dozens of movies have debuted about this turning point in U.S. history. Dramatizations of the civil rights movement have sometimes sparked controversy. Critics take issue with the fact that whites so often emerge as protagonists of these films, even though African Americans by and large created, led and sustained the civil rights movement.

The portrayal of movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. has also proven troublesome for filmmakers. In death, King has been turned into a saint-like figure rather than a thinking, feeling man with his own insecurities and fears. Contemporary films about the civil rights struggle have striven to show King as three-dimensional.

A Multicultural List of Civil Rights Documentaries

"Eyes on the Prize" depicts the civil rights movement. PBS

There’s no better way to understand the struggle for civil rights than to see it unfold firsthand. Documentary films about the civil rights movement feature video footage of marchers being hosed down, beaten by police and hauled off to jail. Such documentaries allow viewers to get a sense of the movement’s emotional and psychological pulse. They also provide an opportunity to see activists reliving the movement during interviews and discussing why they decided to get involved in a movement that cost many their jobs, homes and even lives.

Of course, all civil rights films don’t center on the black struggle against Jim Crow in the South. Documentaries have been made about Cesar Chavez’s landmark activism for farm workers and Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II by the U.S. government in violation of their civil liberties.