In 1977, African American Congressman Ron Dellums (Carl Lumbly) is very active in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, especially after Stephen Biko is imprisoned. The Congressman's teenage daughter Piper (Shadia Simmons) convinces him and her mother Roscoe (Penny Johnson) to have an African exchange student live in their home for four months.

Meanwhile back in South Africa, Mahree Bok (Lindsey Haun) asks her mother to make her father, a policeman, agree to her participation in the exchange program. She's very excited about living in America. Her closest confidant is Flora (Melanie Nicholls-King), an African house servant who hopes that she will stay alert there and learn something new.

Both young girls are shocked at the airport to discover that they are of different races. Mahree initially retreats into her bedroom and locks the door. All of her views of blacks are undercut by the Dellums who are well-to-do, sophisticated, and willing to give it a go as her hosts. Out of sheer stubbornness to prove her father and younger brother wrong, Mahree decides to stick it out in America. She and Piper bond at a shopping mall while trying on spiffy outfits. At school, Mahree tries to fit in although she is very uncomfortable with the black exchange students. Congressman Dellums tries his best to make her feel at home especially in a late evening discussion with her about the importance of reading Roots. In school, she's assigned to report on Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Patton, which is banned in South Africa.

Mahree's eyes are really opened when the South African Embassy in Washington forcefully evicts her from the Dellums's home and tells her that as a minor she must return home. For the first time in her life, she feels like a prisoner whose rights and feelings have been denied. A story told to her by Flora becomes a touchstone for Mahree's new appreciation of tolerance and working together with other people to create a world without prejudice and racial hatred.

The Color of Friendship, directed by Kevin Hooks, is based on a true incident. The drama, which originally was presented on television in 2000, won an Emmy Award as "Outstanding Children's Program" and a Humanitas Award for its writer, Paul Qualles.