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Magical Negro

The Magical Negro is a supporting stock character in American cinema who is portrayed as coming to the aid of a film's white protagonists.[1] Magical Negro characters, who often possess special insight or mystical powers, have long been a tradition in American fiction.[2]

Spike Lee, while discussing films with students at Washington State University and at Yale University, said he was dismayed at Hollywood's decision to continue using the premise; he noted that the films The Green Mile and The Legend of Bagger Vance used the "super-duper magical Negro".[3][4][5]

Critics use the word "negro" because it is considered archaic, and usually offensive, in modern English. This underlines their message that a "magical black character" who goes around selflessly helping white people is a throwback to stereotypes such as the "Sambo" or "Noble savage".[2]

Contents

  • Usage 1
    • Fiction 1.1
    • Barack Obama 1.2
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Usage

Fiction

The Magical Negro is typically but not always "in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint," often a janitor or prisoner.[6] He has no past; he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist.[7][8] He usually has some sort of magical power, "rather vaguely defined but not the sort of thing one typically encounters."[7] He is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is "closer to the earth."[4] The magical negro will also do almost anything, including sacrificing himself, to save the white protagonist, as exemplified in The Defiant Ones, in which Sidney Poitier plays the prototypical Magical Negro.[4]

The Magical Negro serves as a plot device to help the protagonist get out of trouble, typically through helping the white character recognize his own faults and overcome them.[4] Although he has magical powers, his "magic is ostensibly directed toward helping and enlightening a white male character."[6][9] An article in a 2009 edition of the journal Social Issues states the magical negro is an expression of racial profiling within the United States:

These powers are used to save and transform disheveled, uncultured, lost, or broken whites (almost exclusively white men) into competent, successful, and content people within the context of the American myth of redemption and salvation. It is this feature of the Magical Negro that some people find most troubling. Although from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing blacks in a positive light, he is still ultimately subordinate to whites. He is also regarded as an exception, allowing white America to like individual black people but not black culture.[10]

In 2012, writer Kia Miakka Natisse in prosthetic tail (Dolphin Tale) and "an ailing CIA mentor — in both roles [Freeman] reprises the Magical Negro type, coming to save the day for his imperiled white counterparts. One could argue his gadget guru in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises fits under that same umbrella."[11]

Barack Obama

In March 2007, American critic David Ehrenstein used the title "Obama the 'Magic Negro'" for an editorial he wrote for the Los Angeles Times, saying that:

He's there [Obama] to assuage white "guilt" (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.[12]

This inspired parodist Paul Shanklin to write the song "Barack the Magic Negro", which was eventually broadcast by Rush Limbaugh's radio show.[13]

In Christmas 2008, Chip Saltsman, a Republican politician and chair of the Tennessee Republican Party, sent a 41-track CD containing the song to members of the Republican National Committee during the Republican National Committee chairmanship election.[14] The resulting controversy from both Republicans and Democrats resulted in Saltsman's withdrawing from the election one day before voting commenced.[15][16]

In September 2012, an article in Time by cultural critic and TV personality Touré on the re-election of Barack Obama said, "While some may think it complimentary to be considered 'magical', it is infantilizing and offensive because it suggests black excellence is so shocking it can only come from a source that is supernatural."[17]

In May 2015, theater and cultural critic Frank Rich, looking back at the coincidence of the 2015 Baltimore protests with the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC, wrote:

What made this particular instance poignant was the presence in the ballroom of our first African-American president, the Magic Negro who was somehow expected to relieve a nation founded and built on slavery from the toxic burdens of centuries of history.[18]

See also

References

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  6. ^ a b
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  11. ^ Natisse, Kia Miakka, "Morgan Freeman, it’s time to retire the ‘Magical Negro’ role", thegrio.com, June 6, 2012. Retrieved 2015-08-19.
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  18. ^ Rich, Frank, "Why do America’s riots so precisely mirror each other, generation after generation after generation?", New York magazine, May 17, 2015. Retrieved 2015-08-17.

External links

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