Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Hollywood Magic

My good friend the Doc over at Bitter Daze has written a great post on the Magical Negro.

The "Magical Negro" (MN) is never the protagonist in a film, because she/he must support the star character [..] "The Magical Negro" often appears as someone uneducated and in a low station of life, such as a driver (ex. Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy) or prisoner (ex. Michael Duncan Clarke in Green Mile), and is depicted as wiser and spiritually deeper than the protagonist. The purpose of the "Magical Negro" in the plot is often to help the protagonist --who is almost always white--get out of trouble, and to help this white character recognize his own faults and overcome them. The Black character may literally have special powers, or he may be mysterious in a way that suggests otherworldliness.

Wonderful, hilarious and spot-on, Doc.

I would write a companion piece on the the Magical Indian, but arent all Indians magical? Don't they all speak to the animals, have visions, and say wise things in short mystical sentences, usually accompained by off-camera drums and chanting? The only exception to the Magical Indian would be the Angry Young Indian, who is often a warrior and hates the White Man at first. But once he realises the White Man in question (think Kevin Coster) is a Good White Man TM, he lets go of his anger and learns to love the White Man. At this point he, too, becomes a Magical Indian.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention there are also magical Asians. They often teach not only life lessons, but martial arts. That's way cooler than beadwork.

Dances With Wolves poster from German Release. Graham Greene looks particularly magical.


Blogger Dr. Strangejazz said...

Thnaks for the write up. I greatly appreciate it. Stay tuned for my take on Post trumatic Slave disorder.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

The "Magical Negro" is, I think, a descendent of the "animal helper" -- and I will let readers sort out the implications of that!

12:27 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

I may be off the mark here, but I think that many of these characters might be a misdirected portrayal of how people from other cultures have useful information/solutions to problems that perhaps the white culture has not considered because they are too sure they have all the right answers. I think they also could be a warning the the white culture is getting too far from spirituality and being a part of the earth, even though they will always be dependent on the earth- they are becoming like machines that need someone to program them. The problem is that in the process they are giving the impression that these other cultures are not normal people. It drives a further wedge between the cultures since it follows that perhaps they don't have much in common, or that these people are just another tool to be used.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Yehecatl said...

Mexicans don't get to be magical. Let's see... the barrio thug. The drug dealer. And, the guy who escaped being barrio thug or drug dealer by becoming a police officer. I think Cheech is the closest thing to a magical Mexican.

And Vivian, I seem to recall you calling yourself "Angry Indian Girl" sometimes. Does that mean you are also on your way to becoming a Magican Indian? Better do some intervention, quick. ;)

8:02 AM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

Ah Mr. Chas Clifton. Thank you! That made my day. :)

10:45 AM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

Dear Yehecatl,

It is truly sad when the only magical helper you can come up with for your peeps is Cheech Marin. :P I feel for you. It seems your people will never learn to aid the White Man on his quest to becoming a better person. Unless, of couse, that includes cleaning his house, mowing his lawn, or raising his children.

I have not seen the movie Spanglish yet, but it occurs to me that perhaps Paz Vega is a Magical Mexican..and quite becoming in her maid uniform. The same could not be said for Cheech Marin. :))

btw, I'm starting law school this fall. I think I shall be firmly ensconced in my anger for a while. ;)

12:03 PM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

Hi Sylvana

As always, you bring up some good points and your comments are most welcome!

I think the crux of the issue with the Magical Helpers, as I will call them, is the word "helper". It is the idea that these characters exist only to help the White Man on his path. He is still the central figure and it is his life, his issues, his needs that are most important. In truth, they are the *only* needs that are important. The Magical Helper is only there to help him along, to suffer silently or serve humbly until the White Man can see there is wisdom in the ways of the Magical Helper and become transformed, as if by, well...magic. :)

You mention that the Magical Indian is perhaps there as a warning to White Man to stay closer to the earth or be more spiritual, but those aspects of Indian culture are stereotypes in and of themselves. I'm not saying that they are not legitimate aspects of Native spirituality, but the fact is that Native spirituality is in general there for Natives, not to teach the White Man life lessons or to save him from himself.

I agree with you that such stereotypes do nothing to further understandings between the cultures, and certainly movies have the ability to do that, whether that seems an appropriate goal for Hollywood or not. But the truth is I don't look to Hollywood to make realistic movies about Indians or any other ethnic group. I look to the Chris Eyres and the Sherman Alexies and other small independent filmmakers who are telling Indian stories. So let's see where it all leads us, shall we?

12:35 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

I just want to clarify that although I am saying that the movies might be using these characters for these purposes, I am in no way condoning it, because I know that these characters are in the end just tools/props for the white lead. I don't like it anymore than when they use women as a props for the male lead. It's just not right. What I am saying though is that the people creating these characters may think they are doing one thing and are perhaps unaware of what they actually are doing. I’m sure some of them are quite aware of the prop status they are trying to convey- but I think that some of these writers just don’t realize what a diservice they are actually performing.
It is very easy for even well meaning people to stick their foot in their mouth when it comes to issues of stereotyping. It is very easy for people to fall back on stereotyping when they have had no real experience with a diversity of cultures. Without first hand knowledge they pretty much only have what they have learned from TV or movies or the older generations in their family and community. I grew up in a town virtually surrounded by reservations. Our school was about 10%-25% NA students. Yet even with growing up in this area, I sometimes unintentially offend people through my ignorance while really meaning well and trying to be sensitive. Is there a solution to this problem or should I just get used to the taste of my foot?

12:24 AM  

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