Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lest we forget what else the LA Times brought us ...

Barack, the Magic Negro.

I'd never read that March, 2008 article by David Ehrenstein before. I had assumed it was a mere puff piece on Obama. Instead, it was a patently offensive smear on all white people as closet racists. Speaking of the Magical Negro type in the movies and American culture:

He's there 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.
Listing inoffensive black actors such as Sidney Poitier and Morgan Freeman, Ehrenstein concludes that this pattern and the popularity of the type must mean that whites hunger for such a type to ease their guilt.

But the logic isn't there. Just because a series of similar characters appears in popular films doesn't mean there is a hunger for its type. As a counterpoint, consider the decision faced by the screenwriter, director, and others involved in the film. Should the character be black or white? Should they tailor the script to the actor, or pick the actor based on the script? In designing the film, should they have the character be aggressively sexual, and if so, how does that affect the plot?

It's a lot more complicated than some imaginary racialist conspiracy.

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