'The Magical Negro' - How Film's Offensive Stock Character Illustrates America's Changing Views of Barack Obama

‘The Magical Negro’ is a trope in American cinema in which a white protagonist is "saved" through the efforts of a self-sacrificing, wise, spiritually prophetic and often mysterious African-American. Examples include Will Smith in ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’ and Michael Clarke Duncan in ‘The Green Mile’. It is worth exploring the idea that white America once viewed Obama as a type of ‘Magical Negro’ when elected in 2008; interpreting his message of "hope and change" as an oath to drastically improve race relations. However, by 2016, race relations are infinitely more strained, and many who initially supported Obama now feel disgruntled and let down by what they see as a failure to make good on his promises (even though his rhetoric never truly specified this issue to that great a degree, and was spun by the media to reflect the general public’s desires). The Right also manipulates this issue to use as a strike against him. How might the specifics of the cinematic stereotype reflect this surge of negative feelings toward Obama? Do white Americans subconsciously rely on this trope politically as an effort for them to feel safe and comfortable with black people (specifically men)? Has film conditioned them to expect this from black men of influence?

  • This is interesting topic. I think comparing films from the periods before Obama, during his presidency, and the recent portrayals to examine any significant changes. Also, if there is a negative portrayal, in what aspect? - i.e incompetency or personality flaw etc. – idleric 7 years ago
  • Do white Americans subconsciously rely on this trope politically as an effort for them to feel safe and comfortable with black people (specifically men)? This is a very good question. The number of negative portrayals greatly outweighs the number of positive portrayals of African-American males in the media. Whoever writes on this topic should look at some causes as to why people don't feel safe and comfortable around non-White people. This includes non-White to non-White interactions. Perhaps traditional media outlets are some of the greatest culprits in perpetuating negative interactions amongst diversity. The person who writes on this topic could also look into digital identities developed and the success of diverse interactions online. – Munjeera 7 years ago
  • Someone I think would be perfect to contact about this idea would be Siobhan Carter-David from Southern Connecticut State University. I recently presented at a conference with her and we were paired on the "Race and Symbolic Objects" panel. Her utilization of pop culture to examine blackness in America was very impressive. carterdavis1@southernct.edu Give it a shot! – Dillon Raborn 7 years ago
  • Thanks - great idea! – Katheryn 7 years ago

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