The portrayal of strong African American characters in Hollywood films has been applauded by critics and scholars alike, but sociologist Matthew W. Hughey (Social Problems, August 2009) isn’t clapping. He examines films that feature “magical” or godlike black characters who transform the life of a lost and broken white character. Think The Green Mile, The Matrix, or Bruce Almighty. In these films, the black character — usually uneducated and lower class — makes it his or her mission to redeem the white character and help re-establish moral purity. Seemingly, the black character’s sole purpose in the film is to save the white character from some unholy plight.
Hughey argues that these apparently viewer-friendly depictions of race relations are bred from fantasies of a post-racial America. Instead of promoting strong black characters and cooperative racial relationships (as these films appear to do), he argues that they instead further white superiority and anti-black stereotypes of contented servitude. Additionally, in most of the films, the black character disappears from the plot after fixing the white character’s problems, signaling their secondary position in the film. Looks like being cast as God is far from heavenly after all. Sorry, Morgan Freeman.