'Magical Negro': the racist cliche Hollywood won't drop

One trope in filmmaking that is sure to draw scorn from culturally aware critics is the "Magical Negro" — a black character whose sole purpose is to help the white protagonist. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • From Whoopi Goldberg's psychic Oda Mae Brown in Ghost (1990) to Chief Gus Mancuso, played by Laurence Fishburne, in 2016's Passengers, it is a relatively new device with roots deep in the traditions of American storytelling.
  • A repeat offender, Morgan Freeman has arguably played versions of the trope in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Shawshank Redemption, Bruce Almighty and its sequel, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and, most recently, last year's Ben-Hur remake.
  • Critics have argued that obvious examples of discrimination, such as the under-representation of minorities on both sides of the camera, are obscuring this more subtle, insidious form of racism. 

One trope in filmmaking that is sure to draw scorn from culturally aware critics is the "Magical Negro" — a black character whose sole purpose is to help the white protagonist.
From Whoopi Goldberg's psychic Oda Mae Brown in Ghost (1990) to Chief Gus Mancuso, played by Laurence Fishburne, in 2016's Passengers, it is a relatively new device with roots deep in the traditions of American storytelling.

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