“it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them…Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.”
This from an article by Kate Masur in the NY Times. I’m not entirely sure the movie was devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery. It was called “Lincoln” after all, not “Emancipation”.
I have a difficult time saying that any particular film is a “white savior” film. No single film should bear the burden of collective problem in the industry. The white savior complex is meaningful only when seen as a pattern.
White saviors can be found in many places but thrive in the following environments:
- inner city schools
- American courtrooms
- anywhere in Africa
- sporting grounds
By themselves, these movies do not portend any significant ideas on the depiction of race in movies. Seen together, the pattern is undeniable.
The settings may change but invariably, Hollywood is in love with stories of white people going out of their way to save the “others”. You will notice that many of the themes repeat over the years.
You would be correct in noticing that several of these movies are based on historical events. Is it the film maker’s fault that it was a white lawyer who defended the captured slaves in Amistad? That a white man was actually the head of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as depicted in Glory? While these may be based on actual events, it’s no coincidence that Hollywood chooses to make such heroic movies, only if the savior is white.
There are of course some who go out of their way to insert white saviors and deserve ridicule. The Last Airbender took existing anime characters who were Asian and made them white for the feature film version. The film also took the liberty of departing from the original by making all the bad guys brown skinned.
But surely there must be black savior films as well. Don’t be fooled. When Will Smith beats up the aliens in Independence Day, he’s saving the world, not just white people (it should also be noted that it was the white scientist who cracked the alien code and the white farmer who finally blew up the alien space craft). When Denzel Washington coaches the football team in Remember the Titans, he is coaching an integrated team, not a white one. In other words, white people on their own never need help from others – only in those instances in which everyone needs help.
There are certainly black heroes (very few Latino or Asian though) in the movies but when a member of one group saves someone from another, it’s always whites doing the saving. I could only find two movies with clear black saviors, and unlike all the white savior movies, one of them is a comedy, as if the idea is in and of itself laughable.