Hollywood’s White Savior Complex

“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
  • battlefields

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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. Continue reading “Hollywood’s White Savior Complex”


Willingness to Pay

Companies target poor people. Companies target rich people. In the end, we’re all targeted.

When Heathcliff Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby, donned a modest outfit on his trip to the car dealer, he was attempting to come off as a frugal working class Joe (instead of the wealthy doctor that he was). It may have all been in vain though – he would have been better off sending a white friend to negotiate, regardless of his attire.

Sometimes, retailers do not equate wealth with willingness to pay. Another way of looking at it is that the perceived intelligence/power/respectability of the consumer can affect a retailer’s willingness to exploit/overcharge. A study published in the American Economic Review in 1995 revealed that when using the same scripted bargaining tactics at car dealerships, White men were quoted significantly lower prices than women (of either race) or Black men. Continue reading “Willingness to Pay”

Mac Users Beware, Your Wealth Is No Secret

Mac users are wealthier than their PC counterparts, and companies are eager to exploit that.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that people who use Mac computers are willing to pay up to 30% more than PC users on Orbitz.com. This has led Orbitz to declare that it will show Mac users higher prices.

At first, this seems ridiculous and unfair – the same exact product being offered at different prices. But we shouldn’t be surprised – it’s hardly different than traditional ways of exploiting regional price differentials and targeting certain markets with inflated prices. The only difference is that now, companies use a sort of virtual geography to organize consumers according to wealth and willingness to pay. The type of computer you use is just the tip of the iceberg. Companies are trying to track your every move online – the magazines you read, the products you buy, the clubs you belong to – all in order to determine what sort of consumer you are and how much you are willing to pay for whatever they are selling. Continue reading “Mac Users Beware, Your Wealth Is No Secret”

Missing: Beautiful, Black Women

Hollywood is eager to showcase dark-skinned beauties, just not too dark. Colorism is more subtle than racism, which makes it dangerous in a totally different way.

Maybe it’s because Europeans and their descendants took over the world. Or maybe it’s because for thousands of years, the wealthy and powerful avoided hard labor in the sun. For one reason or the other, fair skin is a common standard of beauty across the world. In the United States, it is certainly possible to be black and beautiful, just not too black. The problem is especially onerous for dark women.

People of color are still reduced to ethnic/racial tropes.  Men of color, typically black men, are often macho action stars (Wesley Snipes, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson) or wise “magical negros” (Morgan Freeman, Michael Clark Duncan). Black women have an even narrower window of opportunity. For women, the archetype of the plump, sassy, god-fearing matriarch has given way to a more contemporary sexual object.

Plenty of black women are considered beautiful, but the most famous ones almost always conform to white standards of beauty. Who are generally considered to be the icons of black beauty in the 21st century? Halle Berry, Beyonce and Alicia Keys? How about Tyra Banks? Rihanna? Even when Beyonce rocks an afro, it’s a tongue-in-cheek comedy throwback to the 70s when it was normal to see Pam Greer sport one.

Of course these women are all gorgeous, but imagine how many darker complexioned women get ignored. Imagine how many little dark girls grow up thinking that there may be something wrong with them. It would be difficult for them to dismiss the pattern as racism because, after all, there are clearly black women on the screens. We must stop thinking of colorism as a word made up by complainers and the politically correct. It is a real and harmful practice.

And yes, Oprah may be one of the more popular and powerful women in the world, but she was never renowned for her beauty. This preference for lighter skin minorities can be found in the newsrooms as well where a disproportionate number of minority anchors are light-skinned.

To achieve mainstream success in Hollywood, one must still be able to pass a brown paper bag test – unless you have a penis and can fire a gun while looking cool.