For the past 2-3 years, the idea of “Black Girl Magic” exploded on social media platforms as a celebration of the wonder, joy, and triumph of Black women and girls. I remember when Cashawn Thompson began spreading the word that “Black Girls Are Magic!” and we collectively jumped on the positivity train. Why the focus on us? Because for centuries, we have been relentlessly subjected to the cruelty forged at the intersection of sexism and racism, and it appears that we have finally decided we are not going to take it anymore.
Around the globe, we are celebrating ourselves in ways unseen before and it’s a beautiful thing. We are encouraging each other, supporting each other’s endeavors, and more and more, we’re breaking down barriers and making history. While there have been (and will always be) detractors who ask, “What about ALL girls?” or “What about ALL Black people?”, we understand the importance of this magical bond of sisterhood that only we can truly engage and understand. And yes, it’s rubbing off on others and we appreciate the support from all kinds of groups who don’t seek to co-opt this movement, but to uplift and affirm it for what it is.
With that said…
What the hell is this?
In 2016 and beyond, we are still seeing “Magical Negro” movies. If you aren’t familiar with this particular cinematic trope, you can learn more here. An abstract:
“Movies featuring a “magical” or spiritually gifted Black lead character have been released for many years, and the trend continues to grow in popularity. These Black characters, often referred to as “magical Negroes,” generally focus their abilities toward assisting their White lead counterparts. At first glance, casting the Black and White leads in this manner seems to provide examples of Black and White characters relating to each other in a constructive manner; however, a closer examination of these interactions suggests a reinvention of old Black stereotypes rather than authentic racial harmony.”
First, there is Mr. Church, a new movie starring Eddie Murphy as a mysterious man who enters the lives of a dying woman and her daughters.
From IMDB: “Mr. Church” tells the story of a unique friendship that develops when a little girl and her dying mother retain the services of a talented cook – Henry Joseph Church. What begins as a six month arrangement instead spans fifteen years, and creates a family bond that lasts forever.
Already, people are buzzing about Eddie Murphy’s “return” to cinema and how this might be the movie that finally wins him an Academy Award. When I saw the trailer, my face screwed up so tightly, I almost developed a headache. I was damn near offended. I’m not sure if Eddie is completely out-of-touch with all of the things that are happening in the world related to the devaluing of Black lives or the latest iteration of the affirmation of Black “free” identity or if he just doesn’t give a damn. It is based on a true story, as most of these types of films seem to be, right? Right.
Would this story present differently if the family was a Black mother and Black daughters?
Would my initial reaction be different? I am going to say it would because it wouldn’t strike me as aligning with the stereotypes and trope. Yes, I know it’s “based on a true story”, but I can’t help but wonder if that “true story” would even be developed into a film if the racial dynamic was different.
Would this movie be made if it was a White man cooking for a Black mother and her daughters?
Why is there only one other somewhat visible Black character? This movie can’t possibly get any Whiter and his presence only serves to punctuate just how White it is.
How will the racial and gender dynamics be addressed? As it is based on a true story, my hope is that they discuss race and not take the “colorblind” approach to storytelling.
Next, there is Same Kind Of Different As Me, a movie featuring Djimon Honsou (of Amistad fame) as a Black homeless man who helps a White man save his marriage.
From IMDB: International art dealer Ron Hall must befriend a dangerous homeless man in order to save his struggling marriage to his wife, a woman whose dreams will lead all three of them on the journey of their lives.
This, too, is based on a true story. It’s a film based on the book of the same name, Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together. In the trailer, we hear the White woman say she saw this Black homeless man in her dream as an explanation for why they have to “help” him. Ok.
I’ll admit that my reaction to this trailer was slightly different from Mr. Church and I think it is because I’m rather used to the White-people-take-in-Black-person-who-ends-up-saving-them-from-themselves “true” stories and how good they make White people feel about themselves. Mr. Church just seemed completely absurd, but Same Kind… is at least familiar. I’m a social worker and come across this type of White savior mindset and behavior all of the time.
Still, both characters exist to make the White people in the stories better and they, almost literally, magically appear out of nowhere when the White people are at their lowest and struggling the most. The Black man becomes their conscience, their advisor, their connector, their fixer-upper, and even if he has issues of his own, the White people remain centered. In Mr. Church, we can’t tell from the trailer if his Blackness is essential to the story as it seems to be in Same Kind… and I’m interested in seeing how that plays out.
If I go see either of the films.
Which I probably won’t.
I’ve seen a number of Black folks praising Mr. Church already and they seem excited for it. Perhaps they are eager to see Eddie Murphy finally “win”. It doesn’t help that this movie comes from the guy who made Driving Miss Daisy. Everything isn’t for everyone, I guess.
Sometimes, I wish I’d never taken Donald Bogle‘s film class. *kicks rocks*