The Sudden Rise of the “Magic Indian”

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

There is concept in film studies called “the Magic Negro.”  The magic negro is a character through which a white protagonist achieves their objective, narrative or otherwise.  Its a concept as old and enduring as the feature film itself.  Famous recent examples include The Green Mile, The Blind Side, The Help, Jerry Maguire, and every Whoopi Goldberg film.  Despite many fine performances and some quality cinema that has come out of this vein, the magic negro as a narrative device is problematic precisely because it essentially reduces black characters to mere narrative devices.  In other words, it has a dehumanizing effect.  Needless to say, I would be remiss for calling myself the Mixed American Film Buff if I didn’t keep an eye out for this, and frankly, its never too hard to spot.  Sadly, when you look closely, there are few roles written for black actors that don’t adhere to this trope.  Continue reading