White Savior Stories

I have been back in forth on whether to write a post about The Blindside. Ultimately, I am choosing not to because there is a plethora of articles on the web about the racial, white-privilege undertones of the film.

However, the issue of White savior stories is still important. Many have tried to articulate that because The Blindside is a true story people should stop complaining about the racial issues. However, that is the exact problem. Most of the true stories about African-Americans (or ethnic-minorities) coming out of negative situation don’t involve White people. Films and books like The Pact, which display the determination of African-Americans without a major White figure in their lives, are not highlighted and these stories are not produced by major film studios and don’t get the literary notoriety. Why? Well, I don’t believe it is because the folks at these studios and publishing companies don’t care, they simply want to make money. People don’t go to see these films or read these books because they don’t have the same type of good feelings appeal, they don’t give the allusion that privileged folks – white or otherwise – must help the impoverished transcend their situation. Why do films like Lean on Me get ignored but Dangerous Minds, though rejected by critics, gaine mass success or why does Erin Gruwell have her story massively publicized through the production of  Freedom Writers while Geoffrey Canada ‘s story – no relation – gets little airtime? Just think about it.

It get a little frustrated with SNL and Mad TV because they are usually shallow and I find them offensive rather than insightful or comical,  but occasionally their parodies are actually good satire. Here is a funny and intelligent skit about White female character’s as saviors.

Like any good satire, it is funny because it is ridiculous, yet true. But like any satire it is supposed to make the viewer change themselves and society, not just laugh. So let’s start supporting more of the true stories of African-Americans not just the ones that make White people look good.

Don’t get me wrong, I value what White people do in African-American communities, but when we only highlight those stories, it gives the perception that African-Americans cannot overcome situations without White folks. I don’t want movies like Blindside to not be produced, I want to see more movies produced that show the reality of African-American transcendence of poverty and social oppression.

The larger issue of all of these “inspirational” stories, whether casted with a White lead, Black lead or otherwise, is that most true stories about African-Americans and other ethnic-minorities don’t involve coming out of poverty or socially difficult situations. Most true stories are just about life. I would ultimately like to see more films that don’t focus on the misfortune of ethnic-minorities. We need balance.

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  1. Hello, first time to your site, i like the clean and easy set up.

    “So let’s start supporting more of the true stories of African-Americans not just the ones that make White people look good. . . . I want to see more movies produced that show the reality of African-American transcendence of poverty and social oppression.”

    I agree with you that we as a society need to glorify much more important things, such as real courage, moral clarity, values, etc. Not the nonsense that is reality tv and the fact that trainwrecks sell. But i disagree that it is so patently black and white as you mention. Guessing i dont see things through the race prism as you do, but after reading this, i thought about others movies with similar themes. First one i thought of was Antwone Fisher, one of my favorites. It took me a few more seconds to realize that was a story(at least the movie) of a black military psychologist more or less saving the life of a down trodden, socially inept and abused black youth. Having watched the movie more than a few times, i NEVER looked at it that way though. I saw it as an abused child overcoming great odds to become a great person. Does that mean anything to you? My point is simply i didnt look at it using racial themes.

    I would also love to hear more stories of African American transcendance from poverty, but worry that they may be far and few in between. Sadly i realize the culture is one that is often times backwards, valuing the wrong things, while espousing a christian identity. I also am not sure what you mean about transcendance of social oppression?

    Side note so you know where i come from. I am half Asian half White and live just outside of Detroit.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I understand what you mean by not seeing the racial element. I actually believe that is what is dangerous. Not everyone needs to see the racial elements of the films that we watch, but everyone picks up on them. They are normalized. Does that make sense? It is what we don’t see and don’t think about that often has the greatest formative effect on us.

    I will also say the racial elements in A.F. are rich, his struggles spawned from generational racism that tickled down to him, that was, of course, not all he was dealing with, but it was central to his situation. I also think A.F. was different because it presented African-Americans holistically, in both positions of need and in positions of authority and a certain level of privilege. And the Film also focuses on AF rather than on Denzel’s, the way that it was presented concentrated on AF story and development and didn’t overemphasize the role of Denzel’s character. The Blindside did not do that, the Blindside focused on Sandra Bullock’s character (which is why she is nominated for a Golden Globe) and many other popular movies about minorities overcoming their situations, like Freedom Writers, focus on the White characters

    I don’t want to overemphasize race,(I know that is the danger) but it isn’t appropriate to ignore that race is a social reality. Movies like the Blindside have many more themes than race, but the racial interaction is a theme.

    I actually think that because our culture is backwards we don’t reveal stories about African-Americans or other ethnic-minorities. We don’t highlight more stories, like Antwone Fisher, that don’t highlight Whites. I don’t want to exclude stories about Whites who help ethnic-minorities. I have White friends who have adopted ethnic-minorities, who moved and started ministries in ethnic minority communities and I value them and what they do is extremely valuable to the Kingdom of God. But even most of them are careful to not make themselves the center of the story. My issue is more with the psycho-social implications of what film presents as reality opposed to what is actually reality.

    By transcendence of social oppression, I mean the social structures and status quo that contribute to their situation.

    Sorry for the long reply, I tend to do that.

    • Melody Hanson
    • February 9th, 2010

    I’ve noted the movies and books that you mention, that I haven’t seen or heard of and plan to find them. I appreciate your perspective. I found myself feeling much the same when I saw Blindside with my mother. My thoughts are http://logicandimagination.wordpress.com/2010/02/02/blind-sided-by-a-movie/. I got a reaction from a few folk who said “it’s a true story how can you have a problem.” Which is exactly missing the point.

    I’ll continue to track with your blog.

  1. February 8th, 2010

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