While I may not love Spike Lee’s movies, I have to admit he gives one hell of a soundbite. As I’ve briefly discussed before, back in 2001, Lee claimed that he was sick of seeing the “Super Duper Magical Negro” in film — an African-American character who typically had next-to-no storyline or motivations of his own and whose power only went to “help the white man” who is, naturally, the real protagonist.
Salon notes that the coining of this term came as a result of a flush of films that had recently come out:
[P]layed by the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr., in “What Dreams May Come” (a spirit guide helping Robin Williams rescue his wife from Hell), Will Smith in “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (a sherpa-on-the-green, mentoring Matt Damon’s golfer), Laurence Fishburne in “The Matrix” (Obi-Wan to Keanu Reeves’ Luke Skywalker) and Michael Clarke Duncan in “The Green Mile” (a gentle giant on death row whose touch heals white folks’ illnesses).
Obviously the “Magical Negro” has been around in popular culture (Jim in Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Remus, etc.) for ages, but Lee may have been very specifically blasting the fact that, even in the 21st century, filmmakers were still placing African-American characters (and, by extension, African-American actors) into offensively subordinating roles.
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