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Movies PopWrapped | Movies

White Savior Narrative In Films

Amanda Dominguez-Chio | PopWrapped Author

Amanda Dominguez-Chio

04/27/2017 12:32 pm
PopWrapped | Movies
White Savior Narrative In Films | White Savior

There are several ways in which people are taught the white savior complex. Apart from education, Hollywood repeatedly produces films about a white person coming to help and save people of color. Winner of a number of awards and accolades, La La Land left audiences mesmerized with its story of two people finding love and chasing their dreams.

Upon further analysis, several people, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabar, critiqued the film's message about jazz. In the film, Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) disapproves of Keith (played by John Legend) selling out by corrupting jazz. Although Sebastian works with Keith for some time, in the end, Sebastian and Keith part ways, causing Sebastian to open his own jazz club. Essentially, what the film tells the audience is how Sebastian saved jazz, entering into problematic territory. What many remain unaware is that jazz music originated among African-Americans in New Orleans, reaching popularity during the Harlem Renaissance. So in having a white character determined to preserve the black roots of jazz music somewhat demonizes the black man who is attempting to taint the historic music genre. This isn't even the film's main focus. It's a love story and how their dreams threaten to keep them apart. And yet, this subplot is important because it perpetuates this notion that white people are superior to people of color. 

Unfortunately, La La Land is not the only film guilty of representing the white savior complex. Last year, Matt Damon's The Great Wall garnered negative criticism with its depiction of a white man saving China. Actress Constance Wu from the show Fresh Off the Boat slammed the film via Twitter, arguing "We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that [only a] white man can save the world." The white savior complex encourages this idea that people of color are helpless and require help from white people.

White savior narrative in films is not new territory. Films, such as The Help, Dances with Wolves, 12 Years a Slave, and even Avatar, have won critical acclaim despite perpetuating this cinematic trope. With 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup gains his freedom with the help of a white Canadian. Throughout the film, audiences observe Solomon enduring slavery and encountering brutal slave masters. By showing the white Canadian helping Solomon gain his freedom, this not only reinforces the idea that people of color are unable to solve their own problems but also shows that not all white people were terrible to slaves. 

Rather than center the film's plot on people of color, Hollywood chooses to marginalize people of color by disregarding their efforts and erasing their history in favor of glorifying the white savior. The solution is simple. Refuse films that follow the white savior complex. Recognize how the white savior complex is problematic towards people of color. Representation is important. If a film focuses on a person of color, support that film by any means, from purchasing a ticket to see the film to writing an article about the merits of this film.


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