The Magical Negro Trope
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Maurice Broaddus writes about The Magical Negro trope and what it means to him.
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The Magical Negro
It’s easy to believe that this trope came from a good place or at least rose out of benign neglect. After all, a white writer is “writing what they know” or appealing to their target demographic, which is typically people like them, but they want a more diverse world. So the easy solution is to put an “other” at a critical place in their hero’s journey to help them along. The Magical Negro is one such other (see also: Magical Native American, Magical Asian, etc). One sees The Magical Negro in such movies as Ghost, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Family Man, and Bruce Almighty. Or in an unusual amount of Stephen King novels/movie adaptations such as The Stand, The Talisman (written with Peter Straub), The Shining, and the ultimate ode to the Magical Negro, The Green Mile.
The Magical Negro has several hallmarks. They have no history. They exist outside of any community of their own. Much like, if not fulfilling the role of, a fairy godmother, they arrive from somewhere that’s vague and otherworldly and returns in some manner. At their introduction, The Magical Negro has either a threatening or benign aspect: 1) appearing with an initial sense of danger, such as a Big Black Man, drug dealer, thief, or prisoner, in which case they must be quickly identified as helping and compassionate; or 2) showing up in some powerless capacity, like a janitor, homeless, or a musician, so that the hero can be approached or approach them without risk (or even demonstrate compassion by interacting with them). It doesn’t matter how great their wisdom or the extent of their magical powers, The Magical Negro’s sole purpose is to selflessly use their powers to help the white hero in their journey. Depicted as an agent of change/the one who makes amazing things happen, their role is meant to be an exalted position, though their role boils down to fitting a black person into a white person’s narrative.
Sometimes I’m grateful just to see a reflection of me included in the story. Other times I don’t think that my story is being respected and I get all stabby.