Victims of A White Savior
The Black Lives Matter movement’s explosion into the mainstream has caused many white people to grow conscious of the inequalities people of color regularly experience, mainly black Americans. However, as much as this consciousness is appreciated, it’s also created a growing resurgence in something much more dangerous, and frankly, something much more annoying: fake activism. This unfortunate free-loader consequence of political activity, otherwise known as “slacktivism,” refers to “feel-good” measures in support of an issue or social cause. You may have noticed this with some of your own social media mutuals. It’s your friend who made a post for blackout Tuesday, but after that, did nothing to spread awareness online. It’s your mutual who posts a selfie of themselves at a protest. It’s your acquaintance who only donates to causes if they can say “Just Donated, So Blessed,” on Instagram. It is the face-value surface-level public stunts we are bombarded with constantly. Yet this slacktivism epidemic doesn’t just fester online. It’s all around us. And nowhere is it more apparent than in Hollywood.
For many years, Hollywood has made nods to diversity to ride the wave of “Equality in Vogue,” all the while making no efforts to actually integrate actors of color into movies not solely based around race or inequality struggles. In particular, Hollywood is guilty of the white savior narrative. The white savior is a cinematic trope in which a white character rescues non-white characters. This often acts as a plot device at the white character’s benefit. While on the surface, the issue the non-white character faces draws attention to minority causes, in reality, it exists to further the character development of the white main character, often giving them a leadership role or making them morally stronger.
As sociologist Matthew Hughney puts it, “ A White Savior film is often based on some supposedly true story. Second, it features a nonwhite group or person who experiences conflict and struggle with others that is particularly dangerous or threatening to their life and livelihood. Third, a White person (the savior) enters the milieu and through their sacrifices, as a teacher, mentor, lawyer, military hero, aspiring writer, or wannabe Native American warrior, [can] physically save—or at least morally redeem—the person or community of folks of color, by the film's end.”
Narcissistic film favorites with white saviors include Freedom Writers, The Last Samurai, Blind Side, The Help, The Greatest Showman, Green Book, Hidden Figures (the bathroom scene), La La Land, The Matrix, To Kill a Mockingbird, and many more.
The problem here lies in the underlying assumption of
a) non-white people exist as a plot device for the “greater” sacrifice of a white person’s journey and…
b) it presents abstract concepts such as morality as characteristics innate, racially and culturally, to white people, not to be found in non-white people.
This white centrality hammers home an unfortunate truth for non-white viewers: that they are not seen, and if they are, they are seen for a white person’s vested interest. Such an epidemic is not the black community’s responsibility to fix. It’s up to all of us, and white people, in particular, to call out this “slacktivism” when we see it. Activism and representation are not for us to “feel good.” Empathy, and the activism that comes with it, is a moral necessity.
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