Oscar loves a white savior

February 24, 2013 at 11:45 am by: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, White Privilege

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Brilliant piece from Salon:

If you’ve been to the movies in the last half-century, you know the White Savior genre well. It’s the catalog of films that features white people single-handedly rescuing people of color from their plight. These story lines insinuate that people of color have no ability to rescue themselves. This both makes white audiences feel good about themselves by portraying them as benevolent messiahs (rather than hegemonic conquerors), and also depicts people of color as helpless weaklings — all while wrapping such tripe in the cinematic argot of liberation.

This, of course, is the backbone of Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” As historian Kate Masur recently wrote in the New York Times, it is yet another “movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States” but one in which “African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them.” The result, she writes, is a film that ignores actual events of the 19th century, “helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation” and thus reinforces “the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.”

Coming from Spielberg, this isn’t particularly surprising. He is, after all, the creator of one of the most unself-consciously archetypal White Savior movies of all time: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” In that cartoonish adventure, a whip-wielding white archaeologist drops from the sky into India and quickly becomes the only person able to save destitute peasants from the rein of a tyrannical human-sacrificing cult.

Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln is certainly a more nuanced character than Dr. Jones, just as his latest film is more sophisticated (if not as exciting) than the second iteration of his 1980s archaeologist-superhero franchise. In return, he has been rewarded with an Oscar nomination — but probably not just because “Lincoln” plays to the academy’s general love of historical drama. It also plays to Hollywood award organizations’ specific affinity for the White Savior.

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Before I race out...thanks for posting this, Seeta.  We stopped having tackily fun Oscar parties a couple of years ago..."The Blind Side" year almost did us in.  We limped on through "Black Swan," but that was it.  I'm rooting for "Life of Pi" tonight.  And "Amour." 

Seeta moderator

 @nancy a heitzeg Thanks for this Nancy - - Bell Hooks on a Sunday Morning -- hell yeah.  


I still haven't seen Life of Pi yet.  


Won't be watching the Oscars tonight.  Self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing boobs on the tube who also happen to be deathly boring.


Our culture has changed yet the power players in Hollywood have not. 


If the Oscars were more like this Marlon Brando/Sacheen Littlefeather moment, then I'd tune in.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Seeta Amen!


i think you would love Life of Pi -- both Kay and I are quite taken with it all. Especially that Tiger :)