A White Savior Film (WSF) is a movie that features a white person coming into the lives of a person or people of color (POCs) who are often low-income, troubled, and/or severely oppressed. The troubled times that the people of color are in can be a product of oppression from other white folks, or their own doing. Either way, the White Savior comes in, quickly sympathizes with the problems of the people of color, learning what needs to happen to solve their problems, and in doing so, wins their favor and becomes their hero. Here is a list of some of these films:
- Gran Torino
- Avatar (Jake Sully literally becomes the Messiah of the Na’vi)
- The Blind Side*
- The Ghosts of Mississippi*
- Glory Road*
- Dances With Wolves
- Finding Forrester
- The Principal*
- Music of the Heart*
- To Kill a Mockingbird (slightly on the fence with this one because the savior Atticus Finch does not save Tom Robinson from being convicted)
- Cool Runnings*
- Dangerous Minds* (This film was based on the true story of a Latina teacher, yet Michelle Pfiffer played the teacher, thereby turning this into a WSF)
- The Last Samurai
- Freedom Writers*
- Black Rain
- Sunset Park
- District 9 (Also slightly on the fence with this one since the white protagonist mainly follows the plan of the oppressed alien that stands for a POC, and he is more of an anti-hero)
- Mississippi Burning*
- The Last Airbender (the TV series composed of all Asian characters, but the film’s three main heroes were cast as white people, while everyone else was of color)
- The Ron Clark Story*
- The Help
There are a few different kinds of WSF. The most popular kinds includethe white teacher/administrator that helps the students of color realize their true potential and help them overcome their own prejudices (The Principal, Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, etc.), and the white sports coach leading his or her team filled with usually poor and troubled people of color to victory (Glory Road, Cool Runnings, Wildcats, Sunset Park, Hardball, etc).
The more epic, and true “savior” WSF that many sci-fi films also fit into feature a white person who is often an oppressor happening upon a culture of people of color or aliens that are POC stand-ins. The white hero eventually assimilates into their culture, and he even proves to be more skillful than them as learns the culture. He becomes their leader and savior in the battle against their enemies (Avatar, The Last Samurai, Dances With Wolves, Dune, District 9, etc.) Particularly for the “epic” WSF, the saviors are male, heterosexual, and very masculine.
So what are the problems with these films? Well, they portray people of color as too desolate, too hopeless, too overcome by their own prejudices and circumstances to help themselves, so they need someone to help them. But not just anyone, no, this helper must be a White Savior. This Savior inspires the people of color, teaches them how to be a better them, and makes their lives better when the people of color couldn’t do it themselves. These films ignore the stories of people of color helping their own communities and helping themselves.
Hollywood, and many white people, eat these WSF up because white audiences can identify wanting to be the “savior” in POC’s lives, to be the one who rescues the poor POCs from their circumstances, to be the hero in their lives. They help alleviate feelings of white guilt by projecting white people not as the oppressors, but as the heroes who can save people of color from their circumstances, and often, the oppression that whites in the past have caused. Essentially, these films capitalize on the stories of people of color, yet instead of telling the film through their eyes, they are presented as stories of the white people who help them. The people of color in these films function as catalysts for the White Savior to learn his or her lessons and reach the end of his or her own journey.
* You’ve probably noticed that many of these films are inspired by true stories. People who defend WSF often bring up the fact that several of these are “based on a true story,” however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all WSF are valid as a group. Rather, it shows that Hollywood has a greater interest in the stories of heroic white people saving people of color than stories of people of color helping their own communities or people of color helping white people out of bad situations. WSF stories are being used to support the status quo.
Is it racist to enjoy these films? No, it’s not. You can still watch these films and like them, but they are part of a trend that chooses to ignore the perspective of people of color, and feed into the White Savior Complex that really shows what Hollywood, and unfortunately, many white people have, so choose your films well and watch them carefully.
BLESS THIS POST!
THIS, and I also call bullshit on “their own doing”— that’s definitely what these movies tend to show, but a definite consequence is ignoring the fact that white supremacy causes horrible shit in the first place.
TW: rape, murder, killing.
I’ve always noticed how in cases of mass tragedy, and even smaller, less-national-covered cases, that white men have been treated differently in comparison to people of color. And since this Connecticut shooting has occurred, I’ve noticed that it all runs in a circle, and every representation of the shooter has a template.
White men can never take the blame. With ‘The Dark Knight’/Aurora, Colorado massacre, the shooter, a white man, was never represented as acting a completely “sane”, responsible-for-his-own-actions man. His shooting was because he wasn’t “mentally stable”, or that he was stressed to things going on in school. You see, he didn’t mean or want to kill them. This was just a manifestation of his environment and mental heath.
With the Columbine shooters, both white teens, their musical and fashion interests, and the fact that they were social outcast in their schools, were named as why they were driven to kill. Apparently Marilyn Manson and the goth culture have mass murder written in them.
With George Zimmerman, who is white and latino (but is viewed and treated like a white man), in the case of Trayvon Martin, he was simply “standing his ground”; protecting his upper middle-class neighborhood from a potential “thug” - a brown boy in a hoodie. He didn’t do it because of nothing. He did it because it was a natural instinct to protect.
As you can see, white men can’t act alone in crimes with a clean conscious. Something has to bewrongwith them. They have to have some mental illness, or be influenced by outside,otheredforces, or they simply have to be doing their “white man duties” of protecting or acting on natural instincts.
Another way white men are backed up in cases like these is by their education and background. They are mostly pictured as ‘grade A’ students, cut straight from the cloth of the American dream. And this serves as the template for things to wrong. The Aurora, Colorado shooter was a “genius”, a “prodigy with promise”, who was having problems and stress at school, which led to his killing of over a dozen folks. It always goes down that way.
With brown folks, and other racial minorities, their intent and reason of committing crimes is written in their skin - or in their faith and communities. People won’t question why brown folks murder, because it’s been socially inscribed in their identities. Black men don’t kill because they were having issues at school. They kill because they are black men. Brown folks from the Middle East don’t kill because they are protecting something. They kill because of their god. Yellow and orange and red folks don’t kill because they were people living with mental illnesses. They kill because of their communities’ historical grudges with America, or because they were involved some-which-a-way with drugs, etc.
In this past decade, a study was done by the University of Columbia on cases of rape of white women. Out of the many cases studied, the study found that court systems, lawyers, and the media-at-large, held a overwhelming bias against men of color. Men of color were pictured and framed as rapists and guilty of the crime-at-hand because they were “brutes”, came from communities where this kind of behavior was prevalent and “normalized”, etc. White men were found to only rape because they were led on, or because of the victim’s state (i.e.: being intoxicated, flirtatious, etc.) - furthing leading to victim and slut shaming. Not only did this show immense prejudice - seeing as the study also found that the lesser the evidence against men of color, the higher the rate of conviction - but it also showed how society-at-large mirrors these findings.
The reason racial minorities kill is written in their identities. They kill because of their skin color. They kill because of gangs, violence, and hate - all synonymous with their the amount of active melanocytes in their skin. White men kill because of outside forces affecting them. Their whiteness is clean of intent. THIS is how the media, journalists, and society-at-large treats white men.
This entire process also shows a major exposure on resources to people of color. Men of color can’t kill due to stress at school, because men of color are viewed as being uneducated. Men of color don’t kill and come from stable, loving, “American” homes because they are viewed as coming from broken homes and as being in some regard less-American.
And a overall by-product of this prejudice is the damaging of other communities - namely those living with mental illnesses. Right now, in the case of the Sandy Hooks shooting, people repetitively attach mental illness as the driving reason as to why Adam Lanza, a white man, would do such a thing, further attaching murder as something people with mental illnesses are capable of; further subjecting people with mental illnesses to ridicule, regulation, and policing.
White men kill because they are sane, consenting individuals who willingly made the decision to. They can kill without being mentally ill. They can kill without some sort of trauma in their life. White men kill because they know no one will put the full blame on them. White men kill because they know they have a larger chance of getting away with it than people of color.
We will never progress in this country unless everyone is held to the same, equal, fair expectations.
“Dr. Gregory House.” “Dr. Sheldon Cooper.” “Patrick Jane.”
I won’t lie. I love these characters. They are certifiable assholes. They are memorable characters. They make me laugh. I watched every episode of House M.D. when it was on the air. I am catching up on any missed episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I’ve seen every episode of The Mentalist.
Still though…keep their behavior the same and make them White women. Still lovable? Now, make them Black women. Still lovable? (Not even close to most people.) Sexism, racism, and white privilege says no.
“But it’s just TV!” - people who refuse to think
Actually no, it’s not “just” TV. Nothing in art or media is “just” anything. This came to mind as I thought about a great essay that I read a few months ago titled The Glorification of White Crime. It mentioned:…fictional white criminals get to have a deep fanbase who loves these white criminals, receive accolades and awards, get called amazing television that portray the complexities of human nature. Viewers of these characters see past the atrocious crimes and into their humanity, a luxury that white characters always have while characters of color rarely do.
This easily applies to any type of character, truthfully, even amidst comedy and dramedy. Not only would the characters I mentioned at the start of the post not be deemed lovable, as Black women, they would no longer be deemed nuanced, complex or having an anger that is relatable. They would be reduced to being both unlovable and simplistically bitter.
note: this is a long-ass post
i wrote this post at 7 am in regard to the fuckery that went on yesterday, a lot of white tears and people who got so mad (SO MAD) at being told they couldn’t, they didn’t, they can’t at anything when they’ve been told all their lives that they could-did-can, and never having to really question it. not really.
and now i’m seeing other conversations on my dash that seem to want to be responded to that i just don’t know if i can address everything. i usually don’t anyway, which is why i saved this in my drafts at about 8:15 am instead of just posting it, but i think it’s time i put it out there and see if it floats.
pretty sure it floats.
please, if you reblog this, and your followers decide to shit on this post without any understanding of what it really means, collect that shit. i am low on patience these past weeks.
so yesterday happened
so many conversations started and so many conversations derailed by folks who don’t understand how racism affects the lives of PoC, and who never get tired of telling that story about how that one time, at band camp (ha), a Black girl was mean, or a Black guy stole their cell phone.
but that really doesn’t count.
hang on a minute! you see, it matters, and it sucks, and it ain’t right, but it doesn’t count, and please, keep reading. you’ll see why i make the distinction between something that matters and something that counts when it comes to racism.
see, i’m of the mind that the same basic things matter to white people as matter to me. you know, trying to stay warm in winter, trying to make sure there’s food to eat on a daily basis, clean clothes when possible, maybe a brush if your hair is of the type that could use one, wanting my family to be safe and happy, trying to be safe and happy myself. avoid crime, avoid hunger and poverty, you know, the basic shit.
and some extra shit, maybe be able to afford some luxury items, or maybe a nice car, great job, a promotion.
hopefully meet someone nice, have good friends, live around people who are kind and don’t shit on other people for no reason, hopefully to be one of those people.
those things matter to everyone. those are the things that when you say “we all bleed red!”? those are the things you’re talking about. those things matter.
but the absence of them doesn’t count toward a Bonafide Racism Experience, even if people of different races are involved.
(wait for it…)
see, the thing i find humorous is how grief-stricken so many white people are at the very thought of someone thinking your experience doesn’t matter, but not a whit of curiosity as to why that experience doesn’t count in racism conversations.
you sound so worried about what happens when people don’t care what happens to you.
that is my everyday fucking life as a Black woman. if this is your reaction to even the thought of your skin color making people treat you as less human, i’d hate to imagine how you’d feel if it actually happened to you on any sort of regular basis.
you know, if it actually counted toward making your existence hell, based on your white skin.
and okay, if at some point in your future, when you’re on the bus, in restaurants, at the pharmacy, at the doctor’s office, in the delivery room, in line for coffee, outside your front door, passing a police car, doing the shopping;
when you turn on the television and see a sea of Black faces on every channel (while people complain that you have a channel called WET — which is actually run by Black folks); when only a select few of your favorite shows have characters that represent you but who usually don’t even last a season; when the white characters who do last that long are the most hated in the entire fandom WITHOUT FAIL; when movies about white heroes and white victories aren’t being made because they’re not marketable to PoC; when white characters are drawn with Black faces by artists who say they can’t relate to your white skin, “no offense!”; when your favorite band’s members are photoshopped with Black skin and brown eyes because OMG THEY’RE SO MUCH CUTER NOW, but “they didn’t mean it like that”;
when comedians paint themselves in whiteface (like that’s even a thing) and think it’s hilarious even though negative attitudes toward white folks get them killed on a grand scale; when white girls are desperately trying to make their hair kinky because a worldwide standard of beauty tells them that they need to be “less white”; when you can’t get a job because even though your name is traditional for you, it’s too “white” for human resources and they constantly throw those resumes in the trash; when a Black girl is given the same name, it’s somehow “creative” instead of trashy;
when you can’t even go out on halloween without your white skin being mocked and made into a “suburbs!” costume; when white neighborhoods are slowly developed and “improved” so that PoC can move in and when white people are no longer able to afford to live on the streets they grew up on; when your body’s features are mocked and degraded and called “ghetto” and “ratchet” but are somehow okay on a Black girl;
when the music white people have always made and been shit-talked for is co-opted by PoC and made “acceptable” — but only when not produced by white people; when jokes about mayonnaise and cucumber sandwiches are commonplace — so much so that it’s a part of everyday life for you; when politicians can build half their platform on dehumanizing you and making you the scapegoat for an entire country’s problems, based not on your ethnicity, but on your white skin;
when the most powerful men in the country have always been Black, but one white man comes to power and suddenly the nation is in an uproar; when Shalisha and Jovani go missing and everyone is crying and entire episodes of Dr. Phyllicia are dedicated to finding them and telling their stories, but no one cares about poor Becca; when people rail against the white single mother on welfare and call her everything but her name, while Black single mothers are encouraged and praised for their strength;
when the only thing you can do to escape racism is to never, ever engage, anywhere, even with your own family due to their internalized issues based on Black supremacy;
when all that shit happens, not based on your ethnicity, sexuality, gender, faith, or politics, butbased on your white skin?
when all of that (not some, not one thing, all of it) happens, and it’s daily, and it’s inescapable, and there isn’t anything you can do about it?
come see me and we’ll talk racism.
we can start talking about how these things count toward fucking up your daily existence, and once you understand, we can talk about changes that affect the things that matter.
but until then? c’mon son. your single experience is a drop in a bucket i don’t even have access to. every drop that went toward my non-existent bucket fell on dry soil and was drunk greedily by salted earth that’s going to open up and swallow me next. that is how far apart our experiences are.
when we say you have no idea? it’s because you have no idea. none. not one.
and please, let’s leave that “we all bleed red shit” in the recycle bin. better yet, the garbage. we don’t need to reuse that in any form. we’ve heard it all before, and it doesn’t help anyone.
He might not have been serious, but there’s HUUUUUGE problems with a white person comparing a person of color to an animal. That’s not excuseable, joke or not, he had no business. NONE.
“but there’s HUUUUUGE problems with a person comparing another person to an animal, regardless of race.”
Just FYI, more racism doesn’t cancel out the original racism, even if that person is white.
yup. this is what happens when context is removed for the comfort of white folks.
the centuries-old comparison BY white folks OF people of color TO animals is a thing that will forever have connotations that if people like medusaceratops-lokii aren’t willing to shut up and learn about, you will never understand.
it is the context of the entire post, and of the entire situation.
if you remove that context because it makes you happier or more comfortable to ignore it, then you are missing the entire point.