List of Magical Negro occurrences in fiction
The Magical Negro is a supporting stock character in fiction who, by use of special insight or powers often of a supernatural or quasi-mystical nature, helps the white protagonist get out of trouble. African-American filmmaker Spike Lee popularized the term, deriding the archetype of the "super-duper magical negro" in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University and at Yale University.
The Magical Negro is a subset of the more generic numinous Negro, a term coined by Richard Brookhiser in National Review. The latter term refers to saintly, respected, or heroic black protagonists or mentors.
The following list represents examples of the archetype that have been proposed or discussed.
Film and television
1980s and earlier
- Uncle Remus (James Baskett) in Song of the South (1946)
- Super Soul (Cleavon Little) in Vanishing Point (1971)
- Grover Muldoon (Richard Pryor) in Silver Streak (1976)
- Big Jim Slade (Manny Perry) in The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
- Snoe (Clarence Muse) in The Black Stallion (1979)
- Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) in The Shining (1980)
- Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
- Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) in Ghost (1990)
- Azeem (Morgan Freeman) in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
- Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) in The Lion King (1994)
- Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue (Mykelti Williamson) in Forrest Gump (1994)
- Moses (Bill Cobbs) in The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
- Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman) in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Ram Dass (Errol Sitahal) in A Little Princess (1995)
- Chubbs (Carl Weathers) in Happy Gilmore (1996)
- Kazaam (Shaquille O'Neal) in Kazaam (1996)
- Arthur Chaney (Bill Cobbs) in Air Bud (1997)
- Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) in The Fifth Element (1997)
- Minerva (Irma P. Hall) in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (film) (1997)
- Lamont (Guy Torry) in the film American History X (1998)
- Rastaman (Amiri Baraka) in Bulworth (1998)
- G (Eddie Murphy) in Holy Man (1998)
- Albert Lewis ("Doc") (Cuba Gooding Jr) in What Dreams May Come (1998)
- Rufus (Chris Rock) in Dogma (1999)
- John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) in The Green Mile (1999)
- Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the Oracle (Gloria Foster / Mary Alice) in The Matrix (1999) and its sequels
- Elliot's cellmate/God (Gabriel Casseus) in Bedazzled (2000)
- Cash (Don Cheadle) in The Family Man (2000)
- Bagger Vance (Will Smith) in The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
- Tommy Johnson, (Chris Thomas King) in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the accompanying guitarist who claims he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical skill
- The Blind Seer (Lee Weaver) in O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
- Jezelle Gay Hartman (Patricia Belcher), a clairvoyant who sacrifices herself to warn and protect two young, white, twentysomething siblings in Jeepers Creepers (2001)
- Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou) in The Four Feathers (2002)
- Mateo (Djimon Hounsou) in In America (2002)
- God (Morgan Freeman) in the films Bruce Almighty (2003) and Evan Almighty (2007)
- Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Will Smith) in Hitch (2005)
- Sam (Morgan Freeman) in Unleashed (2005)
- Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) in Batman Begins (2005) and its sequels (2008 and 2012)
- Charles (Afemo Omilami) in Hounddog (2007)
- August (Queen Latifah), May (Sophie Okonedo) and June (Alicia Keys) in The Secret Life of Bees (2008)
- Louise (Jennifer Hudson) in Sex and the City (2008), where Carrie Bradshaw's emotional recuperation depends entirely on the labor of her plucky black personal assistant, who is disengaged from the storyline as soon as Carrie starts to feel better.
- Harry "Red" Newman (Danny Glover) in Legendary (2010)
- Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) in The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
- Brother Sam (Mos Def/Yasiin Bey), a character who appears in five episodes of the sixth season of Dexter (2011)
- The janitor (Jordan Peele) and the copier repair man (Keegan-Michael Key) in a "magic negro" sketch on Key & Peele (2012)
- Evelyn (Alfre Woodard) in Annabelle (2014)
- Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) in The Martian (2015)
- Chief Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne) in Passengers (2016)
- Keith (John Legend) in La La Land (2016)
- Ty Lafitte/Kalden (John Boyega) in The Circle (2017)
- Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in Green Book (2018)
- Elizabeth Howard (Crystal R. Fox) in Big Little Lies (2019)
- The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) in Unicorn Store (2019)
- Peter in Wendy (2020)
- Jolene (Moses Ingram) in The Queen's Gambit (2020)
- Jim in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- A recurring archetype in Stephen King's novels as well as some adaptations of his work:
- Dick Hallorann in The Shining (1977) novel, the 1980 film adaptation (Scatman Crothers), and the 1997 TV miniseries (Melvin Van Peebles)
- Mother Abagail in The Stand (1978) novel and the 1994 TV adaptation (Ruby Dee)
- Lester "Speedy" Parker in The Talisman (1984).
- John Coffey in The Green Mile (1996) novel and its 1999 film adaptation (played by Michael Clarke Duncan)
- Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi (2004-10-25). "Stephen King's Super-Duper Magical Negroes". Strange Horizons. Archived from the original on 2006-11-14. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
- Susan Gonzalez (2001-03-02). "Director Spike Lee slams 'same old' black stereotypes in today's films". Yale Bulletin & Calendar. Yale University. Archived from the original on 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2008-12-29.
Lee cited four recent films in which there is a "magical, mystical Negro" character: The Family Man, What Dreams May Come, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and The Green Mile. In the latter film, Lee noted, a black inmate cures a prison guard of disease simply by touching him; in The Legend of Bagger Vance, a black man "with all these powers," teaches a young white male (played by actor Matt Damon), how to golf like a champion.
- Brookhiser, Richard (20 August 2001). "The Numinous Negro: His importance in our lives; why he is fading". National Review. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
- Steven Hyden, Sean O'Neal (writer), Tasha Robinson, and Scott Tobias (March 4, 2007). "13 Movies featuring magical black men". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2010-10-26.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "Movies, Briefly: The Vanishing Point (1971) on The Rumpus
- "A ★★★★★ review of The Black Stallion (1979)". letterboxd.com.
- Stephen King Films FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the King of Horror on Film Scott Von Doviak Hal Leonard Corporation, Feb 1, 2014
- "The second half of Twilight Zone: The Movie more than makes up for the first". Film.
- Gabbard, Krin (2004). Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 154. ISBN 0-8135-3383-X. OCLC 53215708.
- Box of Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves tie-in breakfast cereal\publisher=The A.V. Club (April 10, 2009). "Box of Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves tie-in breakfast cereal".
- Foreman, Adrienne (Fall 2012). "A Fantasy of Foreignness: The Use of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender to Solidify Self in Henry Selick's Coraline". Red Feather Journal. 3: 12.
- Owen Gleiberman (2008-10-24). "The Secret Life of Bees". Entertainment Weekly.
Over the years, we've all seen too many anachronistic magic Negroes in movies like Forrest Gump and The Green Mile. The saintly African-American matriarchy of The Secret Life of Bees may appear benign by comparison
- Matt Zoller Seitz (September 14, 2010). "The offensive movie cliche that won't die". Salon.com. Archived from the original on February 5, 2011. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
through the clock-keeper played by Bill Cobbs in "The Hudsucker Proxy"
- Bedhead, Agent (October 15, 2010). "It's Not a Question of How; It's a Question of What". Pajiba.
- Kong Yew, Wan (May 1, 2017). "A Little Princess(1995)". Retrieved November 5, 2020.
the main twist being that it calls upon the exoticism of India to provide a dose of magic. ... The character of Ram Dass is of course an example of the magical negro trope even if it uses an Indian.
- Matthew W. Hughey (2009). "Cinethetic Racism: White Redemption and Black Stereotypes in "Magical Negro" Films" (PDF). Social Problems. 56 (3): 543–577. doi:10.1525/sp.2009.56.3.543. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 6, 2009. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
- Benshoff, Harry M.; Griffin, Sean (2009). America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies, Second Edition. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9781444357592. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
- Cerise L. Glenn & Landra J. Cunningham (November 2009). "The Power of Black Magic: The Magical Negro and White Salvation in Film". Journal of Black Studies. 40 (2). Sage Publications, Inc. pp. 135–152. ISSN 0021-9347. JSTOR 40282626.
- Saeed Jones (January 14, 2013). "Notes after Fifteen Viewings of 'The Fifth Element'". Retrieved October 21, 2016.
- Ross Langager. "Film Review: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
- Stephen Hunter (October 30, 1998). "'History X': Hate With a Passion". Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
It must be said that Guy Torry, who plays Lamont, Derek's savior, fills the role brilliantly. But the part is just a lie from start to finish; it reflects a secret bigotry that sees black people only in terms of what they can do for white people, but has no other interest in them. And once Lamont has performed his miracle of healing, he disappears from the movie without a whisper.
- Biskind, Peter (2010). Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 508. ISBN 978-0-7432-4658-3.
I also think you have to cop to the fact that the Baraka character is the magic negro.
- "The offensive movie cliche that won't die". Salon. 2010-09-14. Retrieved 2018-01-18.
- Seitz, Matt Zoller. "The offensive movie cliche that won't die: 'Legendary' is only the latest Hollywood film to include a mystical, benevolent African-American character," Salon.com (Sept. 14, 2010).
- Wilmore, Larry (January 19, 2010). "The First 364 Days 23 Hours". Retrieved February 24, 2011.
Larry Wilmore also compares Obama's pre-election image to that of other notable magic negro archetypes in fiction, such as Bagger Vance and John Coffey. ...
- Colombe, Audrey (October 2002). "White Hollywood's new Black boogeyman". Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media (45). Retrieved December 3, 2006.
What’s remarkable about the recent magical figure ... In The Matrix, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) helps Neo ... In The Family Man, Jack Campbell (Nicholas Cage) is shown the right path by ... (Don Cheadle). In The Green Mile, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) ... In The Legend of Bagger Vance, Bagger (Will Smith) plays a caddie who helps Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) ... Unbreakable presents Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) ...
- Christopher John Farley (2000-05-27). "That Old Black Magic". Time. Retrieved 2007-02-03.
In The Legend of Bagger Vance, one of the more embarrassing movies in recent history, Will Smith plays a magical black caddie who helps Matt Damon win a golf tournament and the heart of Charlize Theron. ... The first is the Magical African-American Friend. Along with Bagger Vance, MAAFs appear in such films as, the upcoming Family Man (co-starring Don Cheadle) and last year's prison drama The Green Mile.
- "Cinethetic Racism: White Redemption and Black Stereotypes in 'Magical Negro' Films", Matthew W. Hughey, Mississippi State University Social Problems, Vol. 56, Issue 3, pp. 543–577,
- Hughey, Matt (2009). "Cinethetic Racism: White Redemption and Black Stereotypes in "Magical Negro" Films" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-03-02.
- Coleman, Robin R. Means (2011). "We Always Die First". Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present. Routledge. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-415-88019-0.
- "Pop Matters".
- David Plotz (2007-06-22). "Just Say Noah". Slate. Retrieved 2007-06-22.
By far the funniest moment in Evan Almighty occurs when God (Morgan Freeman, in full-on magical Negro mode) appears to the wife of Evan Baxter, a congressman turned reluctant ark builder.
- Wendell Ottley (March 1, 2014). "On My Mind: Morgan Freeman and The Magical Negro Dilemma". dellonmovies.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2015-03-06.
The easiest of these to spot is the tokenism that usually takes place in movies that make use of this particular trope. Again, think of four movies I mentioned above. Also think of other Freeman movies such as Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, The Bucket List, Invictus and yes the entire Dark Knight trilogy.
- "What If Dakota Fanning Got Raped And Nobody Cared?". Laist.com. January 24, 2007. Archived from the original on December 1, 2009. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
Then there's Hounddog's Magic Negro -- less a character and more a plot device -- which is so thematically ill conceived that it makes Driving Miss Daisy look like Malcolm X.
- Mazur, Matt. "Precious and Lee Daniels: State of the Race" on Pop Matters
- Touré. "Is The Help the Most Loathsome Movie in America?".
- Alston, Joshua. "Just Let Go". The A.V. Club.
- Heisler, Steve. "Key & Peele: Episode 5". The A.V. Club.
- "Scariest Thing About 'Annabelle' Is the Subtle Racism It Delivers". viralglobalnews.com. Viral Global News. Archived from the original on 12 June 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
- Young, Damon. "An Argument for Why Donald Glover in The Martian Is the Greatest Magical Negro Ever". TheRoot.com. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
- Johnson, Travis. "Review: Passengers". filmink.com. FilmInk. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
- O'Connell, David. "Passengers – When Gravity Fails". XpressMag.com.au. X-press Magazine. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
- Charles, Cody (2017-02-01). "White Dreams Do Come True: Exploring 3 Ways La La Land Proves to be Unexceptional". Medium. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
- Fleming Jr, Mike (August 18, 2015). "'Star Wars' John Boyega Lands Lead In James Ponsoldt's 'The Circle'". deadline.com. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
- Obenson, Tambay (2018-11-23). "'Green Book': The Feel-Good Oscar Contender Has a 'Magical Negro' Problem — Opinion". IndieWire. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
- Travers, Ben (2019-06-30). "'Big Little Lies' Review: Episode 4 Blows Its Moment and Falls Apart". IndieWire. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
- "Brie Larson's Directorial Debut Glitters With The Charming 'Unicorn Store'". NPR.org.
- "Wendy Makes the Case for Studio Meddling" by Dan Kois, Slate. 24 February 2020. Accessed 25 February 2020.
- Srihari, Prahlad (2020-11-01). "The Queen's Gambit review: Anya Taylor-Joy mesmerises in gripping study of genius marred by addiction". Firstpost. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2013-10-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Walker, John (4 Dec 2012), "What I Loathe About Far Cry 3", www.rockpapershotgun.com