The “white savior” film narrative is, by far, the laziest way filmmakers tell stories about race and race relations. What is a “white savior film”, you ask? Well, it’s a film, almost always written by a white person, and the plot is, simply, a racist white person, throughout the course of the film, befriends a person of color (whether they be underprivileged or not) and realizes that people of color are people like everybody else. The person of color’s life is also then improved by being friends and whatnot with the aforementioned white person.
Almost always, these films have some kind of award season buzz, which I firmly believe is because those deciding said awards are usually white people.
The following are examples of white savior narratives:
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The Blindside (2009)
Cool Runnings (1993)
Django Unchained (2012)
Freedom Writers (2007)
Green Book (2018)
The Help (2016)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Remember the Titans (2000)
Hidden Figures (2016)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
District 9 (2009)
That, my friends, isn’t even close to all of them. You’ll notice that the films do span over years and years, but there has been an increase in the white savior narrative in the last 10 to 20 years. Personally, I think this is due to increased tension in regards to race relations in the United States, and this narrative is a way for white people to make themselves feel better, whether it’s making the film or watching the film.
It was absolutely absurd to me that Green Book won the Academy Award in 2018 (not that the Academy Awards mean anything anymore, but come on). Each time a film like this wins an award or receives critical praise, it feels like two giant steps back for every step forward the film industry takes (which is saying something because, at best, they take baby steps). We need to do better. But, actors and studios keep saying yes to making these films. They see it as Oscar bait, for sure. Now, the studios continuing to make these films doesn’t surprise me in the least. However, for all the actors out there that voice their own opinions about what is currently going on in this country, white actors still continue to star in these films. They need to say no. Plain and simple. They need to say no.
Those in the film industry need to pay more attention to films that disguise themselves as science fiction, but in reality, they are white savior films. The biggest offender of this is absolutely James Cameron’s 2009 computer generated film Avatar, but it is in no way the only one. Us white people need to be better. And, I’m not just talking about the film industry.
So, do me a favor: if you’re looking for films to watch during these trying times, DO NOT watch The Help or The Blindside. Instead, watch Just Mercy (2019), Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), Fruitvale Station (2013), Selma (2014), and 13th (2016).
See. Look how many options you have. That’s not even all of them. Now you have no excuse to watch films like Green Book or Remember the Titans to educate yourself on racism in this country.
We must be better. We must do better.