DISCLAIMER: Only if you’ve ever wronged a black character in your writing does this apply to you. If you’ve never stereotyped a black character, meaning made a black character a criminal without serving the plot, made a black character poor for no reason or killed a black character (usually the first and most memorable death in your script), etc, then you should go on with your day and read the next Donald Trump headline. This is not for you.
Let’s say you want to make movies but you have one problem. You don’t like black people. Hollywood is a liberal haven and does not tolerate prejudice of any kind. At the same time, the studios are terrified of controversial material in an increasingly conservative time, where every movie has to pander to a global audience. The image of the studio must be as squeaky clean as the movies they make. In other words, you have to demonstrate that you, a future studio employee, will play ball with this kumbaya program. You like everyone. Everyone likes you. And thus, you cannot escape writing at least one black character to get in Hollywood’s door. This is when its time to channel…
THE MAGICAL NEGRO
The term, coined by Spike Lee, represents the necessary black character in films who does the opposite of what a black stereotype does. For example, instead of a criminal, the black guy becomes now a cop or a judge or even a mayor (in some cases, the President of the United States). It’s actually very easy to employ the “Magical Negro.”
Your “Magical Negro” is such an innocent and harmless archetype, if you feign,”no, that’s not a Magical Negro, that’s a black judge. I’ve met them before, they exist,” people MUST believe you. In most cases, no one will even confront you about it.
So, here are the rules of how to apply this truly magical formula to deter people from you secret distrust toward the darker skinned peeps of the world.
1. CHOOSE A RESPECTABLE CAREER
Remember that your “Magical Negro” is there to serve your white protagonist. So don’t get upset that you have to make him a cop or judge, or even the boss of the white character… just remember he does, in the end, exist to serve. So convert your black pimp, criminal, basketball player into a respectable citizen. Anyone else in your script, probably. It doesn’t have to be a high caliber job, it could be a teacher or a preacher. It really must be a pre-existing character in your script. Just pick a character and make him black and you’re good. And what do you do with the criminal, you flip that into a white guy. If all your characters are criminals, make your “Magical Negro” a leader type, or make him “smart” or make him actually “magical” (like in “The Green Mile”).
2. MAKE HIM ELOQUENT (OR AT LEAST FUNNY)
Remember that black pimp that you had killed in the first 15 pages of your script. He wasn’t too smart. That’s why he was shot. Well, now that pimp is white. And your white detective’s partner is now a black guy. Your “Magical Negro” won’t save the day or make decisions, but he will give incredible advice. That is his job. He will save your white hero (like Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Jerry Maguire” or Samuel L.Jackson in “Die Hard With a Vengeance”). Another great benefit to making him your white hero’s friend is, no one can accuse your white hero of being racist (like Mel Gibson in “Lethal Weapon” for instance). Quentin Tarantino even made a cameo in “Pulp Fiction”, where he said the word “nigger” about a dozen times. He got away with it because he gave Samuel L. Jackson so many juicy lines. Tarantino made Jackson eloquent, savvy and funny. Do the same and see what you can get away with.
3. LIMIT YOUR MAGICAL NEGROES
The last thing you want is a movie full of “Magical Negroes.” That would then be too obvious and also you’ll have a really difficult time raising money (since most movie stars are white). Unless, you’re making the black “Lord of the Rings”, your script could look a little inauthentic and also scary.
The great thing about your “Magical Negro” is that… he is “Magical.” You don’t need more than one or it would be overkill. The magic is so intense from having employed one, you can now make the other black characters as stereotypical as you want. Just look at Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill.” Nancy Allen is threatened and chased by a group of black thugs. But when she arrives in the subway car, a black cop is waiting in the car to save the day. Ta-da! You see how that works? In “Pulp Fiction,” Jackson is so awesome, wise and basically the guy you want to be, that Ving Raimes gets raped by white supremacists and that guy Marvin gets his head blown off, and I mean decapitated… and everyone is cool with that. See how that works?
4. MAKE THE PARTNERS BLACK (AND THUS, AN EXTENSION)
If your “Magical Negro” has a spouse or partner, its probably best to make them black too. The great thing about the “Magical Negro”‘s partner is, you can make them wise also. Take for example, Danny Glover’s wife in “Lethal Weapon.” She gives great advice that helps Danny eventually give great advice to Mel. See how that works? I’m sure you’ve seen this many times but didn’t even realize it. That’s because it’s magic, yo. Whatever you do, don’t make the spouse white. That would be suicide. Not only controversial, since you can’t have a Magical Caucasian… especially since they’re all magical.
5. DENY, DENY, DENY
Although you know you’ve employed the “Magical Negro,” your character does not ever know. He thinks he’s really smart and wise and experienced and skilled. Maybe that makes him naive, but you never hint that he is in that screenplay to serve your white protagonist. Your “Magical Negro” is living in a world of his own. In some cases, he is even narrating the story (like in “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Bucket List”).
That’s right, your “Magical Negro” thinks this movie is about him! He’s so busy working on new skills and discipline and whatever that the guy has no idea he’s serving the white protagonist. It doesn’t even matter if he’s in just a few scenes (“The Fifth Element” or “Deep Impact”). “Magical Negroes” are the hero in their own movies. Never forget that. If people ask you, you deny. And while you write your “Magical Negro” you also deny him awareness of what he is. That is really how you create him.
So there you have it. Never be accused of racism again. Apply those five steps and no one will ever know you’re uncomfortable around black people. The best part is, your aggression will come off anyway (for example, the sidekick in “Showgirls” and Craig Robinson in “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” both get raped). And you can feign as much innocence as your “Magical Negro” if/when you are ever confronted. “Craig Robinson gets the funniest moments” or “the sidekick in Showgirls is the innocent one, that’s why the violation is so hard to watch. Her being black has nothing to do with what happens to her.” And so on and so forth.
Of course, the best reply is, “this black cop is based on a real guy, someone I really look up to and I wanted to put him in a movie as a legacy.” Meanwhile, your white drug dealer is the real hero. See how that works? Magic.
Written by: Norith Soth