The rise and fall of the award-winning white-saviour film

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THERE was a time when Hollywood studios didn’t tell any stories about race. Then they did, and for a while, people were satisfied. In 1962, President John Kennedy opined on civil rights in his state-of-the-union speech, and later that year, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Lawrence of Arabia” were released. Off-screen, the civil-rights movement was led by black activists, but as Hollywood became concerned with the plight of African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and others, it told stories about benevolent white men (they were usually men) who fought to lift them out of subjugation and poverty. The “white saviour” film was born.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the white-saviour narrative grew so fast in popularity that it quickly became a cliché. There was the white teacher in an inner-city classroom (“The Principal” [1987] and “Dangerous Minds” [1995]); the white coach who helps black athletes realise their potential (“Wildcats” [1997], “Cool Runnings” [1993] and “The Air Up There [1994]); and, taking a page from…Continue reading

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