“White Savior” films are problematic movies that depict a white person’s self sacrifice to “fix” a person of color’s situation, framing the white person as a hero and the person of color as a victim who can’t thrive in society without the help of white people. As certain films age and our perspective becomes more educated, it is clear that many of our beloved classics unfortunately fall under this category. While censorship is never the answer, but it’s still important that we look at the past through a critical lens.
1. ‘The Help’ (2011)
Based on the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help tells the story of a young white aspiring journalist who writes a book from the point of view of two black maids who are hired to work for white families. Although critically acclaimed upon its release, it has been re-evaluated by many for making the white characters look like heroes, although they were contributing to oppression, and making the black characters look weak and desperate for charity from the white characters. Despite being well intentioned, The Help is a flowery tale that glosses over years of systematic racism and abuse. In fact, Viola Davis herself spoke out against the film, saying she regrets making it because “It wasn’t the voices of the maids who were being heard”
2. ‘Freedom Writers’ (2007)
Based on the 1999 book “Freedom Writer’s Diary”, by Erin Gruwell, Freedom Writers tells the partially true story of a white teacher who overtakes a classroom of underprivileged black and latinx students, inspiring their education with her unique teaching methods. Hillary Swank plays Erin Gruwell herself, and although she delivers an effective performance, the underlying message of the film is that black people need an educated white person to help them succeed in life. It also ignores the systematic problem at hand, of how our schools systems are failing our students of color.
3. ‘The Blind Side’ (2009)
Loosely based on a true story of the NFL player Michael Oher, The Blind Slide tells the story of a homeless black teen who gets taken in by a white couple, and is then discovered for his talent for playing football. The film makes it seem like Michael is a helpless character who owes his success and skills to one white woman, spreading the message that black people need white people in order to strive in society. It also makes many changes from the original story to make Michael’s character seem more incapable than he actually was. Michal Oher himself criticized the film, saying he did not approve of how bumbling and incompetent the character was portrayed, instead just being someone who the system failed.
4. ‘Green Book’
Under fire the past year for snubbing “Blackkklansman” for best picture for the 2019 Oscars, Green Book is very loosely based on the the story of world renowned black pianist Don Shirely who recruits a white bouncer, Tony Lip, to be his chauffeur. Although entertaining and well acted, the film has a happy-go-lucky and uplifting message at the suspense of Shirely’s character. Green Book portrays racism as a mere minor inconvenience to the character’s journey, glossing over the real hardships, abuse, and dark aspects that Shirely had to face in his life as a musician.