Magical Negro

bagger vance

john coffey by Jim Stigall

In American cinema, the magical negro is a supporting stock character who, by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist. The word negro, now considered by many as archaic and sometimes offensive, is used intentionally to suggest that the archetype is a racial throwback, an update of the ‘Sambo’ and ‘Noble savage’ stereotypes.

African-American filmmaker Spike Lee popularized the term 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 for saintly, respected or heroic black protagonists or mentors.

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