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Black Representation in Movies: Early 2000s to the Present

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

In honor of Black History Month (February, sorry I am late, and just saying every day is black history), I wanted to write something that made me think about representation in movies. I consider myself a movie buff, so this is my portion for Black history month. Some movies that I adored as a child really made me look at the way Black people were seen in several predominately White movies in the early 2000s. I will try my best to not sound like a college paper, but it is good to stimulate conversation.

I read in a journal by Professor George Gerbner and Screenwriter Larry Gross that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence.” What you see in some stories are most likely mimicking the outside world or what we think it is. But I was once told “some comedy is necessary to offend” or in other words comedy should never be filtered. Which is why we have movies like White Chicks and Bringing Down the House. These movies have had a place in my heart since I was a child, so I want to still enjoy them yet give you perspective.

Queen Latifah and Steve Martin’s Bringing Down the House (2003) IS NOT A KID’S MOVIE, but I thought it was funny when I was younger because I was a big Queen Latifah and Steve Martin fan. I watched the movie a few weeks back, now at the age of 24, and in the script of the movie there were a lot of outdated jokes; even for that time. The character Mrs. Kline had lines like “I thought I heard negro” and “Mandingo” when she sees Charlene on top of Peter. Charlene (Queen Latifah) was portrayed as a black woman from the hood that had to be funky, fearful, and was known as Howie (Eugene Levy) said a “Cocoa Goddess.” These are just some examples from the film of how they potrayed a Black woman wrongfully convicted from the hood. However, I had to think maybe this is what the scriptwriter is trying to convey, playing on the stereotype.

I looked at representation in a movie with the opposite context, “White Chicks.” The comedy within it is described as “silly” and “obvious” for many reasons that I don’t need to describe because I am pretty sure everyone has seen it. The way Bringing Down the House plays off the stereotypes of Black people, White Chicks plays off the stereotype of rich white girls. Reverting to the quote “some comedy is necessary to offend.” All of this made me realize that it worked back then because we lived in different times. The comedic relief plays on the true pain we experience in the world that isn’t so funny.

Therefore, I dug a little deeper and found the trope “Magical Negro.” I love the early 2000s and enjoy Black representation in movies like Stomp the Yard (2007), Barber Shop (2002), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) and so many more. However, “Magical Negro” is a film trope that usually features a black character in a predominately white universe, who usually through supernatural ways only help the lives of white characters. This term was coined by director Spike Lee in the early-2000s. For example, if you ever watched Don Cheadle in The Family Man (2000) or Morgan Freeman as God in Bruce Almighty (2003) and Evan Almighty (2007) or even Jennifer Hudson in Sex and the City (2008). There are so many examples, and I am genuinely fascinated when I look at these movies again - to see we are there for advice and then disappear with no background story once we fulfilled our purpose for the main character.

But I want to congratulate us on how far we have come, the representation that has grown for Black individuals in cinema is amazing. Just Mercy (2019), a Black lawyer that graduated from Harvard fighting for justice. Little (2019), a Black tech mogul that learns from her mistakes. Girls Trip (2017), a group of working Black females having the times of their lives in New Orleans. The Harder They Fall (2021), a Black western that gave our version of the wild wild west. And Black Panther (2018), a Black superhero in a wealthy universe with many that look like him. It is impeccable to see how far we have come in movies that show all our stories, because we don’t have one story and one setting.

This is to encourage the Black community, to see that even when change is slow that it is happening. I’d like to think we are far past the trope of “Magical Negro” times and heading into a time where we can hopefully be properly represented in all movie genres.

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2 commentaires

Shamar 💙
03 mars 2022

This was an extremely good article with valid points. Growing up on these movies you didn’t even notice what was really going on because it was so funny at that time. For example, Bringing Down the House was and still is one of my favorite movies. Reflecting on it I remember some of the “slang” that the White characters would use to make them feel closer or hip to Black people and our culture. Even though I think it was a great comedy, it’s definitely good to see us growing and prospering and other movies. Great job Vhannah! Proud of you.

Vhannah Montana
Vhannah Montana
03 mars 2022
En réponse à

Thank you so much, Mar Mar💙

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