In attempts to illustrate to the world that black people are not as bad as they have all along been portrayed, the “Magical Negro” theme has dominated the film industry in the United States for quite some time. As a black person step up to rescue or help a white man in trouble, he or she is depicted as normal, whose wisdom and selflessness are unmatched. In this context, the representation of race and blackness in the popular culture and mass media becomes one of the cultural paradigms in the United States. This has turned into a culture of discussion, one that constantly decodes and repositions blackness as a ticket into the multicultural America. In effect, blackness seems to offer a functionality that is a dominant media trope for representations and debates on race and ability. Even though Americans have made tremendous efforts in tackling social issues in education, social welfare, crime, the economy and collective rebuilding of their identity as a multicultural and a multiracial society, the trope of blackness still exposes myriads of claims, counterclaims and meanings of the nation as a racially-formed communally. This is the trend as more cultural signs of “blackness” are still manifested in roles designated for blacks in mass media such as movies and plays. As Henry Gray puts it, “what is normally at stake when entrenching the culture of blackness is the past; the past that we are reminded of all the time, so that black people can continue to play the roles designated for them” (Gray 165). In other words, the amazing thing about the representation of blackness is the range of cultural and social efforts put in place for the black community to continue playing the roles in the films.
In the representation of racial tropes, the “Magical Negro” trope is displayed in a number of ways that seem to affirm a particular way of thinking in our society. Usually represented by either black poor person but full of wisdom and magical abilities, the magical Negro has been often clean, well groomed and disciplined. He usually plays the role of a kind hearted helper, ready to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of a white central character’s welfare. In case the magical Negro comes from a noble family or background, the Negro is expected to play the role of someone who supports the white protagonists in mistreating his own people. Mt. T, the Wise Janitor is portrayed as knowledgeable and has the powers to help people overcome fears. He has no desire for glory, and his only ambition is helping others particularly the white protagonists, but not his own people. It may even seem that the magical Negro’s only goal in life is to help the already privileged members of the society achieve their maximum potential.
The idea of race trope has been in the public domain for quite a while, with many scholars focusing their energy to understand its origin, effect, and what it means for the future. In terms of mass media representation, the creators of the notion have hinged it on the recreated past with explicit racialized social formations. This formation is properly structured, with rewards based on class, race and gender. In other perspectives, discursive regimes as far as representation, production and construction of images that emphasize on the racial social formation (Fourie 49). In the same breadth, the nation is built on the emphasis of “difference” in terms of race, skin color, gender and number. These categorizations are based on reminders on past and present, and what needs to be done to secure the future as an integrated society (Pierce 49). By this, the Magical Negro helps the white protagonists achieve his own goal in order to realize the need to be a better person devoid of racism. Interestingly, the Magical Negro sometimes ends up as the victim of his goodness, as the protagonist can either kill or dismiss him once a goal is accomplished.
In the film Django Unchained racial trope is rampant, most likely an attempt by the film producer to reverse themes in earlier films such as Birth of a Nation.While earlier films always portrayed slave owners as brutal, slaves as fearful, white vigilantes as brave and confident, and a white damsel in distress under the kidnap of a gigantic black man, Django Unchained is trying to reverse all these stereotypes, probably unknowingly entrenching racial tropes. In the film, Django is a free slave who is a confident sharpshooter, in an attempt by the film producer to reverse the notion of weak and fearful slaves. Interestingly, the traditional setup is that there is always fear that black men would take away white women. However, in the Django Unchained film, white men are the ones interested in black women. Django’s fearless love for Broomhilde leads his fearless efforts to rescue her from Calvin Candie’s plantation. This kind of black love was inevitably rare among African American slaves in the South. In other words, in order to extend such racial tropes in the public mind, a form of inverted cultural memory is produced through various means, to reverse the old image.
The reversal of history into a “culturally acceptable” theme in tropes is meant to create an ideal situation. Although portrayal of this nature may be a source of some preset mind on the audience, the myth is reinforced that things have changed for the better to African Americans. The films rely on the visual and aural shorthand, which raises questions of representation of racial subjects whose characteristics are over-determined through displaced signifiers of difference that are never confined to the body but may be inclined on objects, contexts, and motifs. According to Dines and Humez (42), filming or the cinematic representation of the Hollywood is a process where the viewer is involved, with the aim of advancing a discourse that assumes that any race can achieve anything. Ironically, the tropes of difference are made in such a way that one race representative (black) achieves success at the expense of the other race (white). Still, tropes of difference are among the most culturally legible of cinematic devices, and as viewers we are required to view through the tropes of difference and consequently reify the difference in each instance of recognition. The Magical Negro, without doubt, raises the stakes for the representation of racial subjects and for blackness as a form of responsibility. As one would say, a black person would want to be extraordinarily better or more than exceptional to reach the peak of success. Sometimes, this extraordinary ability is coupled with magical abilities supported by rare spiritual capabilities.
Mr. T as the Wise Janitor is promoted with deep spiritual wisdom, while his probable weaknesses are hidden from the viewers. Django of the Django Unchained is also displayed as a perfectly endowed man with all the abilities only compared to that of white slave owners. Raney and Bryant (59) describe this trend as a “containment of the racial ideology”, which is a contradictory nature of representing race as a very difficult mode of perception, hence ideology of difference must endlessly be expressed to sustain it. The other problem is that race is articulated through a vocabulary of absolute statuses that are are contradicted on a daily basis by our daily experiences, yet the films offers an empty sense of surety. It is thus critical to understand how race as a mode of perception and ideology of difference is highly adaptable precisely because of the contradictory discourse and iconographies that help solve a wide array of problems, anxieties, and contexts.
Popular culture and mass media is constantly representing race, blackness as a form of discursive shift that defines how one is profiled in entirety. Despite the real life circumstances that we encounter everyday, popular culture and mass media is presenting blackness in inverted image contrary to the real image of the past. The characterization clearly suggests that race still plays a critical role in the life of American society. While Americans fight against the teething issues of economic crunch, terrorism, violence and many other societal ills, blackness are expressed and organized in multiple platforms to claim and counterclaim the position of America a racialized society. That, is a cultural identity of blackness is still considered when some forms of activities need to be accomplished. Critically taking up the characteristics of Django and Mr. T indicates that we acknowledge how racial classifications functions in popular culture as containment figures, and how disciplining that figure might present the image of its own inadequacy as far as integrated community is concerned.