ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Politics of Skin Tone, Caste and Religion

​The ‘Magical Negro’ in Malayalam Cinema

Supporting characters in contemporary Malayalam cinema echo the trope of the “magical Negro” in American cinema.

The politics of the representation of gender, caste, religion and skin tone of protagonists in cinema and advertising has been discussed widely, but there exists a gap in the discussion on the representation of supporting characters in how they relate to the protagonist. This is where the notion of the “magical Negro”—a term that has been given to a black supporting character in American cinema—can be borrowed to understand the stereotypical representation of caste and religion in popular Malayalam cinema.

Philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah defines the “magical Negro” (a term attributed to film-maker Spike Lee) as “the noble, good-hearted Black man or woman” whose good sense saves the White prota­gonist during a crisis. According to scholars Andrew Rojecki and Robert Entman, “magical Negroes” have three purposes: to assist the White protagonist, to help them discover and utilise their spirituality, and to offer a type of “folk wisdom” that will resolve the dilemma faced by the White character. These Black characters are written in such a way that they do not utilise this “power” to help themselves, creating the stereotypical Black character whose primary (and often, only) function is to use their gift, resourcefulness or power to please and/or aid White characters. Contemporary scholars have pointed out that this character is created and perpetuated by dominant White American writers and film-makers as a tokenism, to assuage their “White guilt.”

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Updated On : 19th Apr, 2021

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