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The White Savior Film

The White Savior Film: Content, Critics, and Consumption

Matthew W. Hughey
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    The White Savior Film
    Book Description:

    The cinematic trope of the white savior film-think of Sandra Bullock inThe Blind Side, Kevin Costner inDances with Wolves, or Tom Cruise inThe Last Samurai--features messianic characters in unfamiliar or hostile settings discovering something about themselves and their culture in the process of saving members of other races from terrible fates.

    InThe White Savior Film, Matthew Hughey provides a cogent, multipronged analysis of this subgenre of films to investigate the underpinnings of the Hollywood-constructed images of idealized (and often idealistic) white Americans.

    Hughey considers the production, distribution, and consumption of white savior films to show how the dominant messages of sacrifice, suffering, and redemption are perceived by both critics and audiences. Examining the content of fifty films, nearly 3,000 reviews, and interviews with viewer focus groups, he accounts for the popularity of this subgenre and its portrayal of "racial progress."

    The White Savior Filmshows how we as a society create and understand these films and how they reflect the political and cultural contexts of their time.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-1002-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 The Savior Trope and the Modern Meanings of Whiteness
    (pp. 1-17)

    As she accepted the 2010 Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy in the 2009 filmThe Blind Side, Sandra Bullock gushed, “There’s no race, no religion, no class system, no color, nothing, no sexual orientation that makes us better than anyone else. We are all deserving of love” (“Oscars 2010” 2010). The film, based on a true story, centers on the Tuohys, a white, Republican family in the Deep South who adopt a homeless African American teenager named Michael Oher. The Tuohys, and especially the formidable Leigh Anne, teach Michael valuable life lessons and the...

  5. 2 White Savior Films: The Content of Their Character
    (pp. 18-71)

    For centuries, magicians, messiahs, and martyrs have played the role of helpful guides and aides to embattled protagonists in an array of mythological tales. Athena’s assistance to Odysseus, Merlin’s shepherding of King Arthur, Mephistopheles’s supervision of Faust, and Dante’s use of Virgil and Beatrice all share a common denominator. Through their enchanted calculus, they help the disheveled and struggling hero solve problems that, over time, represent formulaic redemption stories and morality tales.

    That such stories and characters are widely shared across time and space is no coincidence. These narratives carry resonance because they provide scripts that instruct audiences on the...

  6. 3 Reviewing Whiteness: Critics and Their Commentary
    (pp. 72-124)

    In July 2000 the film critic David Manning hit the scene. In theRidgefield Press, a small Connecticut weekly, Manning praised Columbia Pictures films such asHollow Man,The Patriot, andA Knight’s Tale. In his review ofA Knight’s Tale, he branded relatively unknown actor Heath Ledger as “this year’s hottest new star!” (Horn 2001). A year later, during a citation check of Manning’s quotations,Newsweekreporter John Horn uncovered a mysterious detail: theRidgefield Presshad never heard of Manning. Upon further investigation, Horn discovered that David Manning did not exist. He was nothing more than a fictional...

  7. 4 Watching Whiteness: Audience Consumption and Community
    (pp. 125-159)

    On January 21, 2012, director Craig Zobel debuted his filmComplianceat the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The film tells the story of a robbery of a fast food eatery in which a man posing as a police officer falsely accuses an employee of theft and forces her to perform a sex act. As the lights came up at the film’s conclusion, weak applause and nervous laughter was peppered with boos and one voice that boomed, “Sundance, you can do better! . . . This is not the year to make violence against women entertaining” (Miller 2012)....

  8. 5 The Significance of White Saviors in a “Postracial” World
    (pp. 160-174)

    In late 2012 and early 2013—a century and a half since Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the beginning of the slow demise of de jure chattel slavery—Steven Spielberg’sLincoln(2012) and Quentin Tarantino’sDjango Unchained(2013) were released.Lincolngrossed over $182 million (over $20 million outside the United States), played at over two thousand theaters in the United States alone, and received ninety-two award nominations, twelve of which were Oscars. The controversialDjango Unchainedraked in over $162 million in the United States (an astounding $117 million in foreign markets) and garnered five Oscar nominations (“Box Office/Business...

  9. Appendix A: Data and Methodology for Content Analysis of Film
    (pp. 175-184)
  10. Appendix B: Data and Methodology for Film Reviews
    (pp. 184-189)
  11. Appendix C: Data and Methodology for Film Audiences
    (pp. 189-192)
  12. References
    (pp. 193-210)
  13. Index
    (pp. 211-219)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 220-220)