The Help and five other movies starring the Great White Hope
After all the strife and human sacrifice during the civil rights movement, it was pretty awesome in the end when every black person was triumphant in some way and every villain got her hilariously cathartic comeuppance by eating a pie full of feces -- but let's not forget that it couldn't have happened without a few genteel, good-hearted white folk to help it along. At least, that seems to be the moral of The Help, Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel of sassy black stereotypes and white benevolence (and last year's One Book, One Denver selection), which hits theaters today. It's not the most enlightened study of race relations in the U.S., but it certainly wouldn't be the first flick whose well-meaning white protagonists solved racism forever.
Helping black people.
Driving Miss Daisy
In 1989's Driving Miss Daisy, the eponymous rich white lady teaches wise-but-not-book-smart negro Morgan Freeman to read, and in turn, he teaches her how to love. It's pretty hard to make a stereotype out of Morgan Freeman, really, and though Driving Miss Daisy gives it a go with some seriously country-fried dialogue, it does manage to make the process pretty touching. In the end, it's really Miss Daisy that ends up needing the help, and that's kind of refreshing. Good thing Morgan Freeman is more or less a saint.
Inadvertent racism scale: 4/10
The Green Mile
If Morgan Freeman is a saintly negro in Driving Miss Daisy, then Micheal Clarke Duncan-as-convicted-serial-killer-John Coffey in The Green Mile is what Spike Lee called a "magic negro" -- a safe, non-threatening black man whose sole purpose in a plot line is to solve a problem for a white person, in this case, Tom Hanks' wife's illness. Some thanks he gets: Tom Hanks ends up executing the dude anyway. But not before some uplifting occurs.
Inadvertent racism scale: 5/10
A Time To Kill
When Samuel Jackson loses his shit and opens fire with an M-16 in a courtroom, it's totally understandable, because he was just doing it to kill the two non-convicted men who raped his daughter. But because it's the racist south (possible theme: only the south is racist?), he's going to need the help of white lawyers Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock to set him free -- helpfully, they're willing to do it pro bono. And get this: Samuel Jackson is such a jaded black dude he doesn't even thank them for it. Luckily, Matthew McConaughey is a benevolent enough white man to show up uninvited at his house for a barbecue so their kids can play together.
Inadvertent racism scale: 7/10
It's tough to be a kid from the ghetto, so good thing this particular class has Michelle Pfeiffer to teach them about Mr. Tambourine Man and bribe them with candy so that they will use their minds, which, as we learn, are much more dangerous than their fists. Unless their fists, like Michelle Pfeiffer, know karate. Then maybe not. Whatever the case, Pfeiffer turns out to be these kids' Mr. Tambourine Man, and they learn to suck it up and stop being victims and stuff.
Inadvertent racism scale: 8/10
The Blind Side
For proof that you should always take the phrase "based on a true story" with a grain of salt, look no further than The Blind Side, wherein benevolent white lady Sandra Bullock must take in giant homeless mongoloid and magic negro Michael Oher and teach him about football so he can be a great NFL player. In fact, Oher remains a football player, and he has a few qualms with his portrayal in the film: "I felt like it portrayed me as dumb instead of as a kid who had never had consistent academic instruction," he later said in his own book, I Beat the Odds. "I could not figure out why the director chose to show me as someone who had to be taught the game of football... I've been studying -- really studying -- the game since I was a kid!" Hey Michael, could you be quiet again? There's some white people over here trying to save you.
Inadvertent racism scale: 10/10