Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New Stereotype for a New Generation

The Happy Sambo, Jim Crow, Mammy, The Brute, and so on. These are some of the stereotypes that have been tied to black cinema since its inception. When first introduced these stereotypes weren't seen as the racist depictions they are now categorized as. Back when these stereotypes were introduced they were accepted and appreciated by many. As racial equality grew these stereotypes were seen as offensive and rude, are becoming less and less obvious, and making way for a new black stereotype in film.

The new stereotype is the "Sidekick". When someone says sidekick images go through the mind of super powered dogs or a teenage boy in tights, but its not the same for the black sidekick. The sidekick falls into one of two molds, "The Wise Old Man" and "The Fun-loving Buddy".

The Wise Old Man stereotype is used in film to help guide their white counterpart though life, but always end up playing second fiddle. This stereotype is most portrayed by Morgan Freeman. Freeman has played many roles falling into the black sidekick stereotype. Whether is is Red in Shawshank Redemption or Virtuvius in The Lego Movie, Freeman is constantly working from the background of his films, while his white costar takes the lead.

Probably the most blatantly obvious use of this stereotype is in the film Bruce Almighty. Jim Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a man endowed with god's powers. Freeman plays god, and yet still allows himself to be backup to his empowered white costar. Freeman's god literally goes on vacation and is only used to supply Carrey's character with the occasional knowledge bomb. Freeman meanwhile, gets a fraction of screen time of the other characters in the film.

The other half of the stereotype, The Fun-loving Buddy, is just as prominent in films today. If a wise old black man doesn't fit for the film the sidekick role is filled with a young charismatic companion for the white protagonist. A great example of this stereotype is Chris Rock in The Longest Yard. Much like the old man, this buddy helps the white character though their trials in the film, but they do it with a different style. Chris Rock plays a funny, charismatic, happy friend to Adam Sandler, and instead of using his years of experience to help he uses his natural charm and personality to provide backup for Sandler.

Another example of this stereotype is in the case of Michael B. Jordan. Jordan has played in great films like Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, and the upcoming Creed, and even though he has proven himself in these films as a strong leading man, he still can't break free from the black buddy type cast in That Awkward Moment getting the less screen time and money than his costars Miles Teller and Zac Efron. 

Racial equality is something people have been fighting for for hundreds of years and the movie industry could help by not keeping the black characters in the background and let them step out into a leading role instead of standing in the shadow of their white costar.

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