Classic White Savior Movies
Hollywood just loves to have a white person donning a cape come in and save some poor, Black soul. While some of these White Savior movies were based on true stories, others were just made up and a little too over the top.
Sandra Bullock is known as America’s sweetheart but she won even more hearts over in the 2009 film The Blind Side. Based on the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, the film follows Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher’s life from impoverished beginnings to the NFL. Oher had nothing in his life going for him but football until a white couple, played by Bulllock and Tim McGraw, came along to adopt him. The film grossed over $300 million and Bullock earned critical acclaim and accolades for her performance. She also won a Golden Globe and the coveted Oscar gold for Best Actress.
New teacher Erin Gruwell was excited to begin her career at a recently integrated Long Beach, CA high school in the movie Freedom Writers. Even though the L.A. race riots were still fresh on everyone’s minds, Gruwell was determined to teach the unteachables amid the obvious racial tensions between the self-segregated students. Based on a documentary about Gruwell’s life, Freedom Writers starred Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey.
In a high school classroom filled with Blacks and Latinos with nothing but a dismal future staring at them, one white teacher made all the difference in their worlds. Based on the autobiography of a U.S. Marine, in Dangerous Minds Michelle Pfeiffer is LouAnn Johnson, a jarhead-turned-teacher who uses symbolism and metaphors the students could relate to in order to break through to them. Critics trashed the film but audience members had a different opinion. It did so well in the box office, it spawned a short-lived television show of the same name.
One young white budding journalist took it upon herself to give a voice to several Black maids and expose the everyday racism that they faced during the Civil Rights era. Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer starred in 2011’s The Help, which was adapted from the novel of the same name. The film went over big in the box office, earning more than $200 million. Co-stars Davis and Spencer were both nominated for an Academy award for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, with Spencer walking away with the gold.
Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino caught a lot of flack for his Django Unchained film for its amble use of the N-word. Taking place before the Civil War in the U.S., the film follows slave Django (played by Jamie Foxx) and English-speaking German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz (Christopher Waltz) as they try to capture three outlaws. In exchange for his help in nabbing the bad guys, Django was promised his freedom and help in tracking down his long-lost wife who was held captive on a plantation. The film also caught flack for the commemorative slave dolls that were briefly sold before they were pulled off of the shelves.
12 Years A Slave
In 1841, New York-born freeman Solomon Northup was kidnapped and enslaved for 12 years before finally earning his freedom. His memoir was turned into Steve McQueen’s biopic 12 Years A Slave. Northup tried over and over to prove who he really was but it fell on deaf ears until a Canadian carpenter risked his life to help him out. Chiwetel Ejiofor and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o are both up for Best Actor and Best Actress at the Academy awards in February.
In The Soloist, cello prodigy Nathaniel Ayers had a promising career in front of him but because he battled with schizophrenia, Ayers found himself homeless as an adult. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez discovers Ayers playing on the street and decides to write about his story. Helping him get his life back on track and the right medication to control his disease, Ayers is able to play in recitals and is off of the streets for good. Starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr., The Soloist did poorly in the box office making back only half of its production costs.
A Time to Kill
Any father could relate to what Carl Lee Hailey was going through in A Time To Kill. Set in the backwoods of Mississippi and based on a novel of the same name, Hailey (played by Samuel L. Jackson) took justice into his own hands and killed the two white racists who raped his 10-year-old daughter. Matthew McConaughey plays the high-powered lawyer who argues the case of his career and life to help his client Hailey walk away scot-free and back home to his family. Jackson earned both Golden Globe and NAACP Image award nominations for his role in the film.
Denzel Washington won his first Academy award for his portrayal of Private Silas Trip in the 1989 film Glory. Fighting with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first formal unit of the US Army to be entirely all Black, Private Trip and the others are led by white Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The screenplay was based on personal letters written by Colonel Shaw chronicling his time during the American Civil War. Washington also picked up a Golden Globe and NAACP Image Award for his role.
In the 1995 film Losing Isaiah, Halle Berry plays Khalia Richards, a crack cocaine addicted mother who chooses to get high over raising her child. Once Richards kicks the habit for good, she tries to get her son back but by that time he’s already placed in a safe home with social worker Margaret Lewin, played by Jessica Lange. A custody dispute ensues over who would make the best mother for Isaiah. Berry is no stranger to playing a drug addict. Her first movie role was junkie Vivian in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever.
Looking to earn some extra cash to open her own restaurant, Rhea Perlman plays Phyllis Saroka, a P.E. teacher hired to coach a high school basketball team from the mean streets of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Initially Saroka is in way over her head but with some help from the players, she learns the nuiances and strategies of the sport and soon the team finds themselves on a winning streak. Despite their differences and troubles, Saroka and her team end up battling for the city championship.
16-year-old Black teenager Jamal Wallace attends a prestigious high school and by chance he befriends a reclusive writer that would help change his life. That’s the basis for the 2000 film Finding Forrester. Sean Connery plays the cantankerous William Forrester who begrudgingly helps the young writer with his natural talent and helps him find his voice and come to terms with his identity in the process.
Keanu Reeves plays compulsive gambler Conor O’Neil who’s forced to work off his debt by coaching a children’s softball team in the 2001 film Hardball. After finding out the team is made up of players from Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green projects, O’Neil realizes he’s in over his head. Still worrying about his mounting gambling debts and his new team, O’Neil struggles to keep everything together and despite the odds and the murder of a player, the team ends up winning the championship game.
Who knew that four men from the tropical island of Jamaica could compete in the bitter cold in the Olympic sport of bobsledding? The 1993 film Cool Runnings was loosely based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team that traveled to Calgary, Canada to compete in the winter Olympics. Coached by the disgraced two-time bobsled gold medalist Irving Blitzer, played by comedian John Candy, the team would overcome the odds to win the respect of their fellow Olympians.
Recently divorced and down on his luck, high school teacher Rick Latimer was transferred to one of the worst schools in the district in the 1987 film The Principal. Already dealing with an out of control drinking problem, Latimer, played by James Belushi, sees redemption for himself by helping to turn things around at his new job. The only probem is not everyone wants to change things for the better. Lou Gossett, Jr. and Rae Dawn Chong round out the cast of this flick.