Presentation/Paper Title

The Regendering of the White Savior

Abstract

Filmmakers have long employed white characters that serve to lift African American characters out of destitution or hardship through inherently benevolent qualities; these heroes have been branded the central figures in the “white savior model” that has come to dominate films about race relations. The white savior centers whiteness while relegating blackness to the margins. In an analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and The Help (2011), however, this paper will argue that gender also plays a significant role in the development of a white savior. Through discussions of characterization, narrative structure and setting, it becomes clear that the cultivation of an interracial sisterhood that accompanies a female white savior leads to the transferal of a voice from white character to black character, one that remains largely absent in films including male saviors. This phenomenon is largely due to women being culturally marked as more sentimental, whereas men like Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch epitomize male rationality.

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The Regendering of the White Savior

Filmmakers have long employed white characters that serve to lift African American characters out of destitution or hardship through inherently benevolent qualities; these heroes have been branded the central figures in the “white savior model” that has come to dominate films about race relations. The white savior centers whiteness while relegating blackness to the margins. In an analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and The Help (2011), however, this paper will argue that gender also plays a significant role in the development of a white savior. Through discussions of characterization, narrative structure and setting, it becomes clear that the cultivation of an interracial sisterhood that accompanies a female white savior leads to the transferal of a voice from white character to black character, one that remains largely absent in films including male saviors. This phenomenon is largely due to women being culturally marked as more sentimental, whereas men like Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch epitomize male rationality.

 

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