In order to show the world that minority characters are not bad people, one will step forward to help a "normal" person, with their pure heart and folksy wisdom. They are usually black and/or poor, but may come from another oppressed minority. They step (often clad in a clean, white suit) into the life of the much more privileged (and, in particular, almost always white) central character and, in some way, enrich that central character's life. If the Magical Negro (also known as Magic Negro or Mystical Negro) is from a society of Noble Savages, expect an AnviliciousAesop about the failings of the protagonist's society — which usually leads to the protagonist "Going Native".
With such deep spiritual wisdom (and sometimes — though not always — actual supernatural powers), you might wonder why the Magical Negro doesn't step up and save the day himself. This will never happen. So enlightened and selfless is he that he has no desire to gain glory for himself; he only wants to help those who need guidance... which just happens to mean those who are traditionally viewed by Hollywood as better suited for protagonist roles, not, say, his own oppressed people. In fact, the Magical Negro really seems to have no goal in life other than helping white people achieve their fullest potential; he may even be ditched or killed outright once he's served that purpose. If he does express any selfish desires, it will only be in the context of helping the white protagonists realize their own racism and thereby become better people.
This can work somewhat as An Aesop about tolerance and not dismissing individuals from underprivileged groups, and it's certainly an improvement on earlier tendencies to either never depict minority characters at all or make them all villains. However, ultimately it's usually a moral and artistic shortcut, replacing a genuine moral message with a well-intentioned but patronizing homage to the special gifts of the meek. Minority characters still all too often aren't portrayed as the heroes of their own stories, but as helpers of standard white, able-bodied, middle-class heroes, and they aren't depicted as, you know, actual people with their own desires, flaws and character arcs, but as mystical, Closer to Earth plot devices. If taken far enough, it may send the message that minorities don't have any problems of own, nor get frustrated in times of trouble.
See also Whoopi Epiphany Speech, Black Best Friend, and Mammy. For a similar trope about women, see Manic Pixie Dream Girl (as well as Disposable Woman and The Bechdel Test); the Magical Girlfriend may play a similar role for her love interest, but is not necessarily an example of this. For the gay version see Magical Queer (who may also be black). The disabled version of this is Inspirationally Disadvantaged. When a non-minority character is portrayed this way, the character is usually a Sidekick Ex Machina. Similar in vein to the Magical Native American, though that trope tends to be more explicitly magical. Also similar to Magical Asian, when an Asian character, often with supernatural abilities, fulfills a mentor role to a white character. Another related trope is White Man's Burden, where the plot is about an ordinary white person who befriends an underprivileged minority character.
The term "Magical Negro" was popularized by Spike Lee during a lecture denouncing this trope.
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In the story "Batman R.I.P.", Bruce Wayne is found lost on the street with no memory of who he is, when he comes across a black homeless man named Honor Jackson. Honor helps Bruce start his path to recovery, but then disappears and is revealed to have already been dead. However, while it looks like this trope at first, it's actually a subversion - it's eventually revealed that Honor is looking for his own personal redemption, saying that he'd never done anything he could be proud of, but was now happy to save one man's life.
In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance, Honor Jackson gets a page in the first issue of Morrison's Batman run. Batman gives him a few bucks when the Batmobile is stopped nearby, noting to Robin that there's always time to help people. Honor apparently uses this money to drink himself to death. Arguably the Honor that Bruce met later during Batman R.I.P. was never anything more than a fragment of Bruce's psyche, which raises a few questions about Bruce.
Ali Ka-Zoom from Seven Soldiers fits this trope. He even appears to be acting as a wise mentor of sorts to Shining Knight at the close of the book.
Yinsen from Iron Man's origin, who exists only to be very wise and honorable and then die so Iron Man can get motivated to kick evil ass, is an Asian version of this. (He has since been retconned to Afghan rather than East Asian, and was played by Shuan Toub in the 2008 film.)
In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, the character Maisie Hill in the Game of You story arc (otherwise known as the I-don't-like-dogs-lady) changes one main character's perceptions of "subway people" and literally saves another main character's life with the sacrifice of her own.
Wanted. Actually a subversion, since he's manipulating the Fraternity for profit, and all his talk about "destiny" and "duty" turns out to be a smokescreen.
Driving Miss Daisy is very close to this trope, but Freeman's character gets a bit too much of his own character development to qualify.
The Bruce/Evan Almighty films, where the main characters are selfish white guys who need his assistance to find wisdom. He's almost literally magical in this case, as he's playing God.
Interestingly enough, this is inverted in the film The Shawshank Redemption. Red is the narrator, everyman, and a murderer, while a fellow white prisoner, Andy Dufresne, is the suffering saint that re-ignites his hope.
In Batman Begins, he plays Lucius Fox, a Gadgeteer Genius who has hit a career dead-end in Wayne Enterprises' Applied Science Department, the resting place for advanced products that never made it into production. Nevertheless, he still happily agrees to give Bruce Wayne the gear he needs to become Batman, no questions asked. Subverted at the end when Bruce repays him by promoting him to CEO of Wayne Enterprises.
Freeman's version of Nelson Mandela in the film Invictus.
The literally magical Vitruvius in The LEGO Movie serves to play with this trope.
Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story. Drummer Sam played by Tim Meadows introduces Dewey to various drugs, saying "You don't want no part of this shit". He also introduces Dewey in the film’s prologue saying to a TV producer: “You’ll have to give him a moment, son; Dewey Cox has to think about his entire life before he plays.’
Harlan, Adam's family's old driver in Adam seems to have nothing better to do than give him advice, and look bemused, of course.
Inverted in Finding Forrester, when Sean Connery plays a mysterious white man with incredible writing ability that helps a clueless inner city youth (black) become a famous writer and the man now, dog.
Moses the clock worker in The Hudsucker Proxy. He provides sagely narration in a stereotypical patois, is satisfied coaxing the protagonist to success, and apparently has the unexplained power to stop time by obstructing the gears of the Hudsucker Building's clock. He's a bit of a parody of the trope, though, by being a blatant, literal Magical Negro.
The Legend Of Bagger Vance: Bagger Vance; notably, the film is very loosely based on the Bhagavad Gita, with Vance in the role of Krishna, so it's implied that Bagger Vance is actually God. Admittedly, this is a fairly appropriate translation of the original story. The easiest way to get Western audiences to understand the extreme social distance between the prince Arjuna and his charioteer is to portray "R. Junnah" as white and "Bagger Vance" as black in the Jim Crow South.
The Matrix has some interesting cases. Morpheus comes very close to being one, but he does ultimately have his own goals and character arc independent of helping Neo. The Oracle, however, is an absolutely textbook example in the first movie, although the sequels give her a wider role.
A historical/film example which seems to play with or subvert the trope is the movie Something the Lord Made. It tells the story of a white surgeon (Alan Rickman) aided in his cardiac research by a black assistant (Mos Def) who is clearly the greater genius of the two. However, against type, the black assistant is not shown as being happy having another take credit for his work, but realizes this is the only way for him to do what he is interested in rather than being a janitor. There is also an implication that despite his goodness and supposed liberalism, the white doctor was essentially a plagiarist taking advantage of the racist system. Based on the true story of Vivien Thomas and Alfred Blalock, whose relationship the Wikipedia summarizes as "complicated and contradictory".
Uncle Remus from Song of the South epitomizes this trope, a key reason why the movie isn't seen much today. Even the horrors of Jim Crow can't dampen his determination to be a cheerful mentor to white children.
Waiting gives us Bishop, a ridiculously blatant execution of this trope. He's the only black character in the movie, and apparently is a fully trained behavioral psychiatrist who chooses to work as a dishwasher at some random restaurant. He exists only to give complex advice to everyone's social and psychological problems, and does so with a calm, deep-voiced, wise demeanor.
Djimon Hounsou also seems to be playing this sort of role A LOT since his role as Maximus' friend in Gladiator.
Hitch manages to subvert this trope just by changing the focus. Will Smith plays a character whose job is literally teaching white guys how to be as cool as he is - he's a "date doctor" who coaches socially clueless men on how to woo women. However, since Hitch himself is the protagonist, not the white guys — and, accordingly, he gets a real character arc instead of remaining a static figure — he's really not at all a Magical Negro.
The handicapped (black) golf instructor/mentor Chubbs Peterson, whose hand got eaten by a crocodile in Happy Gilmore.
Solomon from Hand That Rocks The Cradle is an example of this character type as well.
In The Basketball Diaries, Ernie Hudson plays the only black character in the film, who does a lot to help the protagonist.
Played with in A Patch of Blue: Selina, who is blind, white and incredibly sheltered, thinks Gordon is this (in a good way), but he's really just a regular, non-stereotyped guy who wants to help her become independent.
Vadinho from the Puma Man, whose job it is to hand the protagonist the magic belt with the mystical powers of the Puma Man and make him realize his destiny without using these awesome powers for himself, instead becoming the hero's sidekick. The problem is, the hero is so ineffectual that Vadinho ends up looking like The Hero by comparison and making the film unintentionally subvert the trope.
Mateo in Jim Sheridan's In America. Despite his appearance as Starving Artist, he turns out to really be one of those Rich People, so he's able to pay the Sullivan family's hospital check. Along with teach the family's father how to feel again.
Averted in The Preacher's Wife. While Denzel Washington plays a Magical Negro sent from heaven, he does so to help a black woman save her marriage to a black pastor.
The acclaimed French film "Les Intouchables" (The Intouchables) falls into the Magical Negro trap, being the story of a jaded and rich (although disabled) white man who magnanimously hires an unqualified poor black man as a caretaker who, with his sassy urban ways, teaches the white man to appreciate life again, subsuming his entire existence to that goal. This movie is based on a true story, but it is worth noting that in real life, the caretaker was not black.
Inverted in Django Unchained, with Dr. King Schultz taking the traditional magical negro role.
Averted in The Verdict. Deprived of his star expert witness, Frank brings in Dr. Thompson, a Simple Country Doctor type from the East Hampton Women's Hospital. He's an older black man whose slightly bumbling affect makes you think he's doing Obfuscating Stupidity. He's not. When he leaves, you have a strong sense that his parting words ("People have a great ability to hear the truth") are going to give Frank a brilliant idea. Nope. He's just a nice guy who picks up a little extra cash by being an expert witness for hire. However, if anyone had really been listening to his testimony, he reveals everything that must have happened (and in fact did happen).
Viola Davis plays a literal magical negro mammy/librarian in Beautiful Creatures whose only purpose and desire in life is to help the white characters solve their problems.
Cloud Atlas shows black people as the technologically advanced elites in the far future setting. Notably, the white characters live a primitive, tribal lifestyle. In many ways, this comes off as a satirical inversion of the classic Victorian White Man's Burden setup.
The King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland was willing to help out Alice as much as he could when he met her. He reasoned with his wife to be fair and kind to her, especially during her trial. However, the minute she said "Off with her head!", he no longer tried to help Alice.
Stephen King seems to have issues on this subject; many of his writings and their film adaptations include examples of this trope. To be fair to King, he does acknowledge his tendency to write characters such as Dick Hallorann and Mother Abigail as superblack heroes (his words) and says they are products of his white liberal guilt.
The Green Mile: John Coffey, the gentle black man who calmly dies so as not to cause a fuss while using his powers to help those who guarded his cell. There is a Christ-metaphor at work there, showing the white audience how their structural racism killed Coffey.
The Stand: Mother Abigail, elderly and black; Nick Andros, deaf-mute; Tom Cullen, mentally disabled. Abigail is arguably an aversion, since she's pretty much the single most powerful person in Boulder. Also averted in that we spend quite a lot of time inside Mother Abigail's head, and her self-doubt complicates the situation for the heroes in the second act. Joe, a twelve-to-fourteen-year old who, due to trauma, regressed into a non-speaking, sometimes violent savage. Larry at one point realizes that Joe is reading his mind.
Dreamcatcher: Duddits is a white, saintly brain-damaged kid.
Magic, mentally disabled guys are arguably a literal trope in themselves with Stephen King. They seem to have special immunity to dark magic and what-not.
The Talisman (and to a lesser extent the sequel Black House): Young, white hero Jack Sawyer is guided along his way by aging blues-man Lester "Speedy" Parker and his Territories twinner, Parkus.
The Dark Tower: Sheemie Ruiz, the slightly retarded psychic and teleporter. Avoided, however, with Susannah.
Duma Key is about a man who loses an arm and gets serious brain damage in a construction accident. He also gets mysterious painting powers along with it. He's not the sidekick; he's the main character.
The Shining: Dick Hallorann, although he's much more proactive than some of King's other examples and is a hero in his own right. Also, as a much-sought-after chef in high-class hotels, he's actually richer than the protagonists.
King's fondness for the Magical Negro trope was discussed in an episode of Key And Peele, with the comedians eventually wondering aloud if Maine (where King grew up) is full of psychic black people.
Richard Matheson's Stir of Echoes has Neil the cop, who's introduction scene plays almost exactly like Hallorann's in The Shining above, even more so in the filmed version.
In Boy's Life by Robert McCammon, Moon Man and The Lady are typical Magical Negroes.
Brom's The Plucker casts the character Mabelle as a blatant Magical Negro: she uses forbidden magic to help the white family, then dies unpleasantly and returns as a ghost to tell the little boy how to dispose of the Big Bad's remains.
The title character in Bernard Malamud's short story "The Angel Levine" is an early (and very blatant) example.
The Cay, by Theodore Taylor, features an old black man who rescues a racist white boy who had become blinded when their ship sinks. The two live together in a tropical island and the black man lives long enough to make the boy a better person before dying in a hurricane. The book won a number of awards before suffering a backlash due to accusations of racism. Nonetheless it remains a classic children's book.
Taylor later told the old man's backstory in the sequel/prequel, Timothy of the Cay.
Jim from Huckleberry Finn is a nice subversion. While he is Black, and into magic, it doesn't Flanderize him and certainly isn't portrayed typically. Bonus points for averting Hollywood Voodoo.
Dobby from the Harry Potter franchise plays this to a T: oppressed ethnic minority (house-elf), kept as a slave, speaks pidgin English, is eternally grateful that main character (Harry) treats him decently, has enormous magical powers but rarely uses them, later freed by main character and basically becomes his slave, eventually sacrifices his life to save Harry.
Hassan, from The Kite Runner. Not black (he's Hazara), but hits the rest of the criteria so heavily to demand recognition.
Burton Galilee in Little Green Men. His great talent is said to be making white people feeling good about themselves.
Stuart "Straight" Rathe in the Underground Zealot series. Straight leads Paul, the white (and atheist) hero to Christ. He then spends his time driving Paul to chess tournaments, giving him Biblical advice on his relationship, and getting him in touch with other Christians.
Parodied—or something—in Bill Fitzhugh's Pest Control. Just when the protagonist Bob Dillon (no relation toBob Dylan) is at his lowest ebb, with his wife and daughter having left, and he without enough money to so much as buy a nice dinner, he stumbles upon a southern Black woman who runs the Beebe Avenue Mission. While giving him some advice, snark, and soup, she happens to mention that she opened the mission specifically to fix people's broken dreams. Which means she's not there just to help Bob, she's doing her best to help everyone. At the end of the book, Bob sends her a good portion the money he earned from faking his own assassination. She notes that she can fix a lot of dreams with this.
August Boatwright in The Secret Life of Bees invites white runaway teenager Lily and her black servant Rosalee to live with her when they show up at her door. She becomes Lily's spiritual guide and healer.
Dresden Files falls into this trope in Small Favor, when the folksy, magical, African-American janitor provides philosophical and religious advice to Dresden when he is praying in the hospital chapel. It turns out that the janitor is actually the angel Uriel, but to add insult to injury, when Uriel is in his angelic form, he is white, young, and blonde.
Parodied in a series of The Man Show sketches. A hapless white guy is presented with an opportunity to cheat on his wife, and as he agonizes over the decision, a self-identified Magical Negro appears to him, sings a song about "Listening to your penis's heart," and helps him find a way to rationalize the infidelity.
The premise of New Amsterdam is that a Mighty Whitey saves the life of a Magical Native American and in return they use their magic to make him immortal. Naturally, it never occurs to them to make the members of their own tribe immortal, perhaps because the immortal magic only works on superior white genes. However, they only made him immortal until he found his true happiness (Blessed with Suck?), at which point he'd become mortal again. Since they're not around anymore, the implication is that they were already quite happy the way they were, making it less Magical Negro and more Noble Savage (recovering Magical Native American).
A bizarre twist and possible subversion — the protagonist's mentor who gives him sagely advice and a beer whenever he needs to unwind and talk about his troubles, while a very stereotypically grizzled and kindly old black man, is also...the protagonist's son. Such are the vagaries of being an unaging immortal (the kind who can have kids but can't pass on the immortality).
Rose on LOST consistently dispenses sensible, down-to-earth wisdom. She leads Charlie in prayer after his Disney Death. She mystically "knows" her husband is alive elsewhere on the island. In general, if she believes a character is good, she's correct.
However, Rose later grew a bit, becoming a character in her own right in season 2 with a back story and her own side plot. And by season 4, she's actively snarking at Jack. And then she decides to just give up and just live in "retirement" with Bernard.
Locke initially seems to fit the role of a strange white version of a Magical Negro, possessing mystical, almost shamanistic knowledge and a deep, unexplained communion with the island, always ready to dispense nice bits of pop-wisdom and jungle smarts...that is, until later in the series when he goes from subservient shaman spirit-guide to full-blown Messiah. And then crazy person/gullible dupe, responsible for much ill-advised Stuff Blowing Up.
Inverted in the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone episode "Paladin of the Lost Hour", which had a magical white man (who does double duty as The Obi-Wan) help the young black protagonist find his destiny.
In the short story upon which the episode is based, author Harlan Ellison states, "One of these men was black, the other white" and refuses to say which one is which. Of course, for a visual medium, they had to make a choice, and it seems that they deliberately chose to avoid the Magical Negro trope.
Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation, played by Whoopi Goldberg, is an El-Aurian, a member of a race with an almost supernatural sense of time and space. She's Picard's Black Best Friend, but she's happy to give a Whoopi Epiphany Speech to anyone who asks—or anyone else she thinks needs one. She can tell when history has been altered, has centuries of experience and accumulated skills, is a better shot than the Enterprise's chief of security, and is the only person on the ship who scares Q. Despite the fact that she could probably replace anyone on the crew, she chooses to work as a bartender in Ten Forward.
However, while Guinan fits the trope closely enough to be a definite example, she's also a little more complex than most Magical Negroes — it's strongly implied that she led her own long life of adventure and heroism before settling down as a bartender, and on rare occasions she does realize she was wrong about something instead of being mysteriously right all the time.
American Gothic. Although Mrs. Holt is certainly mysterious, wise, and spiritual enough to be a Magical Negro. The extent of her 'magic spell' to help sway the judge in Caleb's custody hearing is...a nice big bowl of homemade chicken soup. Aside from some hints at African tribalism in her ancestry, a bit of voodoo, and some understanding of how the Afterlife works, she dispenses only common sense advice.
In one episode her ineffectiveness in protecting Caleb from evil is lampshaded when Buck, after being thwarted by her interference, apparently makes her verge on choking to death — presumably he does not kill her because she's that small a blip on his radar (or such a petty thing would be beneath him). And the advice she gives Caleb regarding Merlyn's spirit being laid to rest is quite sound, namely "don't mess with the dead." Too bad Caleb doesn't listen, and in trying to help her move on instead brings her back...with unfortunateresults.
By the end of the show, though, she has indeed been ditched from the plot, and without even really serving a real purpose other than to give Caleb her halfway house to stay in. We can only speculate whether her role was cut due to Executive Meddling, or if it might have been expanded had the show not been Cut Short.
Maya is a wheelchair-bound girl who is always the voice of reason in her circle of friends, and (unlike every single one of those friends) never gets a spotlight episode.
BLT also fit this trope. He was instrumental in helping Michelle overcome her insecurities and even confront her parents about their own racism. He then helped her overcome her addiction to caffeine pills. Magnificently subverted later when BLT cheated on and dumped Michelle showing how flawed he was.
Strangest of all is Patrick, who is a Magical Irishman. He befriends Liz and Spike (the two grimmest girls in the show). Then he teaches them to live and enjoy life again, to a degree where he's like a mild male version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The effect — a boy dressed like a stock Irish laborer from old movies, singing Celtic love songs (which he writes and composes) in a thick brogue — is hard to describe. We never see him do anything that doesn't involve helping these girls, and he eventually vanishes without a trace.
Speaking of Degrassi, Jimmy Brooks from Degrassi The Next Generation counts as well. He was pretty much always right and always good and always the voice of reason before and after he was crippled.
Larry Wilmore, "Senior Black Correspondent" on The Daily Show, explicitly referenced the trope one episode. A disbelieving Jon Stewart repeated, "Magical...?" "Negro. It's okay, you can say it." "Magical... I'm sorry, I'm a little uncomfortable—" "Good. That was a test."
A subsequent incident involving "imaginary black crime" featured the other party pointing out that the "imaginary black people who help whites", such as most Morgan Freeman characters, "aren't imaginary, they're magical!"
On an episode of The Daily Show from around the time of Barack Obama's one-year anniversary as President, Larry Wilmore had to convince Jon Stewart that Obama was not, in fact, a Magical Negro, by painting a lackluster picture of his Presidential track record thus far.
Usutu in Volume 3 of Heroes bears deep, deep elements of this. His sole purpose seems to be to send Parkman (and later, Hiro) on spiritual visions of the future and the past, and then die.
And apparently the poor guy can't even rest in peace, because Volume 4 has him appearing to Parkman in visions, explaining that Matt is destined to become a prophet to the world.
Charles Deveaux is pretty bad, too. In the season one finale, he appears in Peter Petrelli's dreams to tell him about the power of love, and about Peter's very special destiny to save the world. This is despite the fact that Peter had recently instigated a fight that ended with Charles' daughter Simone getting shot and killed. So if Charles is teaching Peter anything in his dreams, it really ought to be about the power of an incredibly pissed off father breaking a foot off in his super powered ass, but of course this is completely ignored in order to further Peter's character. Arguably, Peter hallucinated the entire conversation, in which Moral Dissonance would apply.
Benson is an odd subversion — it's about a wise black servant employed in the household of a wealthy governor's family, who solves all their problems. And is secretly the governor's most trusted political adviser. But unlike most Magical Negroes he is the main character and often has problems of his own to deal with, he constantly insults the Governor and the staff behind their backs and to their faces, and is often dragged into their problems whether he wants to help them or not. Eventually Benson seeks his own political office, running against his former mentor plus a dark horse in a close political race. The show was deliberately ended in a Cliff Hanger, though Word of God states that, yes, Benson did win that office.
In the Sylvester McCoy episode "Remembrance of the Daleks" the Doctor is helped out by a black man who serves tea in a cafe while inexplicably offering philosophical insights based on the enslavement of his ancestors.
The Doctor DID start the philosophical train of thought, however, by commenting on how the demand for sugar started off a long string of events.
Earl Sigma in the following story "The Happiness Patrol".
Carmen from "Planet of the Dead", a psychic who only exists to amp up the dread with her predictions of death (particularly the Doctor's).
Referenced in an early episode of Bones, when Angela is talked out of quitting by Dr. Goodman.
Bones: What happened?
Zack: Apparently all Angela needed was to hear her job description in a deep, African-American tone.
This is a parody though, he tells Robin that he couldn't be bothered to remember their names and implies that however poetically he may have pretended to phrase it for them, he was leaving because he was bored.
Neatly subverted by Shepherd Book in Firefly. He may be Serenity's resident mentor and act as The Conscience for the Caucasian crew members, but he's not the holy man he appears to be — he's the man who killed him.
Serenity, however, is sometimes accused of reducing Book to this role. On the other hand, the scene in which he refuses to tell Mal about his background can be taken as a subversion — the classic Magical Negro would have happily told his life story and used it as a metaphor to help the white hero figure himself out.
Heylia on Weeds subverts this thoroughly; she's always giving Nancy advice both on pot dealing and on life in general, but whenever it looks like the show might follow this trope, she proves that while she likes Nancy well enough, it's ultimately a business relationship and her first priority is herself and her own family. Whenever Nancy can't pay for her product, she either takes something for collateral or simply tells her "Tough shit."
From Robin Hood: Brother Tuck. Yes, Tuck was turned into a Magical Negro. The fact that they dropped the "Friar" and referred to the only black man in England as a "Brother" who never once gave any kind of spiritual or moral guidance was another way in which the combined forces of Political Correctness and Narm beat this show to death.
In the pilot episode of Community Jeff poses a question at a random black cafeteria worker and then apologizes by saying,
Jeff: Oh jeez, I'm sorry. I was raised on TV, and I was conditioned to believe that every black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor.
Parodied and subverted on Chappelle's Show. In one sketch, Dave helps a young white woman appreciate her special gifts by showing her how they are responsible for her having a career and friends... and the only thing averting a nuclear holocaust. The subversion comes in when Dave reveals he's no angel, just a janitor.
Then how did you show me all those places? —>Girl, I am high on PCP! I was gonna ask you how you was followin' me.
The Sarah Silverman Program has Sarah learn the lesson that older black women are wise beyond their years :and younger black women are prostitutes.
Averted in Homicide: Life on the Street in that Frank is better educated but far more egotistical than Tim. Gee is certainly wise and a mentor, but prefers to let people figure things out for themselves.
Averted in Oz. While Kareem Said is a brilliant leader and fiercely intelligent, he deals with many of his own problems. Character depth also prevents him from just being a cliche. His friendship with Tobias Beecher is also more destructive in a sense than helpful.
Played straight in Neds Declassified School Survival Guide with the Lunch Lady, who occasional dispenses real, down-to-earth wisdom, but whose primary role is to divine the future through baked beans.
Ogion the Silent becomes this in the Scifi Channel's version of Ursula K. Le Guin's monumental A Wizard Of Earthsea. Go here, here and here for a detailed analysis of the racial miscasting in Earthsea.
He stands for the people, they're hopin' and dreamin', It's gonna be just like voting for Morgan Freeman.
The political Right often claims that President Obama is viewed this way by the Left. Paul Shanklin, an impressionist-singer-comedian for The Rush Limbaugh Show, composed a song (called — what else? — "Barack the Magic Negro") sung in the impersonated voice of Al Sharpton speaking through a megaphone to just that effect, based in turn upon a column written by Los Angeles Times columnist David Ehrenstein in which Mr. Ehrenstein referred to Obama as one.
The sensitivity of this depiction may be in question, but he does seem to be able to calm babies in a semi-magical way.
Approached directly in the monologue of a recent Saturday Night Live (hosted by Steve Buscemi) in which a bunch of character actors stand up in the audience, one of them being "Chance," the "Magical African American Character" that "chews straw and gives the pretty white guy ad-vice, and then after the ad-vice works, he disappears."
The Vampire Diaries is known for its portrayal of Black Witches. Witches on the show are predominantly Black, and most Black characters are witches. Witches, the most powerful supernatural characters, are shown to be descendants of slaves, although this is not openly acknowledged or referenced. Although they are incredibly powerful, witches- or Black witches are subservient to the Caucasian characters. What rare insights we are given to the world of witches, we are made to understand that most magic is done selflessly for the benefit of white characters, or to "preserve the balance" of nature. Notably, Emily Bennett worked as Katherine's handmaid. In addition, she used her powers to provide her and other vampires immunity from sunlight. Why she would do this despite obviously not approving of the "vampire lifestyle" is apparently a I Owe You My Life situation that is never expanded on. The subtext isn't really helped by the series being set in the American South.
One of the main characters of the show, Bonnie Bennett, is given very little screen time or character development. Her plot lines are rarely taken out of the context of being a witch. Like the other Black witches, she selflessly aids the Caucausian characters in the show. Furthermore, Bonnie is used a vehicle for plot development and white character growth. Bonnie's love interests often use her as a pawn; the love interests are usually villains that first, attempt to get to Bonnie for her magic, and second, and more importantly, their use of magic always involves a Caucasian character (revenge on a vampire, saving Elena, etc.) . Bonnie's dynamic reinforces the master-slave dynamic in this way; while Bonnie is powerful, because she is Black and powerful, the purpose of her magic is to serve the white characters.
"Her (white) friends are gaining all kinds of power left and right (and angsting over it), while Bonnie has seemingly sacrificed the use of her witchy abilities after using them to save Elena and company over and over again. (Remember, last season her mother was turned into a vampire, also because of Elena.) What’s more, she keeps making sacrifices, big and small, for this group of–frankly horrible–friends. That plotline did lead to a potential romantic entangle for Bonnie that I wanted to be excited about (since, because Bonnie’s life just bites, none of her romantic interests ever work out), until it was revealed that the character (a college professor) is most likely some kind of evil. Bonnie Bennett, eternal sacrificial Black Best Friend and Magical Negro, cannot catch a break."1 & 2
The sketch comedy series Key & Peele has two such magical African-Americans fighting to the mutual death over who would get to enlighten a success-weary white man.
The sting in the tail comes when a middle-aged black woman enters and the white man mistakes her for yet anotherMagical Negro, to which she replies, "Who you calling a negro, bitch?"
Wingin' It, a show about an inexperienced (black) angel who alters reality to help a socially awkward (white) student.
Parodied in a The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode where Jameson Whitworth, a wealthy eccentric, comes to believe Will is his good luck charm. He goes so far as to make his "Young homie" into his financial adviser, with the belief that Will has the supernatural ability to make him richer.
Discussed in 30 Rock regarding the Show Within a ShowGod Cop: "God can't just tell him who did it. Watch the pilot, Lemon, it's all explained at the end by the wise black man played by Karl Malone".
In the music video to country singer Chris Young's "The Man I Want to Be," we are introduced to an older black man in a suit sitting on a bench outside of bus depot. Chris Young takes a seat, and is first offered food, but denies the offer in favor of spiritual advice. The older black man chuckles as he hands Chris Young a magical quarter that will allow him to make a phone call to God.
Political satirist Paul Shanklin made a song called "Barack the Magic Negro." The song was, naturally, called racist. However, it was really poking fun at the media for helping to create Obama's image, which can be called reminiscent of this trope.
Played oddly straight by the black playwright August Wilson, many of whose Century Cycle plays include characters of this nature as parts of all-or-nearly-all-black casts (Stool Pigeon in King Hedley II, Elder Barlow in Radio Golf, Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean and offstage in other plays).
Papa, the old steam engine from the musical Starlight Express, although he at least takes part in one race (and wins). In the original London cast, Rusty, the young steam engine under his tutelage, was also black, but later productions cast white actors as Rusty....
In Far Cry 3, Dennis Rogers is a Liberia native whose an outsider to the Island. He becomes a Tattoo Warrior and fights with the Rebels. He even works his way up to being the second-command of the leader Citra. However, instead of becoming the hero and leading the Rebels to victory against the Pirates, he waits until the game's Protagonist Jason Brody shows up and decides to guide him in becoming the hero of the Island.
Phineas from DMC Devil May Cry is a demon whom like Sparta, rebelled against Mundus. But he was captured and imprisoned. He uses a magical eye, that you must retrieve first, to open the next path for Dante in limbo.
The Enchantress who rules the Sunhook Spire in the Awakening series is a literal case: she's an extremely powerful enchantress capable of holding off an attack on her tower. Played with in that in protecting her domain, she put herself into a magical coma and does not actually provide help to Sophia until the final chapter of the game.
Clambake pretty much exudes that vibe, associated with nice old black men in too many movies and books to count, of “Here’s a nice old black man who’s going to help you white people solve your problems with his folk wisdom/instinctive understanding of human nature/magical powers, but isn’t going to do anything to make you uncomfortable, like have sex with white women or vote or speak in that damn ‘izzle’ language.”
This is one trope that The Simpsons did not subvert for the first time, though they did have fun with it. Lisa Simpson had her own personal Magical Negro in the form of Bleedin' Gums Murphy, who noted that she should listen when people tell her to brush her teeth and that she sang the blues pretty good for someone with no actual problems.
They finally did outright subvert this in the episode "Brawl in the Family", with the character Gabriel, an apparent Magical Negro (who Homer thinks is an angel) and social worker assigned to help the family with their dysfunction. He's also voiced by Delroy Lindo. Homer expressly compares him to the aforementioned Bagger Vance example. Gabriel, confronted by Homer's long lost Vegas wife, gives up on the family, telling Homer, "Your seed should be wiped from the Earth!"
The Wrong Coast had one movie parody with the title Magical Black Men. Starring Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, Don Cheadle and Lawrence Fishburne (all four of whom are or have been typecast into this trope) teaming up to solve the problems of white men in a moral crisis.
Subverted and parodied by Toots in Clone High. Toots is a blind jazz clarinetist who tries to give sagely advice, and really, really fails.
Subverted by Chef of South Park, whose advice usually amounts to him singing passionate soul songs about sex. That, or imparting information an 8-year-old really shouldn't know.
Stan: "Chef, how can I get a girl to like me?" Chef: "Oh, that's easy! You just have to find the clitoris."
And on one occasion where Chef could have given Stan useful information, he didn't.
Chef: "Hello there, children!" Stan: "Hey, Chef! What would a priest wanna stick up my butt?" Chef: "...G'bye!"
Inverted in Yvon Of The Yukon; the title character, a ludicrously uncouth, unkempt, vulgar and crusty Frenchman becomes a "sagely" mentor to the thoroughly ordinary teenager Tommy, who happens to be Inuit.
Somewhat parodied with Mashed Potato Johnson on Metalocalypse, in that he gives the boys advice on how to become successful blues musicians, when they're already the most popular musicians in history.
Played with in season four of The Venture Bros.: Hank wonders if the UPS man is psychic, and Dr. Venture points out "Just because he's black doesn't mean he has The Shining!" Turns out, he does.