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Oscar Loves a White Savior

If a movie features white people rescuing people of color from their plight, odds are high an Oscar will follow.

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It’s a subtle pivot, but it is important: By focusing as much or more on the white writer’s courage, talent and perseverance, it effectively turns her into the savior. It also makes a distinction between good White Saviors and bad White Bigots, thus forwarding a falsehood about how racism operates on a systemic level. As University of California professor Patricia Davis wrote in the  New York Times:

There’s a problem, though, with (the movie’s) message. To suggest that bad people were racist implies that good people were not.

Jim Crow segregation survived long into the 20th century because it was kept alive by white Southerners with value systems and personalities we would applaud…(It is) a troubling falsehood: the notion that well-educated Christian whites were somehow victimized by white trash and forced to live within a social system that exploited and denigrated its black citizens, and that the privileged white upper class was somehow held hostage to these struggling individuals.

But that wasn’t the case. The White Citizens Councils, the thinking man’s Ku Klux Klan, were made up of white middle-class people, people whose company you would enjoy. An analogue can be seen in the way popular culture treats Germans up to and during World War II. Good people were never anti-Semites; only detestable people participated in Hitler’s cause.


David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at
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