Academic journal article American Studies

THE WHITE SAVIOR FILM: Content, Critics, and Consumption

Academic journal article American Studies

THE WHITE SAVIOR FILM: Content, Critics, and Consumption

Article excerpt

THE WHITE SAVIOR FILM: Content, Critics, and Consumption. By Matthew W. Hughey. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 2014.

Matthew W. Hughey's The White Savior Film: Content, Critics, and Consumption is an incisive contribution to critical studies of whiteness. In undertaking to outline the genre markers, critical reception, and audience attitudes towards a body of films like Dangerous Minds (1995), Hard Ball (2001), and The Blind Side (2009), Hughey draws attention to the kind of racial common sense that these films construct, reflect, and propagate.

The White Savior Film is particularly noteworthy for its methodological rigor and wide scope. In the introductory chapter, Hughey examines the savior trope and traces its historical genealogy-one that carries from the film houses of the Great Depression through the Hollywood adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) to Avatar (2009). Moving on from this historical contextualization of savior tropes and the construction of whiteness, the book's three central chapters each analyze a different aspect of the genre's production and circulation, and each relies on a distinct research method. This variance makes the study particularly robust.

In the chapter "White Savior Films: The Content of Their Character" Hughey analyzes fifty white savior films produced over a twenty-five year period to identify key characteristics both in their cinematic features and in their production context. Laying out studio names, film earnings, awards, and other production characteristics of the films, the author also analyzes how screen time is divided among white characters and the characters to be saved and identifies seven characteristics of white savior films. These characteristics in particular, offer a useful rubric for considering the hallmarks of this genre.

The third chapter, "Reviewing Whiteness: Critics and Their Commentary," presents a remarkably deep analysis of nearly 2,800 English-language reviews of the fifty films discussed throughout the book. Here, Hughey employs a compelling combination of close reading and more statistical analysis by which he is able to trace broad trends while pointing to evocative examples. …

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