Without vision we succumb to the average and what I want is the extraordinary.
-The Perfect Date
And all I want is for (young adult) movies with White protagonist to stop using Black people to give them the therapy they should be giving to themselves. I guess that’s not just extraordinary that’s a goddamn miracle.
I just wanted to sit down, relax with a dumb little romance movie, but no. Perhaps its my fault, I too often employ critical thought and find it hard to ignore mediocre tropes. It’s almost like the movie was warning me right before I got started, “Hey…ummm this is gonna be basura. Like Sesame street, Grouch level.”
Sure, someone could bring to my attention that this little movie is just that, a movie—far removed from living breathing reality. But the problem is that it isn’t
Introducing Noah Centineo’s character Brooks Rattigan. He’s a high school senior that inhales the words of Steve Jobs and Eolon Musk in his free time, when he’s not pining for material representations of wealth like a BMW i8. When he’s not hammering away at an admissions essay for Yale—because public schools are for underachievers—he’s hanging out with his best friend, Murph. Murph likes to engage his intellect by making apps in his free time. This quirk becomes convenient when Rattigan decides that securing the bag for Yale would be a lot easier if he could monetize his charm and good looks by becoming an escort (without the sex of course).
You can’t change the world alone. Every Jobs needs a Watts, every Jordan has a Pipen…
-The Perfect Date
And every lone White protagonist needs a Magical Negro to make it all come together.
This is Murph. He is begotten by Rattigan (see image left).
But wait—what? What is a Magical Negro you ask?
Think Morgan Freeman in 80% of his movies. Think Raffiki in Lion King. Think all the characters of color who were not Dakota Fanning in The Secret Life of Bees. Think the ghettoized beauties of Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle’s characters in B.A.P.S. Or if you need something more literal and honestly hilarious, watch this Key & Peele sketch.
You need to find your own troubled white boy.
The Magical Negro is a trope that has been a fixture in American films since Hollywood. The character exists for nothing other than to give some external moral wisdom, wonderment, and even closure to White characters. And guess what? if the Magical Negro disappeared, little is affected structurally within the reality of plot–their purpose is situational. Makes one wonder whether the character actually existed at all. I mean for all I know Murph could have been a figment of of Rattigan’s imagination for most of the plot. I only say this because as a viewer I never once saw Murph with his parents.
Why is that important? because the introduction of family and friends roots a character in existence.
I know Rattigan exists because he has a father, there’s a backstory as to why its a single-parent household. I have seen his best friend (Murph) and their relationship. I am more than attune to his romantic inclinations. For godsake, I know the sort of relationship Rattigan has with his high school guidance counselor.
The only factoids I know about Murph is he’s Black, gay, he engineered from a money-making app for his pal Rattigand from scratch, he is emotionally capable of having romantic crushes and being hurt by his best friend. Oh yeah, that happens a lot too. Magical Negros often become the emotional collateral damage of White protagonists. Closure for the Magical Negro only exists within the bounds of the personal growth of the White protagonist—which tends to be little to none.
It gives moving picture and color to the idea that Black and Brown bodies, hearts, and minds exist at the expense of a White person learning some common sense and life lessons.
You see, our friend Rattigan here lacks self-awareness. This creates a bit of problem when he tries to write a personal essay to Yale because he doesn’t really know who he is as a person. Aside from performing well academically and I guess reading about Steve Jobs and Eolon Musk …oh, and his fractured home life, theres not much to draw from I suppose. This also creates issues with his personal relationships because being a chameleon only gets you so far, but you know what keeps him from descending into unforgivable narcism? Murph? No not this time. Murph just creates the technical framework for Rattigand to earn and save money for Yale.
This time its a random older Black woman that request’s Rattigand’s services, which is even better because whens she disappears into the ether no one has to account for that. She was just an older Black woman with a knack for giving wisdom for some of life’s hardest questions. Isn’t that what we all deserve?
This sparks Rattigand’s quest to right his wrongs and question what he thought he truly wanted in life: Ivy League. A girl that lacked a sense of humor but was pretty and rich. A BMW i8.
Swap hot girl for quirky, pixie-dream rich girl, Ivy-League for public university, and self-interest for selective empathy. From there, all the loose ends are tied (as these things often are with actors and actresses that starred on Disney Channel at one point or another). There’s a grand romantic gesture, a sacrifice (no more pseudo-gigolo app), a dance, flashing lights… perhaps an apology for, Murph, our Magical Negro, a cut of the earnings maybe?
No, I mean, our protagonist is self-aware, but his emotional availability and accountability is limited to romantic themes. Murph gets a romantic interest in the end, applauds his best friends luck, and offers to be his roommate because next year they’ll attend the same university. Talk about equality, right?
So what’s all this hullabaloo about? It’s the fact that as a viewer I am supposed to find the protagonists lack of self-reflection, awareness, accountability, and pure usury of his “best friend” endearing. Sure, someone could bring to my attention that this little movie is just that, a movie—far removed from living breathing reality. But the problem is that it isn’t.
It seems television and Hollywood would emphasize that behind every tortured White soul there is a person of color as support, medium, and guide (literally Ghost). And that Brown and Black bodies are the bridging step between that White protagonist and their ability to love someone, repent, or even just take a moment and think about their actions. It gives moving picture and color to the idea that Black and Brown bodies, hearts, and minds exist at the expense of White person learning some common sense and life lessons.
We all deserve better.