Mighty Whitey (1700s- ) or the White Saviour is a white main character of a story who saves people of colour or “natives”, as they will be called in this post. If it were not for Mighty Whitey they would be lost!
Examples of Mighty Whitey stories:
- 1826: The Last of the Mohicans
- 1912: Tarzan of the Apes
- 1962: Lawrence of Arabia
- 1975: Shogun
- 1988: Mississippi Burning
- 1990: Dances with Wolves
- 1995: Dangerous Minds
- 2003: The Last Samurai
- 2009: Avatar
- 2009: The Blind Side
- 2011: The Help
- 2012: Lincoln
Sometimes Mighty Whitey goes native, like Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai”. Sometimes not, like Michelle Pfeiffer, who forces her own culture on the natives in “Dangerous Minds”. But either way Mighty Whitey is clearly better than the natives.
These stories proceed from and help support white racist ways of thinking: Whites are better. The natives therefore need their help and are, in fact, being helped. That is what whites like to believe. The truth is whites are no better than anyone else – just more powerful. And most of the time they use that power to serve their own ends, often screwing up the natives in the process – who then become objects of pity in need of saving. Whites know the ugly truth, at least at some level, which is why they like Mighty Whitey stories.
These tales help to lead whites into acting Mighty Whitey themselves – like Madonna adopting Mercy James or President Bush adopting Iraq.
The stories are sometimes based on true events. Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, for example, was not made up. But why a story about a white teacher who gets through to poor ghetto students and not the even greater number of black teachers who do the very same thing? Because those stories do not help whites to feel good about themselves.
There are, however, a few Mighty Whitey stories that are turned on their head: in “To Sir, with Love” (1967) Sidney Poitier, who is black, plays the Mighty Whitey character and white English students play the natives. Or in “Apocalypse Now” (1979) the Mighty Whitey character goes mad.
Are Mighty Whiteys just Magical Caucasians – like Magical Negroes? While both help whites feel at peace with the way race is in America, Magical Negroes are mostly just plot devices while Mighty Whiteys are the main character of a story. Also Mighty Whitey’s powers do not seem like a mystery to the white audience – even if they go against all common sense, like in Tarzan.
Some might argue that Mighty Whitey stories are a simple business decision: whites will only see a film where the main character is white. Except that it is not true. Even the 1960s with Sidney Poitier Hollywood knew that was a lie.
Most people who see Hollywood films are not White Americans. For example, during the first weekend of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009), they made up only a third of the audience at best. But most Hollywood directors, writers and producers are White Americans. And they determine what makes a good story for the rest of us.