The American Society of Magical Negroes takes the “magical negro” trope, turns it on its head, and makes what looks like will be a great story out of it. It was the official selection of Sundance 2024, though the title might put some viewers off. Watch the trailer and judge for yourself.
The new movie The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024) seems to be taking the term literally. Aren, played by Justice Smith (whom we’ve seen before) is taken to a recruiting class of the American Society of Magical Negroes where he is taught how to develop and utilize mystical powers to maintain peace.
Justice Smith stars in the new film. He’s no stranger to Magical Negro roles played Simon the sorcerer in Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves(2023). He was Franklin Webb in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) and Tim Goodman in Detective Pikachu (2019).
The film is a satirical comedy. Satire amuses some people and offends others. 1
What is a “Magical Negro”?
It’s a trope in film and literature, named by Spike Lee, where a Black supporting character smooths the path and advance the story for a white protagonist. Prime examples are Uncle Remus in Disney’s Song of the South (1946) and Bagger Vance in The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000). Sometimes the Magical Negro literally has mystical powers. Sometimes he’s simply smarter than the white protagonist. The entire point of the Magical Negro is never to be the central player of the story regardless of how much he or she has going for them.
Lucius Fox is an example of the Magical Negro, especially as he’s portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2008). Umbopa in H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines also fits into this category. Whoopi Goldberg has played Magical Negroes several times: Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Oda Mae Brown in Ghost (1990) and to a lesser extant, Deloris in Sister Act (1992).
David Alan Grier’s character asks Aren “What’s the most dangerous animal on the planet?”
Aren guesses, “A shark.”
David Alan Grier corrects him. “White people, when they feel uncomfortable.”
The A.SM.N. teaches their students how to remove that discomfort, thereby making not only them but other Black people safer.
“White people feeling uncomfortable precedes a lot of bad stuff for us. That’s why we fight white discomfort every day. Because the happier they are, the safer we are.”
Once a member of the society, Aren is assigned to his first client Jason Munt (Drew Tarver) and enjoys using his new magical skills.
However, things become complicated when they both develop feelings for the same co-worker Lizzie (An-Li Bogan), leading Aren to question the purpose of a society which prioritises white comfort over his own happiness.
Aren soon learns the decision to pursue his feelings for Lizzie will come at a price, as his mentor reveals that interfering with a client will lead to his memory being erased.
Michaela Watkins, Aisha Hinds, Tim Baltz, Rupert Friend and Nicole Byer also star. Libii has also produced the film alongside Julia Lebedev, Eddie Vaisman, and Angel Lopez.
This is the right time for a film like this to come to the fore. We’ve all heard the horror stories of middle-aged white women overreacting and calling 911 if they see Black people walking their dogs or picnicking in a public park. Some of my friends have been forced to endure this kind of indignity.
Actor/writer/producer Kobi Libii wrote and directed The American Society of Magical Negroes, and it’s his directorial debut. The film releases in theaters March 22, 2024.
1 Making people uncomfortable is part of the point of satire, to expose the either the subject or its opponents to examination to which it is not otherwise subjected. I fully expect about a third of the country to lose their minds over this one, and from a societal standpoint, that’s a good thing. I’m not going to add links to the immediate racist vitriol the announcement of this film has sparked, because we at SCIFI.radio are not in the business of promulgating hate and racism, nor do we want to associate ourselves with it in any regard. -ed
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.