Nice White Lady To The Rescue!

MadTV parodies Music of the Heart, the story of a teacher (Meryl Streep) who bucks the system to bring love of music to the underprivileged colored kids she teachers. Or maybe they’re parodying Dangerous Minds, the story of an ex-marine teacher (Michelle Pfeiffer) who inspires her inner-city students with a great opening credits song. Oh, wait, I think that was Freedom Writers, the story of a history teacher (Hilary Swank) who inspires underprivileged inner-city students by making them read the diary of Anne Frank. (“See, underprivileged inner city students? Things could be worse!”)

All of these movies were based on true stories, and I don’t doubt that the women these movies were inspired by are terrific teachers and all that. But I somehow doubt their real lives were as simplistic and, well, soppy as these films are. Why does our culture have this hunger to see at-risk youth rescued by the pure hearts of gorgeous white women? And isn’t there something smary about, well, about an image like the one below this paragraph?

Publicity photo from "Music of the Heart," starring Meryl Streep and a whole platoon of adorable underprivileged children.

It’s like a generation of filmmakers saw Up The Down Staircase when they were kids and are now determined to remake it… and remake it… and remake it.

Anyhow, the MadTV parody (YouTube link) totally cracked me up. Via Assault On Black Folks’ Sanity.

This entry posted in Popular (and unpopular) culture, Race, racism and related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

35 Responses to Nice White Lady To The Rescue!

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  5. 5
    allison says:

    I discussed the “nice white lady” teacher movies a few weeks ago during a teachers’ meeting. We had gotten free passes to go see the Swank film and one of the teachers had seen it. I mentioned that a better film was “Stand and Deliver” which while an inspirational tale of inner-city youth achieving beyond expectation, managed to feature a teacher who wasn’t white or a lady. And not even pretty!!

    I think Hollywood really likes the fish out of water scenario of these films and doesn’t realize how racist and classist they can be. It may ease some middle-class white guilt to watch it, but I can’t imagine most students of colour find it particularly inspiring at all.

  6. 6
    allison says:

    Oh and the video made me laugh out loud. Thanks!

  7. 7
    Sylvia says:

    Thank you for sharing that hilarious video; sadly, it was pretty true to the Freedom Writers script.

  8. 8
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Another day I wished the U-Tube worked.

    I think Hollywood really likes the fish out of water scenario of these films and doesn’t realize how racist and classist they can be.

    I’m not so sure Hollywood is that benevolent. They do seem to like the fish out of water deal, but there’s more ways to get that then the pretty white lady teaches inner-city kids spiel. I don’t watch many movies, perhaps 2 or 3 a year at most, but I can’t think of any advertisements or movies that reverse the roles, like having, oh, a man of color teaching poor white students, which I’m sure has happened. I doubt such a movie would go over well for the portion of the white populace as a whole, as it suggests that they’d need someone to take care of and inspire their children because they can’t do it correctly themselves.

    But then, I’m seriously lacking in television and movies, so if there is a movie like that out with a teacher of color / white students, I’d like to know the title and director so I can watch it.

  9. 9
    Tom Nolan says:

    ArrogantWorm

    I don’t watch many movies, perhaps 2 or 3 a year at most, but I can’t think of any advertisements or movies that reverse the roles, like having, oh, a man of color teaching poor white students, which I’m sure has happened. I doubt such a movie would go over well for the portion of the white populace as a whole, as it suggests that they’d need someone to take care of and inspire their children because they can’t do it correctly themselves.

    Actually such a film exists. It’s called “To Sir with Love” and was made in 1967. It was very popular in the UK, where it was filmed.

  10. 10
    ArrogantWorm says:

    I should’ve added,

    Not to say that all inner city youth are of color in real life, but to generalize, the majority of kids in the movies depicting the teacher/student scheme that I’ve seen are. Sorry if that was confusing.

  11. 11
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Actually such a film exists. It’s called “To Sir with Love” and was made in 1967. It was very popular in the UK, where it was filmed.

    That’s nice to hear, thanks for the title muchly. I’ve no idea of the general idea of racial situations(? don’t think that’s the word I’m looking for, but it’s close ‘nough for government work) in the Uk, though I hear it’s more tolerant and open minded than the Usa. Wonder if the film was popular in the Usa.

  12. 13
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Haven’t heard the song, either. It still makes me wonder, though. Since it was popular in the Us, why aren’t there more of the same? Hollywood usually jumps at ideas and overplays them when it finds something popular. An example of one doesn’t do much to disprove something.

  13. 14
    Angel H. says:

    The clip was pulled from YouTube. :(

  14. 15
    ArrogantWorm says:

    That bites, I was gonna borrow my sister’s so I could watch it. I think she might have UTube. Too late now, at any rate. Downloaded the song, not bad, but it’s a bit to melancholic for me.

    I’d like to take a stab at this question.

    Why does our culture have this hunger to see at-risk youth rescued by the pure hearts of gorgeous white women?

    Because if you’re pure in heart, you will succeed! as Disney likes to remind us, and the idea that white women are shining beacons of morality and maternal virtue is dictated by popular opinion. Religion and xenophobic tendencies play into this as well, I imagine, and the idea of who the pure hearts belong to rests largely, but not completely, on what nation/country/specific place one inhabits and the beliefs one is indoctrinated in. Contextual.

  15. 16
    Barbara P says:

    “The King and I” came even before “Up the down Staircase”. And I’ll bet that theme goes back even further.

  16. 17
    Rich B. says:

    I don’t know. I recently rented “Akeelah and the Bee” which was, in brief, about a poor black girl rescued by a nice black man (Lawrence Fishburne) who goes on to compete in the National Spelling Bee. (NOT based on a true story). The only white person in the movie is Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, who has a small role of introducing black girl to black man.

    In my mind it was actually worse. As I watched it, I was thinking, “This is a movie with an all-minority cast, but the target audience is suburban white people.” It was co-produced and heavily advertised by Starbucks, where I ocassionally consume, and I felt that the target audience was the stereotype of the latte-drinking liberal, of which I guess I am the demographic (i.e., Liberal in the Phil Ochs ‘Love Me, I’m a Liberal’ sense).

    The moral I got was, “Minorities can succeed by joining together in harmony and working with each other. You white people watching don’t have to do anything. In fact, if you did anything, it would ruin the purity of the self-help moment. When minorities fail, it is because either they don’t work hard enough, or they are being sabotaged by their own culture.”

    At least “Nice White Lady to the Rescue” has the subtext of “Be like the nice white lady.” Akeelah and the Bee

  17. 18
    ArrogantWorm says:

    “Minorities can succeed by joining together in harmony and working with each other. You white people watching don’t have to do anything. In fact, if you did anything, it would ruin the purity of the self-help moment. When minorities fail, it is because either they don’t work hard enough, or they are being sabotaged by their own culture.”

    …..

    At least “Nice White Lady to the Rescue” has the subtext of “Be like the nice white lady.”

    That’s a message that’s irritating and harmful. The first part, I mean. The second, ‘ be like the nice white lady’ I also find objectionable. It sets a goal by linking positive actions to visual intrinsic cues that cannot be changed, and enforces it by having virtually no other representation (Save, apparently, one) in popular media. It breeds self hate starting when a kid sits in front o’ the Tv to watch cartoons, and it doesn’t seem to stop.

  18. 19
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Honestly, though, I’m not sure which message is worse, or if that can be decided. At the moment I’m leaning toward’ be like the nice white lady’ is worse.

    As I watched it, I was thinking, “This is a movie with an all-minority cast, but the target audience is suburban white people.”

    Because at least a movie with an all minority cast has role models with visual static cues that most poc kids can relate to.

  19. 20
    Sailorman says:

    The unfortunate truth, of course, is that this probably reflects reality to some degree: not that a beautiful white woman is more capable than anyone else, but that she may be more able to motivate the “powers that be” and/or draw public attention and funds to her cause celebre more easily than if she was someone else.

    there are, BTW, plenty of movies where a rich/educated white person “lifts up” the fortunes. thoughts, etc of lower class white people. I cannot think of many where a POC does so for whites.

  20. 21
    ArrogantWorm says:

    The unfortunate truth, of course, is that this probably reflects reality to some degree: not that a beautiful white woman is more capable than anyone else, but that she may be more able to motivate the “powers that be” and/or draw public attention and funds to her cause celebre more easily than if she was someone else.

    Not arguing with that, but that isn’t the concept in the movies I saw, though no doubt it might be evidenced in some. The few I’ve seen use the teacher to motivate the students, not the teacher using herself to get a higher authority’s attention to fund her cause celebre. The teacher is considered a part of the higher authority in the movies, and part of the movies ‘charm’ is getting the kids to respect such an authority.

  21. 22
    ArrogantWorm says:

    …Also, that she might be able to motivate the ‘powers that be’ would be based on her being white and upper class/educated doesn’t seem to be mentioned specifically in such movies. If anyone’s got quotes from movies with the white-tends-to-be-a-woman / kids-of-color/poor-kids theme that say stuff like that, I’m interested. (they don’t have to be exact quotes, but they should prolly mention the difference in a non-vague way)

    If those instances are the only ones people are taking note of, then of course they’ll be more helpful to such women when they ask for the help in regards to kids because The Authority or The Populace would be under the impression that those are the only types of people who accomplish the objective cuz that’s all they see.

    …You know, I get this titchy feeling that I could simplify that, but I can’t figure out how.

  22. 23
    Lucia says:

    In Take The Lean Antonio Banderas inspires black inner city youth to excel teaching them ballroom dance. This is based on the life story of Pierre Dulaine. (I like ballroom dance, so I enjoyed this movie.)

  23. 24
    Lucia says:

    That would be “Take the Lead”. (Someday, I will learn to proof read.)

  24. 25
    Dianne says:

    “…When minorities fail, it is because either they don’t work hard enough, or they are being sabotaged by their own culture.”

    Somehow this message seems subtly condescending too. I’ve tried lots of things in my life. Some suceeded, some failed. Some of the failures were due to my not working hard enough. Culture undoubtedly contributed to some. But mostly it was simply because I’ve tried to do a number of things that were at the limits of my abilities and really never expected a success rate of over 10% or so on the marginal attempts. Why should minorities be sent the message that if they try something and fail then either they are lazy or come from a toxic culture? Why not just say “well, that didn’t work” and go on to the next thing?

  25. 26
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Why not just say “well, that didn’t work” and go on to the next thing?

    Because people as a whole like to assign tangible causes to things so the blame may rest somewhere. That’s my only thought on that so far, and it’s a lonely one.

  26. 27
    Tom T. says:

    Here is a link to a roundup of teacher movies. There are other examples too, some involving white male teachers: Half Nelson, Teachers, The Ron Clark Story, The Principal, etc. In their essential structure, teacher movies are sports movies, where an inspirational leader takes over a bunch of lovable and not-so-lovable losers, endures setbacks (some comic, some tragic), convinces them to bond together, then leads them to achieve some previously unconquerable goal. Think of Coach Carter, Hoosiers, or the Mighty Ducks.

    Notably, there is a sub-genre of sports movies where the protagonist(s) loses at the end, like Rocky or the Bad News Bears. The only analogous teacher movie that I can think of offhand is Dead Poets Society.

  27. 28
    Ampersand says:

    Yeah, insofar as my original post said “these movies are only every made with white ladies in the lead role,” I was clearly wrong.

    I don’t think my post actually said that, but I can see how folks could read it that way.

  28. 29
    r@d@r says:

    one of my all-time favorite films about the bankruptcy of the liberal white savior/noble savage archetype is peter weir’s “the last wave”. it’s loaded front to back with all kinds of deep subtexts about colonialism, both material and spiritual…..you could watch it a hundred times and keep finding new things in it.

  29. 30
    Donna J says:

    ArrogantWorm, one of the more recent movies with a black man motivating mostly white students is Major Payne. Damon Wayans plays the lead role and like many Wayan Bros movies they play to some racist stereotypes. The Payne character comes off as ridiculous and stupid. It also plays to stereotypes of Marines only thinking about killing all the time. He takes over the ROTC program at some fancy prep school. His love interest is the pretty black teacher/counselor that all the kids love though.

    Since we happen to like ridiculous movies in this family, I’ll also mention School of Rock. Which is a poor white slob of a guy (Jack Black) motivating rich snooty mostly white kids at a prep school. The message isn’t for the students to excel, since they already were, instead he subverts their education to create a rock band.

    I’d recommend both if you like ridiculous movies with impossible or at least highly unlikely situations. They made us laugh!

  30. 31
    maribelle says:

    Radar–Second the motion on The Last Wave. Peter Weir was so awesome before he came to America and sold out.

    Amp you wrote: Yeah, insofar as my original post said “these movies are only every made with white ladies in the lead role,” I was clearly wrong.

    I don’t think my post actually said that, but I can see how folks could read it that way.

    I think your message was clear; it’s only a *problem* when white “ladies” are in the lead role.

    Damn those white women anyway. Why can’t they just stay in their place and make porn, like the asshats I sold my blog to?

  31. 32
    Ampersand says:

    I think your message was clear; it’s only a *problem* when white “ladies” are in the lead role.

    I didn’t say that, I didn’t imply that, and I certainly don’t believe that. Other than that, you’re right on target.

    You’ve got your facts wrong about the sale of amptoons, too, but it’s off-topic for this thread. If you weren’t a troll you would’ve found the right thread to post on.

  32. 33
    Donna Darko says:

    There are white male knights and men who “rescue” women. A certain amount of privilege is needed for the perception of “rescuing” someone.

  33. 34
    Dianne says:

    I think that was Freedom Writers, the story of a history teacher (Hilary Swank) who inspires underprivileged inner-city students by making them read the diary of Anne Frank. (”See, underprivileged inner city students? Things could be worse!”)

    Since people are still posting on this thread, I’ll add my criticism of this comment. Admittedly, I’ve never seen the movie in question so I could be completely wrong about the character’s (muchless the actual real life teacher’s) motives. But my interpretation of the message behind assigning the diary of Anne Frank to underprivileged, minority, children to read would be: “Kids, this is where prejudice leads. Fight it unless you don’t mind dying along with all your relatives in a concentration camp.” Which seems to me to be a good message.

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