Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Super Duper Magical Negro Strikes Again...or Does She

Sometime in the last year, I fell completely in love with Grey's Anatomy. The show is well written, has clever dialogue and the storylines are less predictable than my other favorite doctor saves all show House.

My favorite character, of course is the Chief Resident, Miranda, who also happens to be the only black woman on the show besides the occasional appearance of the wife of the Chief of Surgery. Back in 2001 at a speech at Yale, Spike Lee coined the phrase super duper magical Negro. He used this term to identify the stereotypical character that has appeared over and over again in cinema and literature. In general, it is a maid or a slave or a criminal or a janitor that has some magical power or amazing power of insight. And, and this is the important part, said working class Negro with supernatural powers uses them to solve the problems of one or more clueless white people.

Now, admittedly, Miranda has not yet, as of season four, demonstrated any particular ability to see directly through a patients chest at their internal organs, shoot lasers from her eyes do to microscopic brain surgery, or stop the hearts of annoying interns by snapping her fingers. But, particularly in the first two seasons, she plays the role of the thunderstorm of power and strength (with occasional vulnerability) that blazes into the room smacks an intern in the back of the head and then gives them just enough down home country advice to make the white person think. She never gives the answer, and she sure doesn't make it easy on the poor white boy or girl, but she is the catalyst that allows them to see through their mental fog (or post-coital fog) to the truth at the heart of the matter.

In that Miranda is not a poor, downtrodden black woman in a do-rag kowtowing to massuh weaving roots into a shut-your-mouth brew while making a pot of collards and chitlin's, she stands slightly outside of the official recipe of the Super Duper Magical Negro. But, in that she shows up just in the nick of time with a black matron authority (and sometimes Mammy reminiscent role of nurturing and teaching ethics and appropriate behavior to white folks that are technical her superiors but bow to her for her motherly ways) , she is very true to type.

I admit that I have not seen the full second season or the entire third season, but I did watch the fourth season and very little had changed with her character except that she was allowed more depth of character and her superhumanness was placed in check by the imminent loss of her husband. She was finally forced to recognize that she was not made of bionic parts and Dupont plastics. I am interested to see at what point in the series the humanizing of the magical Negro begins and if, in the season to come, her character will be allowed to deepen and broaden, portraying the undeniable brilliance and strengths that are the hallmark and heritage of black women but also the very real historical burden, pain, and struggle (internal and external) that has forced black women to try and make themselves into Spike Lee's Super Duper Magical Heroes.

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