White Savior Movies Are Weird

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DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

“White Savior”

History is written by the victors, so on Thanksgiving Americans celebrate coming to America and making it what it is today, instead of mourning what America turned into once Europeans found it. Yet somehow, winning the conflict and owning the land isn’t enough for us conquerors. It seems we yearn to have the indigenous people admit that we’re so awesome, not only are we better at our culture, but theirs as well. There’s a running theme in a weirdly large amount of famous movies where a white man is introduced to a “primitive” people, and “White-splains” them how their own ways should work. As hit or miss as these themes can be, the movies they reside in can still be excellent films. Here’s a list of “White Savior” movies where we may cry from the emotions and/or from the underlying racism:

1. The Last Samurai
I remember when this movie came out, a lot of people immediately starting yelling at Hollywood. “Tom Cruise isn’t a samurai, he’s white!” they’d yell, before even knowing what the movie’s about. This film doesn’t pretend Tom “I love to run” Cruise is Japanese; he’s just a force trying to murder Japanese. First Tom is so brutal in the American civil war that the Japanese government hires him to train their troops to stop a samurai uprising. Things don’t go well, but Tom is just so darn awesome at killing samurai that the samurai take him in and train him. The wife of a samurai he killed falls in love with him, and he ends up being the best samurai evaaaar! It’s actually a really good film and the costumes and pacing are wonderful, but it’s kind of silly when you read the plot all at once.

What really gets guys’ eyes watering is the sheer manliness of Ken “Ra’s Al Ghul” Watanabe. His troops dying all around, himself mortally wounded, and a Gatling gun being reloaded like 10 feet away from him, he still manages to commit seppuku, thus robbing his enemies the claim to his demise and granting himself an honorable death.

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2. Avatar
This is basically the last movie, but in space…SPAAACE! First off, the visuals in this film are amazing. It’s fun to make fun of James Cameron for being weird, but damn are his movies pretty to look at. Plot-wise you’re looking at pretty much the standard fare; whitey gets taken in by the locals, learns their culture better than they know it, beds their best lady, rides their best horse/thing, and ends up fighting back his own kind better than the indigenous people ever could. What a guy, right? Well, between the music, the visuals, and the acknowledgement that Sigourney Weaver is the balls, this movie is awesome.

What gets us sad is the movie basically tells us that humanity in any and all forms is terrible. The humans at home ruined the planet (even more if you see some deleted scenes), the humans who came to Pandora are horrible trash, and the only good humans decided to stay as aliens because blue cat people with gorilla glass bones are much better than pink racism sacks.

3. Dances with Wolves
This is the movie that the previous movie ripped off, though one could say that about other films that came before this one. Instead of aliens, this time it’s Native Americans that the white man just knows how to do better. Kevin Costner is stationed in a frontier fort after being just a little too manly in the civil war. A suicide and a murder effectively isolates him there, and he becomes friends with the locals (Native Americans). Due to his Costner-ness, they decide he’s the best…around…and nobody’s going to keep him down. The machismo in this film is strong.

Anyone who studies history knows this doesn’t end well for the Natives, but what really gets us is the wolf. Costner had pet wolf he named “Two Socks” because that’s adorable, and then the US Army shoots it to illustrate that they are, in fact, dicks. (in the movie)

4. FernGully: The Last Rainforest

Same plot, but this time it’s animated. Don’t get me started about the incalculable improvement of adding Tim Curry to the mix. This one is actually a little better, perhaps because it’s Australian/American. The white guy in question is shrunken down to fairy size and taught all about the importance of not killing everything in sight (weird how he didn’t already know that). Then Robin Williams is a schizophrenic bat and Tim Curry sings and it immediately becomes the best movie on this list. I rank it better than the last three entries on this list because it’s not fully the white guy who saves the day, he’s just an audience surrogate while we see the forest people save themselves. But that doesn’t stop him from winning the heart of the native princess, convincing them to fight, and being just… just the best.

Frankly this film gets me in the feels because of the end, where Mr. Whitey talks to his logging supervisors and says “Things have got to change.” Guess what realistically won’t come out of that conversation? Change. You know what will come out of it? His pink slip. Guess he’s going to have to move in with the fairies while they still have houses.

5. Stargate

I know a lot of you are raising either one or both of your eyebrows on this one, but stay with me. A white guy is taken in by an indigenous people, teaches them about their own language and history, and then leads them on a revolt for their own freedom in a way that they never would have attempted without him being just so darn awesome. Sound familiar? The addition of wormholes and Egyptian culture just adds some interesting flavor to the mix, but it’s the same theme. This time the role of awesome whitey is split between Daniel, the bookwormy intellectual who will esplain you how the world actually works (played by James “Ultron” Spader), and Kurt Russell wondering how long he has to stand there before MacGyver takes his place. It’s a fun movie, and don’t you dare tell me it’s not. It deserved all three spin-off TV shows!

The part that makes you cry is when we find out that MacGyver’s backstory involves his son finding his loaded gun and accidentally killing himself. There was no need for such a brutal backstory! Maybe his wife left him? Maybe he just hates Mondays? Ease off, movie?

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.