Step Back, Atticus Finch

There's a New "White Savior" in Town

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SUMMARY: Racism in America ranges from outward acts of discrimination to the ingrained, unrecognized biases of the well-intentioned. In "The Re-Gendering of the White Savior," Brett Seekford examines the evolving role and gender of the white savior character in two acclaimed films separated by almost fifty years: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and The Help (2011).

For viewers and critics alike, Academy Award-winning films like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help represent beacons of hope, but a disturbing thread connects both films. In "Re-Gendering the White Savior," Brett Seekford traces the evolution of the "white savior," a central white character who reinforces discriminatory power structures as he—or she—works to help black citizens.

Seekford acknowledges the significance of To Kill a Mockingbird in transforming the southern concept of masculinity from one of violence to one of justice and compassion. He then examines how The Help recasts Gregory Peck's cerebral, masculine Atticus Finch character as a stereotypically emotional and sentimental female figure: Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, played by Emma Stone.

Seekford's research offers a rich examination of the white savior archetype, the interplay of racist stereotypes, and evolving gender roles in two films separated by almost fifty years. His close analyses of comparable scenes illuminate deeper resonances between the two films, as well as their significant differences. ,/p>

Does The Help simply engender a new version of the white savior character for a new century? Is Skeeter Phelan merely a viewer- and critic-friendly update on Atticus Finch?

Or, in re-gendering the white savior character, does The Help suggest a way forward?

To find out, read Brett Seekford's "To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, and the Re-Gendering of the White Savior" in Volume 4 of the James Madison Undergraduate Research Journal.

Published: Friday, April 28, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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