Let’s see. Beautiful white heroine? Check. Downtrodden African refugees who don’t even know what ice is? Check. Lion joke? Check. An insurmountable problem only a loving white woman can fix? Check, check, check.
That’s the premise of the new Reese Witherspoon drama, The Good Lie, which, of course, is produced by the makers of The Blind Side.
In The Good Lie, Witherspoon plays a hardscrabble American woman tasked with helping three young men, who are refugees of the Second Civil War in Sudan, adjust to their new lives in the States. When she learns one of the young men’s sisters is stuck in a refugee camp back home, she springs into action to reunite the pair—no matter what.
The film is based on a true story, but I can’t help but feel some type of way about yet another narrative centering on the great white savior swooping in to help a group of poor Black folks. While the story is definitely fodder for a heart-warming film, as Tambay Obenson of the film blog Shadow & Act pointed out, it seems like these types of stories are one of the few narratives about Africa Hollywood wants to tell.
“While I’m certainly pleased that these 3 young men will get to star in what appears to be a rather high profile Hollywood project, and that the 3 real-life young men whose story inspired the film, will get to see their lives reinterpreted on the big screen, I’m just no longer interested in this particular kind of story, which we’ve seen in a variety of movie incarnations over the years. And in Hollywood’s hands, who knows how they’ll play it. Whose story will be central to the narrative? Through whose eyes will the story unfold? The character played by Reese Witherspoon, or the 3 young South Sudanese men? Existing marketing materials suggest the former. Will it be loaded with the usual stereotypes? Will the South Sudanese characters be 3 dimensional? Will they have control over their own lives?
Hollywood seems to revel in stories like this that present limited and overwrought depictions of Africans, especially when there’s an opportunity to insert a white protagonist, if there isn’t already one in the original “based on” narrative. If Reese Witherspoon’s character was a black American woman, would “The Executive Producer of ‘The Blind Side'” be interested in seeing it adapted for the screen?”
I think we all know the answer to that.
Though I’m happy to see Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, and Emmanuel Jal working (Duany and Jal were both former South Sudanese child soldiers), I wonder why stories like this are always told through a white American lens.
The Good Lie will not doubt be a hit with critics and tug at the heartstrings of viewers, but like Obenson, I’m tired of seeing this one-sided depiction of Africa on the big screen. It’s time for something else.