Save the Last Dance: Perpetuating Stereotypes since 2001.

Through my readings this week, I came across the following quote concerning black men in film,

“he can be isolated from a black community and placed in a white context so that a white audience can have a point of identification rather than trying to identify with an “other”.

This quote at first sounded absurdly offending because, why would I, a middle-class white woman, at any point in my life thus far, need a black character to be physically removed from their black community and situated within a white setting for me to relate easier? I’m progressive and forward-thinking, right? Upon reading the above quote, I immediately thought back to one of my all-time favorite movie from youth, Save the Last Dance

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If you haven’t seen the movie, a quick re-cap is as follows: Sarah, a middle-class white girl, is a competitive ballet dancer hoping to eventually attend Juilliard. In a quick turn of events, Sarah’s mother dies and Sarah is forced to move in with her estranged father who lives a much different lifestyle in a predominantly lower-class, black neighborhood. Sarah gives up dance while attempting to deal with the loss of her mother but eventually befriends Derek and his sister, two black teens from school. Derek, although from the ghetto and complete with a broken home and crime-filled past (stereotype much?), helps mend Sarah’s broken heart and tutors her in preparation for her Juilliard entrance exam.

What I didn’t notice when I was young was while the film addresses issues of racism and the issues that perpetuate it, the film too, is teeming with covert forms of racism. In order for Derek to become coupled with Sarah, as a friend, tutor, and eventually romantic partner, his disassociation with many of his black friends and their thug-like lifestyle was very necessary in gaining her trust. The film attempts to send a message of blending, as seen when Sarah’s newly learned ghetto-esque dance-moves incorporated into her traditional and conservative ballet routine, grant her acceptance into the school of her dreams – but what it’s doing is perpetuating an idea of containing black masculinity.

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