Emotional Responses to Savior Films: Concealing Privilege or Appealing to Our Better Selves?

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Abstract

This research examined racial attitudes in response to viewing “white savior” films, best described as films in which a white character displays extraordinary acts of kindness and selflessness toward one or more minority characters. The results of an experiment (N = 149) revealed participants who viewed a savior film experienced moral emotion elevation, which, in turn, elicited prosocial motivations and universal orientation. Whereas prosocial motivations and universal orientation were predicted to reduce racism, findings indicated that prosocial motivations, in the absence of universal orientation, led to greater levels of both contemporary and traditional forms of racism. In addition, films portraying white saviors and those featuring black saviors were compared and shown to be invariant. Implications for understanding white privilege in light of these results are discussed.

Contributor Notes

Erin Ash (PhD, Pennsylvania State University) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Clemson University. Her research focuses primarily on representations of social groups in media, with an emphasis on the processes that explain media-based stereotyping. Her work has examined the relationship between media portrayals of African Americans and racial attitudes across a variety of contexts, including news, sport, video games, and film/entertainment. She also examines the potential for emotional responses to media to reduce stereotyping and prejudice. E-mail: ash3@clemson.edu

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The Journal for Movies and Mind

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