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

Erin Ash

Keywords: colorblind ideology; elevation; experiment; media effects; racism; white savior film

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.

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