Blind Spot 30: The Green Mile

When I was trying to think of movies to see for this year’s blind spot picks I remembered a conversation I had with a friend who was shocked I hadn’t seen the 1999 film The Green Mile. It just never appealed to me and came out at a time I wasn’t watching rated R movies. So, the blind spot series was the perfect spot to finally cover this well regarded flick. Unfortunately this is one of those classics that didn’t work for me. I can see why it would work for others but I didn’t care for it.

There is a trope in literature and film called the “magical negro”. This is defined as ” a supporting black stock character in American cinema who is portrayed as coming to the aid of a film’s white protagonists and who often possess mystical powers” Director Spike Lee went on to describe The Green Mile as the “super-duper magical negro” and I certainly agree with him.

The Green Mile is based on a novel by Stephen King and tells the story of a prison warden named Paul Edgecomb played by Tom Hanks who gets a new prisoner named John Coffey played by Michael Clark Duncan. John is on death row for the rape and murder of 2 little girls. He is joined by other prisoners played by Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter and more.

However, John is no ordinary criminal. He has special powers that can heal and make things last forever (and the lights go out). Paul is even cured of a bladder infection and the wife of one of the prison wardens of a brain tumor.

The strength of The Green Mile definitely lies with its performances. Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan are the particular standouts and Duncan was nominated for an Oscar for his work.

Unfortunately the movie can never shake the uncomfortable and trope-filled premise. I do not understand why they didn’t have the prison block more diverse. This would make it feel more like a person with powers instead of the magic black person sent to be a literal savior for the white people (and of course he doesn’t get saved by them at any time). It’s unfortunate.

Adding to all of this The Green Mile is over 3 hours long and very tedious to watch. Not a whole lot happens and the characters are very unpleasant. At about the 30 minute mark I was ready for this uncomfortable experience to be over. I am sure it is a film made with the best of intentions but it’s just not for me.

9 thoughts on “Blind Spot 30: The Green Mile

  1. That is not the trope of the magical Negro. Not at all. The movie asks the question “what if the saviour was black and big” and the answer is “we might end up killing him”. (And having more diversity in the prison staff would not only be unrealistic for that period, it would also defeat the message).

    I mean, I don’t love the movie, mostly because it doesn’t really have any rewatch value once you have seen it and I frankly don’t enjoy watching people getting killed by the state. But I can certainly get behind the message.

    1. I think it can still be asking that question and be the magical negro trope. There certainly could be other prisoners that are black. I agree with Spike Lee on this one. I was not only bored but very uncomfortable. His powers do nothing to help him but only make the lives of white people better. He literally is like a fountain of youth for them while he is killed. That’s the very definition of the trope. The fact the white people have to accept a black Savior saving them only adds to these cliches

      1. Maybe, but even if you see it that way (I think that the trope is a little bit narrower than that), Tropes in itself are not bad. Ever. The problematic aspect of the Magic Negro was always the assumption that some black character should put his live on hold to do whatever necessary to make the live of a white character better. But that’s not what the Green Mile is about. While it is told from the perspective of the Tom Hanks character, it is still about the live (and suffering) of a black saviour character. It’s more like a story about a bunch of narrowminded racists killing Jesus because they haven’t really understood what the Bible is actually about. Also, arguably, I don’t think that Tom Hanks character is really helped in the end, he is more cursed to life with the knowledge of what “humanity” did in the name of the “law”.

      2. I get what you are saying and it’s interesting but at least for me I felt very uncomfortable with the way Coffey was portrayed and what happened. It felt like caricatures more than characters. He isnt an interesting character except for how he interacts and saves/doesn’t save white people. It just bothered me

    2. So, I would be with you on that, except that’s not some subversion of the messiah trope—that *is* the messiah trope. After all, they killed Jesus too. So it’s not like the message is a savior is accepted if he’s white/middle eastern and killed if he’s black. He’s killed and misunderstood either way, if he’s radical enough.

  2. Oh, I totally agree that this is an uncomfortable movie to sit through. It felt unrelenting depressing. Not my thing at all. I’ve never heard of the “magical negro” trope, so wouldn’t pick that out – I just didn’t like this movie and came away feeling slightly suck to my stomach from it (I’m pretty sure I’ve had that reaction to any Stephan King movie I’ve ever seen, so maybe that should tell me something? )

    1. It really was gross too. Just an uncomfortable movie on many levels and unrelentingly depressing and boring as you say

  3. That is about as a review, as I could have imagined. It was a masterpiece, apart from the magic part. You are quite the Debby Downer.

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