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Magical white boy.

Oh, hell, let’s chase the red herring for a minute. I’ve got time; I’ve got nothing but time. —So: no. Morpheus is not a magical negro. If nothing else, his touchingly stubborn faith in Neo, which sets him at odds with the magical Oracle, which causes us to doubt him (though we never doubt he’s right: Neo must be the One—look at his name!), and which even causes him to doubt himself—this grants him a degree of agency and protagonism that sets him apart from the mere role of wisely aiding and abetting Neo’s enlightenment. (To say nothing of his captaincy, his popular acclaim in Zion, or the fact that he’s the one who lives to tell the tale—)

So: the One True Neo, a man with almost no past, prone to criminality and laziness, inwardly disabled by his shyly geeky nature, hated as a hacker by the powers that be, granted a terrible power so close to the very nature of things yet tempered by his need to help others, ultimately sacrificed, and all to aid Morpheus in realizing his dream—

Well, yes. That’s why the movies, flawed though they indisputably are, nonetheless have the power they have.

But I wasn’t really thinking about the red herring. I was thinking about Mercutio, and I was thinking about Nick.

—Why was I thinking about Mercutio? Right. Because we’d just finished the second season of Slings and Arrows, with its hilarious production of Romeo and Juliet running under and around the A-plot of Macbeth. Why was I thinking of magical negroes? Because I’d stumbled over MacAllister’s LiveJournal, and the most recent entry over there is a nice-enough trip through the trope. And why was I thinking of Nick?

Mercutio, as played by Harold Perrineau.

Well, first, Mercutio; specifically, given the confluence of topics, Harold Perrineau’s, in the deliriously ludic Baz Luhrman production. Ostensibly Romeo’s foil, Perrineau’s Mercutio practically foils the whole damn film, othered to his very gills: the only black character, his gender bent in an otherwise rigidly stratified world, his sexuality—well. Even the lightest brush of those buttons with Mercutio—witty, articulate, prancing Mercutio, always a snappy dresser—leaves little room for doubt. —Forever outside the discourse of both those houses, he pushes and pulls and chides his charge until Romeo sees the light and gets off his goddamn ass, and as far as magic goes, well. Queen Mab, bitches. Those drugs are quick.

But hard as they might push in that direction, and as much power as they might arguably draw from the trope, and despite his Act III Scene 1 sacrifice, there’s no way in hell or out of it that Mercutio could ever be anyone’s magical negro.

(A conscious piss-take? I doubt it; I highly doubt it, if for no other reason than Spike Lee’s eponyming talk came five years later. —But Uncle Remus has been with us for a long, long time. Even in Australia.)

Nick, as portrayed by Chris Eigeman.

Nick, of course, Chris Eigeman’s Nick, is the Mercutio of Metropolitan, othered by his cheerfully chilly snark, his abiding concern for times and fashions past, his detached perspicacity—though perched in the very catbird seat of privilege, he is nontheless within his own context, his insular circle, despised; though his power is mighty (he creates a person from whole cloth, like New York magazine) and his scorn withering (ask a bard what terrible magic satire can wreak), he does little beyond push and pull and chide his Romeo, Tom Townsend, over the barest threshold of the story. (He does also insult a Baron, and start a cha-cha.) —And though he isn’t sacrificed, per se, he does abruptly leave the story toward the end of the second act (of three, of course, not five), marching stoically off to his comically supposéd doom.

But much as it might tickle me to push this WASP in that direction, there’s no way in hell or out of it that Nick could ever be a magical negro.

And not because he’s so very, very white. Well, yes, of course, but—

Nick’s a foil, like Mercutio: slipped under the gem of the protagonist to catch the light and throw it back, up and through the protagonist’s facets, the better to shine for our delectation; necessarily subordinate to the protagonist because it’s all about the protagonist. Isn’t it? —They are othered because the protagonist is by definition normal, and they must stand in contrast. They leave so suddenly because the protagonist, having been pushed, must in the end do it all alone. It is, after all, the protagonist’s story.

Yet ask an actor who they’d rather play.

There are foils that disappear behind their gems, that bow and scrape their way across the stage, that take so literally the story-mechanics of their function—to assist the protagonist, buff and polish them till they shine—that they reify those rude mechanics within the story itself, black-garbed kabuki janitors shoving the machina in place for the fifth-act emergence of a pure white deus, and they perform these tasks with little more than a wide wise smile to hint at a there in there, somewhere. And there are settings so rich and strange and wondrous that the very question of who is a protagonist and who isn’t becomes a trick of where your eye happens to light first, and what you make of it. —Nick and Mercutio fall within that spectrum (there is no doubt as to the protagonists of their stories: not them), yet much closer to the one end than the other: no mere enablers, but so very much themselves, so selfish that they’d never be mistaken for the help.

(And because they stand so flashily in contrast to protagonists who must, as noted, be so damned normal [though admittedly not too normal, in either case], a little of the life of the proceedings can’t help but leak out when they leave. There’s a lesson there, too: like all good blades, this stuff cuts both ways.)

—One final digressive note, which draws a little on the related though much less prevalent trope of the magical faggot (think for a moment of the queer eyes buffing and polishing their protagonist; now let’s move on), and specifically the o’erwhelming need for queer foils to die in order to balance out on some inhuman scale the racy transgressions they commit to foil whatever they’re foiling; more specifically, the storied death of Tara, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which Mac (most specifically) brought up in passing at the end of the post that’s one of the wellsprings for this one: well. It’s at once rather a bit less complicated than that, and rather a bit more.

  1. prashant rai    Oct 10, 08:28 PM    #

    read this book


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