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The Poitier EffectRacial Melodrama and Fantasies of Reconciliation$
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Sharon Willis

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780816692842

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816692842.001.0001

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Racial Pedagogy and the Magical Negro

(p.1) Introduction
The Poitier Effect

Sharon Willis

University of Minnesota Press

This book’s overarching analysis explores the obsessive sameness of the characters Poitier plays, the compulsive returns of similar scenarios and conclusions, and the ideological efficacy of the routine displacement of those conclusions, as well as of history itself. Since his character is always just passing through, he continues to respond to liberal wish fulfillment, leaving situations magically transformed and white subjects reeducated. The “civil rights nostalgia” films this book examines all long for a better past, for a past redone in the retroactive glow of the present and understood as the product of a social progress that was yet to come. In these imaginings of that past we recognize the contemporary workings of the Poitier effect. In different ways, these nostalgia films establish the progressive credentials of their contemporary cultural moment, by rehearsing the trajectory that governs most Poitier films, from a “knowing” retrospection. All proceed as if their white female protagonists, inclined as they are toward feminism, already know—without knowing—what their stories will have to teach them.

Keywords:   Civil rights movement, Race relations, Popular Cinema, Television, Melodrama, Feminism, Sidney Poitier, Collective Memory

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