Wednesdays in Publishing: The Top 6 Harmful Stereotypes We Never Even Noticed in Movies and Literature

Stereotypes are EVERYWHERE. They abound in movies, books, and music and trend in pop culture like crazy. It gets to the point – I know I can’t be the only one 😊 – where it can be difficult to even point these tropes out anymore, so ingrained are they in our understanding of plot lines, personal narratives and pop culture in general. THE NEXT TWO “Wednesday in Publishing” posts will cover the top 6 harmful stereotypes, tropes and norms I see in entertainment today – from books, to films, to general tropes by which we live our lives. Follow me into the crux of it all – ONWARD to uncover the true behind the narratives we know and love. How many of these do you recognize in your favorite novels and flicks?


“Fridging” / Women in Refrigerators – where a supporting character, often a female love interest or sidekick, is harmed/killed/raped/captured/tortured as a plot device, providing the (male) protagonist with a motivation that propels them on their hero’s journey! (*Insert dramatic trumpet playing here*)

One of the most mainstream cult classics of this narrative is the James Bond story line. For anyone who’s ever watched at least one of these movies – which is most of us – we know what’s going to happen before it happens:

The female love interest is repeatedly killed off, captured or otherwise compromised and unable to get herself out of the bind in order to further the drama or motivation of both Bond and the surrounding characters (really, of the entire plot itself).


The Gentile Savior Complex – a close relative of the “White Savior Complex,” this trope is usually found in Holocaust narratives. Here, the “gentile savior” saves Jewish people from persecution or other hardships, often at great personal sacrifice of themselves or their lifestyle – and it’s that personal sacrifice or risk to the savior and their emotional and physical wellbeing that is the focal point of the story rather than the very real and threatening plight of the Jewish person themselves.

But, I think we can ALL agree that no group of people’s suffering should be used as a vehicle for a privileged person’s moral triumph, right?

Examples you may have seen of this trope include:

White Savior Complex – whereby a white person helps, rescues, saves, or otherwise aids people of color. More than that, in this trope, the white person goes on a journey of their own self-discovery by way of this act, and this journey is the focal point of the narrative. Teju Cole puts it best when he says writes in The Atlantic, “This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs, of white people.” (This article, by the way, was written in response to the Kony2012 video phenom referenced below).


This trope, among other things, assumes that white people understand the lives of people of color better than they themselves do, and thus are in a better position to act, and that non-Western cultures are primitive and require the intervention of a more “educated” or “sophisticated” white person in order to function and excel.

This trope plays out in some of history’s most celebrated films and novels. Can you spot any of your favorites below?

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Freedom Writers (2007)
  • The Blind Side (2009)
  • The Kony2012 video that went viral
  • And, yep – even Avatar (2009), the highest-grossing film of all time


Katia Kleyman puts it best in her Ranker article:

“You may not think about Avatar as being a white savior film right off the bat, but it most certainly is one. A disabled, white marine by the name of Jake Sully infiltrates a tribal alien society with an avatar and all of a sudden he is more Na’vi than the actual Na’vi on Pandora. The film was breathtaking, but it doesn’t just produce a white savior; Avatar gives viewers a white messiah. Jake is “the one” who has tamed wild beasts even the most experienced Na’vi warriors haven’t been able to overcome. He then goes on to save the entire race of Na’vi from the very people he conveniently chooses to not identify with anymore. He’s like the Rachel Dolezal of outer space.”

David Brooks, writer at the New York Times, explained how films like Avatar strip away the accomplishments of others: “[the movie] creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration,” he said.


Stay tuned next week for the 2nd half of this two-part series! 😊

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