The Toy (1982): Le Jouet, the 1976 comedy from dreaded French farceur Francis Veber, concerned a journo (Pierre Richard) hired to entertain an industrialist’s snotty son. When, like most Vebers, it was inevitably remade by Hollywood, the producers turned it into a Richard Pryor vehicle, evidently not realizing how queasy it was to make a movie about Jackie Gleason effectively buying a black man. At least Pryor’s character got paid.
Ghost (1990): Whoopi Goldberg won her Oscar for playing a psychic with actual psychic abilities who stops her life so she can help a ghost (Patrick Swayze) reunite with his beloved (Demi Moore). In addition to playing comic relief—this, in a film directed by Jerry Zucker, one-third of ZAZ, the team behind Airplane!—Goldberg also lets her body be possessed so Swayze can make out with Moore to the Righteous Brothers.
First Kid (1996): In the ’90s, Sinbad eked out a modest film career playing funny black people who hang out with stiff white people. After Houseguest, where he helped fun up Phil Hartman, he proceeded directly to the White House, where he helped usher the POTUS’ teen son into manhood.
American History X (1998): Director Tony Kaye’s epic doc Lake of Fire took a starkly clear-eyed view at abortion. Parts of this narrative work, starring Edward Norton as an eloquent Neo-Nazi skinhead, do something similar with racism. Unfortunately, it’s hogtied to a ludicrous redemption plot, which loses even more credibility by the fact that what really awakens the warm humanist in Norton is doing laundry detail with a funny black guy (Guy Torry). That’s how you cure racism.
Hitch (2005): Having already caught the ire of Spike Lee for playing the helpful African-American in The Legend of Bagger Vance—who, building on the term “Magical Negro,” Lee dubbed “Super-Duper Magical Negro”—Will Smith atoned with a comedy where his job is romantically aiding lame white people, like Kevin James.
The Intouchables (2011): France’s second-highest homegrown grosser finds an upbeat Senegalese immigrant (Omar Sy) hired as caretaker to an unhappy handicapped rich guy (Francois Cluzet). Luckily, this naked crowd-pleaser is too neutered to be offensive.
Six Long-Running Film Franchises