Stephen King Needs More Black Friends
As decades of his Black characters show, one tone-deaf tweet is the least of his problems
In light of the blindingly White slate of Academy Award nominations released this week, #OscarsSoWhite has made a bit of a comeback. I struggled with this hashtag the first time it came knocking in 2015, mostly because people wanted to expend a lot of energy in changing an industry that had expressed virtually no interest in achieving genuine diversity, let alone equity. In any event, world-famous author and Oscar voter Stephen King weighed in on the matter on Twitter.
And because Stephen King — one of the richest, bestselling media institutions in the world — has blithely waded into these waters, he is spending the next several days being dragged across the whole of the internet. He is, of course, wrong for several reasons and on multiple levels. He ignores implicit bias, explicit racism, and institutional indifference to rectifying either. In short, he meant well, but it doesn’t change the fact that he wholly misses the point. That said, picking apart his tweets as if they have shed some damning light on the intersection of Stephen King and race matters is pretty low-hanging fruit.
As part of my work, I give a lecture on Stephen King entitled “Stephen King’s Magical Negroes.” In it, I break down the use of the troubling trope throughout his career — a Black or other person of color character whose only purpose is essentially to prop up White characters to a fault, and yes, sometimes with magic — and then update it annually to see how things are progressing. I am a stockbroker of King’s Magical Negroes, noting when their presence and impact might be up one year and down the next. If you only ever watched The Green Mile you’d have a decent-enough grasp on the problem here, considering John Coffey is not only King’s most famous Magical Negro, but perhaps the greatest…