Dick Hallorann as “The Magical Negro”

Dick_Hallorann

Dick Hallorann is one of the African-American characters in Stephen King’s three novels; It, The Shining and Doctor Sleep. He is played by Scatman Crothers in the film adaptation of The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick, and the character is a typical example of the commonly occurring “magical negro” trope.

In “The Shining”, he is the chef in the Overlook Hotel and he is one of the members of the staff to welcome the Torrance family to the hotel. As he is giving them the tour of the kitchen, he telepathically asks Danny Torrance, the family’s little boy who possesses the same “shining” abilities as he does, whether he wants ice cream or not. As the rest of the family continues the tour, Danny stays with Dick and they get into a conversation about their abilities and The Overlook Hotel. Dick explains to Danny how he discovered his abilities as a child and guides him in various ways by answering his questions, even warning him not to go into the 237th room. Later on in the movie, he attempts to rescue the family from Jack Torrance when he goes insane.

Though he is one of the important characters in the novel and the movie, the story doesn’t revolve around him. Primarily, his role is to guide Danny through his mystical abilities and try to help the family when they are in distress. He is presented as the rather exotic sidekick and though this stereotype doesn’t seem harmful at first, it still puts him in the “others” category. He has a mysterious background and he goes to great lengths to help the family, to the point where he sacrifices himself. This situation implies that his life before he met the main characters is irrelevant, and afterwards it still is somehow less worthy of those who are practically strangers to him (but happen to be white). This puts the character in a “second class” position. As he is ostracized from the “normal” community, his death is justified and the audience is meant to feel relief that the main characters get away safely. He is, in the end, nothing more than collateral damage and a mystical twist in the story. This representation could become very dangerous as it might enhance the segregation of different races, and is unfortunately continuously reinforced. Dick Hallorann is just one of example of many others, which hopefully will decrease in numbers as more awareness is achieved amongst filmmakers and producers, and more importantly the viewers.

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