Today on the Writer’s Glossary…
The magical negro is a trope, in which a black character sits on the sidelines imparting mystical wisdom to the white
lead. The magical negro has no story of their own, they are simply there to support the white protagonist.
This trope has its roots in the ‘noble savage’, giving the magical negro access to an ancient wisdom, which they then use to help the white hero for some unknown reason. Not content with one magical negro, the Matrix films rely on both Morpheus and The Oracle to help Keanu Reeves’s character along his heroic path.
Note that any non-Caucasian culture can be victim of this trope. Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese and Australian Aboriginal people all receive the magical negro treatment on a regular basis and often have literal magical powers, but not always.
Avoid it by giving your non-white characters a purpose beyond their relationship to the white main character. What do they want for themselves? As film director Spike Lee said, “How is it that black people have these powers, but they use them for the benefit of white people?”