Here’s a movie trend that needs to go away. I just got back from seeing Paranormal Activity 2, the prequel to last year’s sleeper horror hit. In this film, the same invisible demon that haunted the original movie is now skulking around the McMansion of a different Southern California family.
While I appreciated the way the sequel follows in the original’s innovative footsteps, I didn’t like the character of the family’s Latina housekeeper (played by the single-named Vivis), who sniffs out the evil spirit’s presence before anybody else in the family does and tries to drive it away with some Santería-like rituals. I’ve been seeing a lot of this recently: In Devil, a Latino security guard (Jacob Vargas) recognizes the supernatural elements at work while all the white people around him look for rational explanations. Last year’s Drag Me to Hell also had a Latina medium (Adriana Barraza), though if you believe this interpretation of the movie, she’s just a con artist rather than someone actually who can actually talk to the dead.
This is an offshoot of the Magical Negro stereotype, though it’s much closer in spirit (sorry!) to the Magical Native American stereotype. (I’m trying to think films that use the Magical Asian stereotype, but the only one I’m coming up with is the Lindsay Lohan-starring remake of Freaky Friday.) These are all devices for shoehorning minority characters into films full of sheltered rich white people, and what makes them particularly insidious is the implication that poor people of color have access to some sort of supernatural juju. Take it from me: We really don’t.
Still, it could be worse. What I haven’t seen recently is a movie where the one character of color thinks there’s supernatural stuff in the air and turns out to be completely wrong. That would be a change, but it’d probably veer into Stepin Fetchit territory. Nobody wants that.