9 Modern Black Archetypes in Cinema Today

lack archetypes in film have existed since the beginning of cinema. And most have not been all that positive as we have generally not been in control of our image. Many of us are aware of the negative Sambo, Mammy, Mandingo and Ghetto Thug archetypes just to name a few. But in years past many black filmmakers from Oscar Micheaux to Spike Lee have fought to take back control of our image and show a more diverse portrayal of blacks. And in this process, traditional archetypes have evolved and new ones created. Following is a list of 9 modern black archetypes in films today that give us a refreshing look at how we like to see ourselves. This is due in part to many young pioneering blacks fighting to become filmmakers themselves.


The Performer archetype is a traditional one in cinema as blacks are known for our amazing showmanship. Dating back to the transatlantic slave trade and ceremonial tribal dances, it’s one of the many things blacks know how to do very well. This is evident in how we’ve influenced so many other cultures with song and dance, from blues, jazz, rock-n-roll and hip hop. You name it, we’ve done it and entertained the world over. Sometimes at our own expense.


Similar to the performer is that of the Athlete. This is another difficult one to overlook as there are many examples throughout history of blacks overcoming the odds and dominating in a physical skill once thought to be coveted by whites. Examples include Pele, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters and the list goes on and on. The reason why this archetype is so easy to portray on screen is because it plays so well in real life. Regardless, it still makes for terrific storytelling as we love to see the underdog triumph.

Child Prodigy

The Child Prodigy archetype is when you portray a young person on screen who possess something special about themselves. This image of our black youth is nice to see as it has the potential of connecting with the youth and inspiring them. And this is something we need to see more of in our communities. My favorite by far is the character Hushpuppy from the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” played by the incredible Quvenzhané Wallis who is a child prodigy in her own right by being the youngest ever to be nominated for an Academy Award.


It’s a proud thing to be able to say that we have black superheroes now on the screen. We first began seeing the Superhero archetype in the 90’s with films like “Spawn” and “Blade.” I’m personally not into superhero films myself as they’ve become formulaic and setup to only churn out another sequel. But they do make a ton of money which means they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. So If they’re going to keep making them then they might as well sprinkle a few black superhero storylines in as well.


One of my favorite black archetypes in cinema is that of the Artist as it is what I relate to the most. This became popular in the 90’s with my favorite film “Love Jones.” The characters were cultured in poetry, photography, history and made being black cool. After this film, copycats followed and many blacks picked up new mediums to express themselves the way Darius and Nina did in the film. Even I tried my hand at photography after watching it.


Playing closer to actual history is the archetype of the black Cowboy. Cowboys have been immortalized in cinema as gun slinging, drifter type figures. However, if you study history almost 2/3 of cowboys were either Black, Hispanic, or Native American in the early twentieth century. But because movies have portrayed this image wrong, many probably wouldn’t even believe it if they saw a real black cowboy who still exist today. But it’s an archetype we are starting to see on screen now and are loving it.

Classic Man

The Classic Man archetype. This is the image and portrayal I think all blacks have desired to see on screen for a long time, and we need more of it. The symbol of power, success, class, and coolness all while draped in tailored suits and dapperness. This image inspires black men and young males who lack responsibility and have identity issues. No surprise this archetype has become more popular after the presidency of the most powerful man in the free world, Barack Obama.


Portraying the LGBT community on screen has become very trendy in the past fifteen years. But a black archetype that we’re seeing more of is that of the Stud. A stud is known to be a very dominant lesbian. And with films and shows like “Pariah”, “Orange is the New Black” and “The Wire”, we’re learning this subculture has its own community and rules. I became aware of this archetype after seeing Snoop played by Felicia Pearson on “The Wire”. After seeing her rough exterior, many questioned if she was even female. Regardless, it’s an image that will be here to stay as this subculture grows in the black community.


And finally there is the archetype of the Nerd. With Comicons popping up everywhere and technology dominating our lives, nerds have taking the reigns and become the forefront of our culture. I began seeing a shift in the black community with celebrities like Pharrell Williams and Donald Glover who make it cool to be eccentric and a little geeky. And now similar black archetypes are making their way onto screen as well.

So let us know your thoughts. Do you have some film archetypes of your own that you’ve notice? Let us know.

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