In 2016, there was a whole lot of hubbub when the trailer for the Eddie Murphy-helmed movie Mr. Church hit the streets. It’s a movie based on a story by Susan McMartin and the time she spent with her own real-life Mr. Church. It looked like a film where Eddie was playing a pantheon-level Magical Negro. I didn’t see it back then and honestly forgot about its existence until Wednesday when I was perusing the Amazon Prime racks for something to watch.
I saw Eddie Murphy’s face on a movie and was like, “Hmm, I didn’t realize he’d released a movie so recently.” I hit play and holy shit, bro, this is one of those movies where prospective Magical Negroes sit around and watch, take notes and then commiserate about how to up their Magical Negro-ness.
Like, right now, I could go outside, find me a white person, do the shit I saw in this movie, and I’d bet a book would be written about how much of a better person I made them within six months. The lessons in Mr. Church have too much sauce. All shade aside, I actually enjoyed the movie; we all could use our own Mr. Church. Pretend that didn’t sound slave-y.
Not for nothing, but I’d be really curious about the real Mr. Church’s view of the movie and the story told of his life, though he passed on many years ago. Not that it’s a bad one; it’s just interesting. What makes Mr. Church a pantheon-level Magical Negro? A Magical Negro’s Magical Negro? I’m glad you asked. Here are 10 reasons:
1. The entire premise of this movie is textbook Magical Negro-dom. A random black man shows up in the home of a white woman dying from breast cancer and her daughter to serve as their cook until the mother dies, projected to be in six months. I think the original title of the film was White Mom, Black Cook, but horny focus-group participants kept punching that into the search box on XVideos and it just got freaky.
Back to the lecture at hand: Where does he come from? I haven’t the foggiest. Some other person set the shit up. All we know is that he’s there and the foods are going to get cooked come hell or high water. Also, he’s been entreated with the responsibility of paying all of the bills from some mythical account for everything. Listen, while I’d be leery if some random black man showed up to my house hovering over my not-quite-KitchenAid pots and pans, the minute he said, “I got this, boo-boo” as I looked at my Pepco bill, I’m pretty sure I’d call him “Zaddy.”
2. When the mother lives an additional SIX YEARS, apparently, Mr. Magical Negro pays for all the bills out of his own pockets once that six-month fund runs low. How so? Well, in the FIRST place, he was offered a lifetime salary in exchange for cooking for six months, till the mother died. So, all that money he DID make when she lived? He poured right back into that household. Why for come? Because that’s what a Magical Negro does; he fills a need where he sees one. Like reading to the mother nightly while she lay in bed searching for energy. Reading. Over and over. That’s magic.
3. UPPING that ante, he goes to the supermarket one day and learns how much he saves by using coupons. Well, turns out he saves all of the savings over the course of the next, like, six or seven years, and when Charlie, the daughter, is all ready to go to college and gets into Boston University but can’t afford it, there’s Mr. Church right there with an envelope of all his coupon savings to cover her tuition. He gave her, like, $5,000. Do you know how much Hennessy he could have bought with $5,000? In 1977? But nope, he’s here handing out magical envelopes. Of cash. To white teenagers. And cars.
4. Here’s part of his über-magical nature: Charlie, the daughter who grows up and is who Mr. Church largely takes care of in life, hates reading books as a child. Especially books brought into her motherfucking establishment by some random black man who cooks delectable eats. Or, at least, she does at first. Over time, he introduces her to all the classics through his library system of having her check out books he brings over. She went from reading street signs to all of the classics. He gave her culture and depth. I salute you, Mr. Church.
5. He always calls Charlie “my dear.” It’s reminiscent of The Princess Bride’s Dread Pirate Roberts, aka Westley, and his constant refrain of “as you wish” to Princess Buttercup. Such a good movie. The Princess Bride, that is.
6. In true Magical Negro fashion, we never really learn much about Mr. Church’s background until he dies. Turns out he was not only a great cook but also played the piano at a spot called Jelly’s every weekend. In my mind, all Magical Negroes meet up at Jelly’s on Sundays for brunch. His father was a horrible man and a mean cuss. But Mr. Church has always loved Charlie and her mother for giving him something he didn’t have: a family. Which is Magical Negro parlance for, “I’ve never had one before.” “A room to yourself?” “A bed.” [Half-smile.] Scene.
7. Piggybacking on No. 6, Mr. Church has one rule: “Respect his privacy.” What does the white girl do? Charlie goes white girl and does not respect his privacy and digs and snoops through his shit and gets caught. And because Magical Negroes DO make mistakes on occasion—he also often gets drunk when he’s at Jelly’s—he puts her ass RIGHT out for snooping. But she’s ALSO like hella pregnant and has nowhere to go, except to some store where some kid on a skateboard runs into her and her old friend from the neighborhood, Larson, happens to see her and gets her to the hospital, where Mr. Church magically shows up to claim her and bring her home.
8. In what can only be described as a Magical Negro by Osmosis, it turns out that Larson was about to commit suicide with liquor and pills when Charlie got hit by the boy on a skateboard, and he had to help save her life, which, in turn, helped save his life. Mr. Church is out here saving white people by association.
9. Charlie has her baby and then one of her former friends comes back into the picture and is now rich and snobby and Charlie wants to drop her as a friend. Mr. Church tells her not to get caught up in that shit. He’s saving white relationships.
10. Mr. Church ends up getting sick and dying and shit. Before he does that, though, he ends up teaching Charlie how to cook, play piano, garden, live, breathe, not die and ultimately be a good human. And he gave her the most important Magical Negro gift of all: She was able to write a story about him and became an author, thereby creating a job and livelihood by virtue of his very existence in her life.
To Mr. Church, a Magical Negro like no other.