The crowd at the Tribeca Film Festival was excited to see Mr. Church, reportedly a hazy gaze at how Eddie Murphy’s character, Mr. Church, comes to be the hired chef of a family that has fallen into disrepair and despair. Mr. Church makes meals for a dying girl. A comedy this aint.
But several reviewers are already calling the film one in the “magical negro” vein. And to make matters even worse? The guy who directed “Driving Miss Daisy” (Bruce Beresford) is the same guy who directed this one. Beresford has long been taunted as the director who made a film about Black folk who enjoyed being the servants of whites. Now, 27 years after Daisy debuted, Beresford is seemingly back at it, at least based on what detractors are saying.
Here’s a glimpse in a role that originally was to be inhabited by Samuel L. Jackson:
Eddie Murphy’s most successful projects have been in the comedy vein. Who could forget the standup genius of “Raw,” the goodhearted foolery of “Shrek” or the shenanigans of “Tower Heist,” “Trading Places” and “Life.” That said, there’s nothing wrong with expanding. Murphy is a trained actor too – not solely a comedian as we learned in his roles including “Dream Girls.” Dramas allow a person to truly show their acting abilities and stories about dying girls tend to balance out a resume of super silly films.
Here’s what Variety’s Nick Schager has to say about the film: “Refused a proper backstory, and blessed with a benevolent, even-keeled disposition (“Even his weeping was graceful,” admires Charlotte) to match his bountiful natural gifts, Mr. Church comes across as the hoariest of “magical negro” stereotypes, and his duty caring for Caucasian women in need makes his tale something of a complementary side dish to director Bruce Beresford’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”
Welp, if this movie proves to be part of this damaging racial trope, the filmmakers better watch out for social activists on Black Twitter, who might just come calling.
“Mr. Church” was initially released April 22 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based writer. Follow her @adriennewrites.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted the release date of “Mr. Church.” It has been corrected to reflect the actual date.