The Manic Pixie Lightskint, Explained

Illustration for article titled The Manic Pixie Lightskint, Explained
Screenshot: HBO

You’re back with another explainer!

I never actually left. I’ve been standing here, literally right here, the entire time.


Well, this is awkward now.

That’s not my fault. I can’t manage your feelings and also do these explainers. Pick a struggle.



Anyway, I’ve heard that Manic Pixie prefix before, haven’t I?

Yes, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The term was coined in 2005 by film critic Nathan Rubin to describe the sort of movie character who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She is white, (usually) much younger than the protagonist, cute in a quirky, girl-next-door sort of way, and is somehow always just available. Wikipedia has a list of some of the more prominent ones in cinema.

Ultimately, they’re hollow (and sexist) characters whose only purpose is to provide inspiration and romantic validation for the main character — a muse in dELiA’s clothing. They exist so that he can be better at existing.

Ah. I see. So, who and what is a Manic Pixie Lightskint?

The Manic Pixie Lightskint is a lightskinned black male who essentially serves that same purpose in movies and/or TV shows about black women’s spiritual and sexual awakenings. She’s going through some serious, soul-shaking things, but his light eyes and strong jawbone save her.


Interesting. Any examples to cite?

The most prominent one, of course, is Shemar Moore’s character in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Kimberly Elise seemed destined to a life of sadness and even sadder faces, but this working-class, redbone man saved her from herself. Each sprayed on cornrow represented a prayer God answered.

Never one to disappoint, Tyler Perry — who probably should get credit for being the Orson Welles of the Manic Pixie Lightskint trope — evolved. And by Why Did I Get Married Too?, the entire movie built up to the final scene, where The Rock’s Manic Pixie Lightskint shows up, literally just smiles at Janet Jackson, saves her, and ends the movie. How’s that for efficient!


And then, of course, there’s the current season of Insecure. Nathan aka “Nanceford” is an unemployed (and possibly homeless) barber with a beard that don’t link, but his eye contact changed Issa enough for her to pop molly with him and then pop pussy on him. That’s some high quality lightskinting!

Any other examples?

Of course! Off the top of my head there’s Rick Fox in Meet The Browns, Boris Kodjoe in Madea’s Family Reunion — basically, if you’re a lightskint male actor who’s over six feet tall, and you haven’t been a Manic Pixie Lightskint at least once, you need to find a new agent. (Or maybe you actually have the best agent.)


Also, Drake’s entire discography (and personal life) is based on him portraying himself as the Manic Pixie Lightskint to Cheesecake Factory hostesses, V Live bartenders and Rihanna.

And, well, there’s also Barack Obama.

President Obama?

Yes. If you think of America as Kimberly Elise in a Tyler Perry movie, it actually makes perfect sense.


Wow. It actually does. Never thought of it that way.

That’s why I’m here.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Gameface doesn`t play nice with others

The Light-skint delegation would like to submit as counter-examples:

Eddie Murphy - Mr. Church, Holy Man, The Golden Child

Morgan Freeman - Everything he has ever done (for the exception of Street Smart. He was hungry back then.)

Wesley Snipes - Waiting to Exhale

Cuba Gooding Jr. - Everything after Boyz in the Hood.

Michael Clarke Duncan - The Green Mile - he was literally a “Magical Negro”

...and Jimi Hendrix - Because he made anything that Bob Dylan made sound fucking awesome. He was a fucking wizard.

Pixie-ism doesn’t discriminate against high concentrations of melanin. As a matter of fact, all of these examples have made long standing careers of spreading Pixie magic.