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Movie Tropes: The Huggybear Effect

November 25, 2010

Bruce gets the 411 from Mr. Fox

The Huggybear Effect is named for the character portrayed by Antonio Fargas on the 70s cop show Starsky & Hutch. Huggy Bear owned a bar of the same name, was jive-talking and ‘hood as those things were understood by white showrunners at the time. Though not actually involved in the sex trade, Huggy Bear often dressed like a pimp and for the most part served as more of a plot device rather than the “positive portrayal of Black people” the showrunners and Wiki editors would have you believe. In many cinematic thrillers – of any flavor – inevitably there will be a person of a racially marginalized extraction, (unless the protag happens to be one and in that case they’ll be one of a precious few of that particular extraction in the entire film) functioning in “The Huggybear” capacity. Despite their impressive knowledge of organizational systems, history and protocol, their offices are usually either in company libraries or basements. This person is usually a clerk with an established, unimpeachable performance record – noted by his or her presence in the film – and usually is the second person the plucky protag solicits information from.

Jaye Stewart credited as 'Male Librarian' in All the President's Men

Naturally, Huggybear will be in the middle of something far more important – like say, doing their job in an efficient, model minority manner – but will take a few moments to provide documents without demanding ID or credentials, “Sure, I got what you need,” usually in a vocal cadence reserved for the dude who comes into black beauty shops selling “hot” DVDs, counterfeit watches and designer handbags out of the trunk of his Caddy. This assumes the Huggybear in question is black, which is generally the case. However, in cases where the Huggybear is not black, they will still behave in some stereotypical way, whether it’s evoking the wisdom of ancient descendants, enjoying spicy “native” foods unfamiliar to the white protagonist or making mention of family left behind in whatever part of the world the US is currently “liberating”.

Julia and Denzel chase down leads while carrying on a platonic sanitized-for-your-protection romance in The Pelican Brief

When the trope is subverted, more often the not, the role is given to a beloved, older actor – like say – Ernest Borgnine in the film R.E.D.. But by far the most spectacular subversion of the trope occurred in the 1993 film The Pelican Brief, where Denzel both starred as a journalist and also was his own Huggybear. Well played, Alan J. Pakula!

Examples of The Huggybear Effect:

All The President’s Men, directed by – wait for it – Alan J. Pakula!
The Fugitive a slight subversion, only because the Huggybear is known to the protag.
Batman Begins, though eventually Morgan gets moved to cushier digs, but for the most part his role never changes.
The Hudsucker Proxy while not meeting all the criteria for the trope, has Bill Cobbs, who is the prototypical cinematic Huggybear!

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2010 11:03 am

    Naturally, Huggybear will be in the middle of something far more important – like say, doing their job in an efficient, model minority manner – but will take a few moments to provide documents without demanding ID or credentials, “Sure, I got what you need,” usually in a vocal cadence reserved for the dude who comes into black beauty shops selling “hot” DVDs, counterfeit watches and designer handbags out of the trunk of his Caddy.

    LOL. great explanation and breakdown of this phenomenon. I will definitely be advancing the term! I just saw The Next Three Days and it starred RZA, who could be the new Huggybear. Snoop being cast in the movie Starsky & Hutch was an appropriate choice, given that he has been the Huggybear in comedic movies. I know there are other movies I’ve seen recently that have this effect, I’ll be back.

  2. November 26, 2010 12:32 pm

    I recently spotted another example of the trope, but I can’t for the life of me think of the film. It was a good one too. It was tropelicious as all get out.

  3. November 26, 2010 3:09 pm

    Great article! I watch a lot of action films so my mind is going to those … Shaun Toub did a great job as cave-MacGyver Huggybear in Iron Man altho’ it was hard to enjoy him since he practically had a target taped to his back. It sounds like the Huggybears you’re talking about usually survive the film duration, no?

  4. November 26, 2010 3:16 pm

    For the most part, Huggybears, tend to survive, as they peripheral to the story, though without them the plot couldn’t move forward. My favorite female Huggybear was the black lady in Air Force One who explained the inter-workings of telecommunication and fax machines to President Harrison Ford.

  5. November 26, 2010 7:31 pm

    This is great! Well, the analysis is… the lack of creativity really isn’t.

    Since the Huggybear universe incorporated programs like Hardcastle & McCormick and more to the point, Tenspeed & Brownshoe, one of my favorite non minority Huggybear performances was Jeff Goldblum in “Jurassic Park.” In fact, he kinda plays that part in a lot of places… “Buckaroo Bonzai,” “Independence Day,” and a few others I’m certain. In fact, he might just have more Huggybear roles on his resume than anything!

  6. November 26, 2010 10:18 pm

    LOL. I thought of another. That black dude from Die Hard 2, who helped to get John McClaine the Ankin Skywalk or whatever that thing was called.

  7. evmaroon permalink
    November 26, 2010 11:21 pm

    Dexter has one: the file clerk in the Miami Dade police office.

  8. November 26, 2010 11:22 pm

    Aha ha ha! They should have called it the Anikin Skywalk!

  9. November 27, 2010 8:14 am

    ev, I thought the older file clerk was a white lady in Dexter…did she get replaced?

  10. evmaroon permalink
    November 27, 2010 11:25 pm

    Yes, she died in season 3, of cancer.

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