Freeman Take the Wheel
Morgan Freeman is Hollywood's quintessential "magical N****." He helps white men get out of jail. He trains white women to be professional boxers. And he helps you get a credit card. Like Visa, Morgan Freeman is everywhere white people want to be. He's been typecast as a magical N**** ever since starring as the almost-magical Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy.
Author Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu lays out the five qualities of a magical N****.
- "He or she is a person of colour, typically Black, often Native American, in a story about predominantly White characters.
- He or she seems to have nothing better to do than help the White protagonist, who is often a stranger to the Magical N**** at first.
- He or she disappears, dies, or sacrifices something of great value after or while helping the White protagonist.
- He or she is uneducated, mentally handicapped, at a low position in life, or all of the above.
- He or she is wise, patient, and spiritually in touch. Closer to the earth, one might say. He or she often literally has magical powers."
Let's see how Hoke Colburn fits that description.
- Hoke's black, but the story is about white Miss Daisy.
- Hoke has nothing better to do than help Miss Daisy. We never see his personal life. The film is almost entirely from her point of view. She never even asks him how he's doing. It's assumed his only role is to help her and that he doesn't even have a life outside the driver's seat of her car. He's a stranger to the family at first, appearing out of nowhere to fix an elevator in Boolie's factory before taking the job as family chauffeur.
- Hoke can't read.
- Hoke is a Christian along with Idella, the black maid. He doesn't have magical powers, but he can drive on ice to the Krispy Kreme, and we all know that people who live in Atlanta cannot drive on ice. Therefore, maybe he is magical.
- Hoke doesn't sacrifice himself to save Miss Daisy, although he does often sacrifice his own dignity to keep his job.
Hoke's a 60-year-old widower at the start of the film. He's the strong, quiet type. He's grown up in segregated Georgia and was denied much of an education—he can't read until Daisy teaches him, and he's never been outside of Georgia. He works hard to be a good provider for his daughter and grandchildren. He's the handy guy you like to have around the house, unless you're a stubborn elderly woman in total denial about her needs. He's worked as a driver before, and in case that wasn't enough, he prefers working for Jewish people.
Hoke is an almost unnaturally patient, noble, gentle, compassionate, forgiving man. He never fails to treat Daisy well despite her dismissive and, at times, demeaning treatment of him. But he won't kiss up. As film critic Roger Ebert describes the character, Hoke maintains his dignity. "Hoke is not obsequious. He is not ingratiating. He is very wise" (source). Freeman plays the role with incredible restraint.
Hoke's got a quiet confidence. When Boolie warns him that Miss Daisy can be tough to deal with, he's not fazed:
HOKE: When I was a little boy back on the farm above Macon, where I come from, I wrestled hogs to the ground during killing time. Well, sir, there ain't a hog that's got away from me yet!
Hoke learns to be good at handling Daisy by agreeing with everything she says, then slowly winning her over. He lets her refuse rides from home for a week before he follows her in her car as she's walking to the grocery store.
DAISY: Go away! I've ridden the trolley with groceries plenty of times!
HOKE: But I can't keep taking Mr. Werthan's money for doing nothing.
DAISY: How much does he pay you?
HOKE: Miss Daisy, that's between him and me.
DAISY: Anything over $7 a week is highway robbery!
HOKE: You sure are right about that! Especially since I don't do nothing but sit on a stool all day.
Hoke's smart—his appeal to Daisy's frugality does the trick:
HOKE: Mr. Werthan? Yes, sir, it's me! Guess where I'm at. I just drove your mama to the store! You know, she flapped around some, but she's all right. She's in the store. Oh, Lord, she just looked out the window and seen me. She'll probably throw a fit right there at the check-out counter. Yes, sir. You are right about that. It only took me six days. Same time it took the Lord to make the world.
He's got a way about him that lets him show Daisy respect without fawning over her. Here's a good example of them bonding over their traditional family values compared to Boolie's modern ways:
HOKE: Mr. Sig's grave is mighty well tended. I think you're the best widow in the state of Georgia.
DAISY: Boolie's always pestering me to have the staff here tend to this plot. "Perpetual care," they call it.
HOKE: Well, don't you do it! It's right to have a member of the family looking after you.
DAISY: I'll never have that! Boolie will have me in perpetual care before I'm cold.
Hoke and Daisy have a lot of these moments. They "get" each other at some level. She opens up to him because she knows he'll always listen. She doesn't think Boolie listens. Boolie makes sure that Daisy's practical needs are taken care of, but he doesn't really spend quality time with her. He outsources that part to Hoke.
A Little Respect
Hoke might not get much respect from Daisy at first, but he never loses his self-respect. He's proud and dignified; just like Daisy, he wants to maintain his independence. As a black man, he's had a lifetime of people telling him how to live his life. He's not too proud to buy Daisy's used cars, but he buys them on his own terms.
BOOLIE: Why didn't you buy it from Mama? Would have saved money.
HOKE: No, sir. Your mama is in my business enough as it is. I ain't studying about making monthly payments to her. She is mine the regular way.
Hoke knows his value to the Werthan family. One day, he gets a job offer from another member of their family who tells him to "name his salary." He doesn't want to work for that family, but he brings the news to Boolie:
BOOLIE: […] But got you thinking, didn't she?
HOKE: Well, sir, you might say that.
BOOLIE: ''Name your salary.''
HOKE: That's exactly what she said.
BOOLIE: Well, how does $65 a week sound?
HOKE: Sounds pretty good, sir. Course, $75 sounds better. It sure does!
BOOLIE: Beginning this week.
HOKE: That's mighty nice of you. I sure appreciate this. Thank you. You ever have folks fighting over you?
HOKE: It sure feels good.
As the years go on and Hoke gains Daisy's trust, he feels more comfortable calling her on some of her more outrageous behavior. One notable confrontation occurs when Miss Daisy won't allow him to pull over and "make water."
HOKE: How you think I feel having to sit up here and ask you can I go make water, like I'm some child? […] Well I ain't no child Miss Daisy, and I ain't just some back of the neck you look at while you going wherever you got to go. I'm a man, I'm near about seventy years old, and I know when my bladder's full. Now I'm going to get out of this car and go over there and do what I got to do. I'm taking the key with me, too. Now that's all there is to it!
The second confrontation is when Daisy waits until the last minute to invite him to the Martin Luther King dinner. She doesn't want to go in there with him, but she's ashamed to admit it and Hoke knows it.
HOKE: Now what you think I am, Miss Daisy?
DAISY: What do you mean?
HOKE: The invitation to this dinner came in the mail a month ago. Now, if did be you wanted me to go with you, how come you wait till we in the car on the way before you asked me?
DAISY: What? All I said was Boolie said you wanted to go.
HOKE: Next time you want me to go somewhere, you ask me regular.
As hurt as he is, he still offers to help her to the door. He's never vindictive. Every time Hoke pushes the boundaries of his relationship with Miss Daisy, he nudges her further along the way to recognizing her own intolerance.
Friend Till the End
It's Hoke who's there when Daisy has her first episode of confusion and agitation that signals the onset of her dementia. He's not sure how to best handle it, but he does a great job of calming her down and letting Boolie know what happened.
HOKE: Miss Daisy, now there ain't nothing wrong with you! Your mind done took a turn this morning. You'll snap back if you let yourself.
DAISY: I can't! I can't!
HOKE: You're a lucky old woman.
DAISY: No! It's all a mess now, and I can't do anything about it.
HOKE: Now look at you. You're rich, you're well for your time. You got folks who care about what happens to you.
The conversation ends with Daisy telling Hoke he's her best friend. Hoke keeps visiting Daisy even after she's moved the retirement home. It's a hassle for him to get there since he can't drive either anymore, but he still comes when he can. They share old jokes and commiserate about getting old. Slays us every time.
Although the "magical N****" usually meets a terrible fate, Hoke is actually doing okay at the end of the film. He has a successful family. He's still healthy. The credits roll, but we know that he'll get to go home with his grandchildren.