Hollywood’s big gamble on The Help

Posted on March 6, 2011

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We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”

Unfortunately, Kathryn Stockett renders that lovely sentiment worthless, as within the pages of her own novel she writes how blacks and whites are indeed separated by her own brand of literary segregation.

UK Cover of the Help AKA The cover they dare not put on US bookshelves

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Perhaps part of the answer can be found in Stockett’s own admission:
 
“In 1970s Mississippi I didn’t have a single black friend or black neighbor. Yet one of the closest people to me was Demetrie, our family’s black housekeeper.”
 
Kathryn Stockett in her own words the Dailymail UK
 
  
 
 
 
   
Stockett gives readers black characters who validate not just Hilly’s, but opponents of integration who publicly stated that blacks had diseases, were immoral and stole. Check out the article from the 1963 pro-segregation newpaper back then, the Clarion-Ledger:  
 
 

Clarion-Ledger quotes from real housewives of Jackson, 1963

  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Yes, in order not to sit next to an African American in grammar school no less, a citizen of Jackson, Mississippi states that “little children cannot cope with disease and immorality . . .  I don’t want them forced into schools with Negroes.”
 
 
 
Behold then Cocoa, the character who runs off with Aibileen’s husband Clyde, a woman who winds up with a “spoilt cootchie” AKA a venereal disease. Black and white readers may find this hilarious, until realizing that no genteel white character even touches the subject, while Minny and Aibileen come across less as “devoted servants of the lord” and women who may need to limit their gossiping in church and pay more attention to the sermons. In this throw back  dialogue to the days of Amos n’ Andy, Stockett crafts a scene as offensive as any on the old radio show voiced by two white men:

“You know Cocoa, the one Clyde ran off with?”

“Phhh, You know I never forget her.”

“Week after Clyde left you, I heard that Cocoa wake up to her cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster. Didn’t get better for three months. Bertrina, she good friends with Cocoa. She know your prayer works.”

My mouth pop open. Why she never tell me this before? “You saying people think I got the black magic?”

“I knew it make you worry if I told you. They think you got a better connection than most. We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear.” (Pg 24)

Stockett discusses Skeeter's "bravery" and voices Minny talking "spoilt cootchies"

 

There’s no need to wait for the movie, since Kathryn Stockett was so enthralled with her own dialogue that she ventured to talk of spoilt cootchies while promoting the novel. Here’s a link to Stockett on You Tube doing a pseudo “black” voice, as she voices Minny:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnItIYbzlLA&feature=related

As readers chuckle at Aibileen and Minny’s antics, a vast majority don’t even realize these characters are STEREOTYPES.

The “black magic” reference and Aibileen’s questioning that people may think she practices it, mixes religion with superstition. This is another stereotype of African Americans, that while we may profess to be Christians we’re really not. It’s also another moment where the reader can chuckle at how backwards Minny and Aibileen appear to be in their understanding of God and the bible.

Perhaps Stockett believed she was giving Cocoa her comeuppance (by putting a venereal disease on the character). And I suspect plenty of readers laughed at this. But the negative connotation outweighs bringing the funny here.

If Aibileen is a “devoted servant of the lord” as Stockett claims in her official statement regarding the lawsuit, then the character would be offended at Minny’s statement, not curious. And she’d correct Minny, especially since Aibileen is seventeen years older. But in the scene she’s of the same mindset instead of being upset that people would even attribute such a thing to her. And really, where does God even fit in with all of this? I get that Aibileen has her “prayer book” but one thing does not equate to the other. Religion and belief in “black magic” are opposing idealogies.   

 
 
 
 

 

Marvel Comic's "Brudder Voodoo" I kid you not. He's actually saying "My name is Jericho Drumm. They call me Brudder Voodoo. What da hell is wrong wit you people?” More on this character here: http://www.thepostgameshow.com/?p=684

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

The stereotype of “Black Magic”

 

 

 

 So I’ll say it again. Aibileen and Minny, and for that matter most of the black characters in the novel The Help are stereotypes. Pick up any old novel, or check out Turner Classic Movies and you’ll possibly see black and white movies with storylines that feature lovely heroines in only one color, with domestic help usually African American trailing behind fussing and fretting over their mistress.

The help in these movies are usually dark, heavy set and speaking with a broad southern accent. In movies from the 1930s on,  that’s the role most black females were allowed to play. And now, some people are getting down right frantic to see the movie version of  The Help.

Why? Just pick up the DVD of Jezebel, starring Bette Davis, or Gone with the Wind, starring Vivian Leigh, or Imitation of Life, starring either Claudette Cobert or Lana Turner. And you will see an earlier version of The Help.  

 

Hollywood is casting new Mammies. Only blacks need apply

 

I truly hope some of the younger viewers will be like my daughter, and wonder why in the world some of the black reviewers are sleeping on all this, while Hollywood resurrects the character of Mammy, seemingly with no opposition.
 
Silence means you’re giving your blessing.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Help is a Dreamworks production, being distributed by Disney. Take a look at a deleted character from one of Disney’s old classics.
The beloved animated movie called Fantasia. Remember that little fawn’s pose well. It reeks of attitude, even though the movie is from the 1940s.

Sunflower, the deleted hoof shining fawn from Disney's Fantasia

 
 
Check out how Stockett has Kindra behaving and, and how the girl is described. There’s a whole lotta ‘tude with little Kindra:
 
 
 
“Mama, fix me something to eat. I’m hungry.”  That’s what my youngest girl, Kindra, who’s five said to me last night. With a hand on her hip and her foot stuck out.

I have five kids and I take pride that I taught them yes ma’am and please before they could even say cookie.

All excerpt one.

“You ain’t having nothing till supper,” I told her.

“Why you so mean to me? I hate you,” she yelled and ran out the door.

I set my eyes on the ceiling because that’s a shock I will never get used to, even from her. The day your child says she hates you, and every child will go through the phase, it kicks like a foot in the stomach.

But Kindra, Lord. It’s not just a phase I’m seeing. That girl is turning out just like me.

Still not convinced? Then here’s another excerpt from the novel and a still from Fantasia:

Sunflower, the deleted fawn from Fantasia shines a hoof

 

“Kindra! Get your butt off that floor! Minny holler. Them beans better be hot when your daddy wakes up!”

Kindra – she seven now – she sass-walk her way to the store with her bottom sticking out and her nose up in the air. Pans go banging all over the place. “Why I got to do dinner? It’s  Sugar’s turn!”

“Cause Sugar at Miss Celia’s and you want to live to see third grade.”

Benny come in and squeeze me aroune the middle. He grin and show me the tooth he got missing, then run off.

“Kindra, turn that flame down fore you burn the house down!”

“We better go, Minny,” I say, cause this could go on all night. “We gone be late. . . “

Sunflower does her thing in this deleted scene from Disney's Fantasia

 

“Kindra, I  don’t want to see so much as a bean setting in the sink when I get back. Clean up good now.” Minny give her a hug. “Benny, go tell Daddy he better get his fool self out a that bed.”

“Aww, Mama, why I – “

“Go on, be brave. Just don’t stand too close when he come to.”

We make it out the door and down the street fore we hear Leroy hollering at Benny for waking him up. I walk faster so she don’t go back and give Leroy what he good for. (Pg 397)

End of Excerpt.

Now, take a look at how Stockett makes a difference in how Mae Mobley, the “special baby” of Aibileen’s is described:

Miss Leefolt starts screaming for Mae, “Mae Mobley? Mae Mobley Leefolt!”

Elizabeth has just noticed her child has gone missing from the kitchen. “I told you to eat in your high chair, Mae Mobley. How I ended up with you when all my friends have angels I just do not know…”

And at two years of age, Mae wrinkles her brow and tells Aibileen “Mae Mo bad.”

Aibileen thinks, the way she say it, like it’s a fact, make my insides hurt.

“Mae Mobley, I got a notion to try something.” Aibileen tells her.

“You a smart girl?”

Mae just looks at her.

So Aibileen frames it in the form of a statement next. “You a smart girl.”

And Mae repeats “Mae Mo smart.”

Aibileen next says, “You a kind little girl?”

Mae stares at her again.  So Aibileen says “You a kind girl.”

Mae nods and repeats it.

After while, Mae Mobley come over and press her cheek up to mine and just hold it there, like she know I be hurting. I hold her tight, whisper, “You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me?” And I keep saying it till she repeat it back to me.

Aibileen and Mae Mobley Leefolt in another scene:

“How you like your teacher?” I ask her.

“She’s pretty,” she say.

“Good,” I say, “You pretty too.” (Pg 392)

 

Whether unintentional or not, Stockett even segregates the children by their behavior. Mae  Mobley is deserving of Aibileen’s love and kindness because her mother is a clueless shrew. Kindra isn’t deserving of love and kindness, because her mom is the “sassy” maid, the one who’s supposed to provide humor. And Kindra herself is labeled as “mouthy”. A negative for her, but hilarious when readers want to enjoy Minny’s quips. Far too many readers forget that Minny is a victim of domestic violence. Yet this character behaves contrary to all known medical data on women who are abused by their partner. Not only does she holler and threaten her kids, but there’s a scene in the novel where she smacks her eldest daughter Sugar, for laughing and gossiping about Celia Foote.

Aibileen and Minny and even Constantine aren’t revolutionary or “new” characters. They’re the only roles Hollywood would allow African American females to play. And now they’re back, dressed up under the guise of being a “Homage” to one author’s way of life.

An author who reveals this:

“I was taught that racial issues were considered tacky for a young lady to discuss,” she said. ‘I wasn’t even allowed to watch ‘The Jeffersons.’ “

http://www.courierpress.com/news/2010/nov/04/author-details-risky-story-of-race/

 And:

‘I wouldn’t know how to write it differently. It’s funny when you’re surrounded by people who think something is normal, and then you go out and realize that everyone has their own version of normal. All I can say is, that’s how I remember it now in my mind. The dialect plays back like a tape recorder. My mother and stepmother speak very properly. I really enjoyed putting two very different voices on the page together. I don’t think I’d be capable of writing it any differently.’ “

http://www.atlantamagazine.com/channels/books/Story.aspx?id=1271657

The words in bold contradict Kathryn Stockett’s own assertion that she believed nothing much separates us, because she did everything to show how different African Americans and whites are in The Help. Readers should note that the only characters who “challenge” any of the white characters in the novel are the closer to white black characters themselves, Yule May Crookle, the maid with “no naps” in her hair, Lulabelle, Constantine’s light enough to pass for white daughter, and Gretchen, who wears pink lipstick just like Skeeter and her gang, and speaks with care just like a white person, according to Skeeter.

Speaking of Yule May Crookle (gotta love that last name. It also telegraphs what she’ll do in the novel, stealing and ending up in prison)

Aunjanue Ellis plays Yule May

 

This is the maid with a college education as well as no naps. And here’s her confession letter, to Skeeter of all people, even though they’ve never met and Skeeter is one of Hilly’s closest friends.

Dear Miss Skeeter

I want you to know how sorry I am that I won’t be able to help you with your stories. But now I can’t and I want to be the one to tell you why. As you know, I used to wait on a friend of yours. I didn’t like working for her and I wanted to quit many times but I was afraid to. I was afraid I might never get another job once she’d had her say.

You probably don’t know that after I finished high school, I went on to college. I would’ve graduated except I decided to get married. It’s one of my few regrets in life, not getting my college degree. I have twin boys that make it all worthwhile, though. For ten years my husband and I have saved our money to send them to Tougaloo College, but as hard as we worked, we still didn’t have enough for both. My boys are equally as smart, equally eager for education. But we only had the money for one and I ask you, how do you choose which of your twin sons should go to college and which should take a job spreading tar? How do you tell one that you love him just as much as the other, but you’ve decided he won’t be the one to get a chance at life? You don’t. You find a way to make it happen. Any way at all.

I suppose you look at this as a confession letter. I stole from that woman. An ugly ruby ring, hoping it would cover the rest of the tuition.

Something she never wore and I felt she owed me for everything I’d been through working for her. Of course  now, neither of my boys will be going to college, The court fine is nearly as much as we had saved.

Sincerely,

Yule May Crookle

Women’s Block 9

Mississippi State Penitentiary

Yule May’s “I suppose you look at this as a confession letter”. Yes, and a stupid one at that. What was so special about Skeeter that she deserves a full explaination, and one that could come back to haunt Yule May? But to be thought of as “good” of course Yule May has to come clean to a white character. Its twists like this in the novel that turn it into bad soap opera. The black characters are forever explaining or doing something to get the white characters to like them. It’s so old school “be a credit to your race” that it’s ridiculous.

And as in many of the old movies, the white characters do nothing in return to either deserve all this devotion or absolution.

Which is what Aibileen grants to Skeeter in this scene, along with a parting gift:

“Are you scared Aibileen? she asks. “Of what might happen?”

I turn so she can’t see my eyes. “I’m alright.”

“Sometimes, I don’t know if this was worth it. If something happens to you…how am I going to live with that, knowing it was because of me?” She presses her hand over her eyes, like she doen’t want to see what’s gone happen.

I go to my bedroom and bring out the package from Reverend Johnson. She take off the paper and stare at the book, all the names signed in it. “I was gone send it to you in New York, but I think you need to have it now.”

“I don’t…understand,” she say. “This is for me?”

“Yes ma’am.” Then I pass on the Reverend’s message, that she is part of our family. “You need to remember, ever one of these signatures means it was worth it.” She read the thank-yous, the little things they wrote, run her fingers over the ink. Tears fill up her eyes.

“I reckon Constantine would a been real proud of you.”

Miss Skeeter smile and I see how young she is. After all we written and the hours we spent tired and worried, I ain’t seen the girl she still is in a long, long time.

“Are you sure it’s alright? If I leave you, with everything so…”

“Go to New York Miss Skeeter. Go find your life.” (Pg 436-437)

 The parts I put in bold are the statements that Skeeter needs to hear, the statements absolving her of any guilt and responsibility for what happens in the future.

To be absolved of any guilt seems to be a running theme in many books where race is front and center. Aibileen does this with Skeeter, by admonishing her to follow her dream, regardless of what may befall the maids she leaves behind:

And now, for your enjoyment, the many ways Aibileen, Minny and Constantine sound like they’re nothing but stereotypes (especially since none of the white characters even remotely sound like this). I purposely left out identifying the speaker, just to show how these three are a lot like clones:

My work shoes so thin, look like they starving to death (Pg 16)

“You gone be a brain surgeon! Top a the house mean the head!” (Pg 63)

“Only one I recognize is Lincoln. He look like my daddy.” ( Pg 66)

And Miss Skeeter asking don’t I wanna change things, like changing Jackson, Mississippi gone be like changing a lightbulb. (Pg 24)

This woman talk like she from so deep in the country she got corn growing in her shoes. (Pg 25)

“Shame ain’t black, like dirt, like I always thought it was. Shame be the color of a new white uniform your mother ironed all night to pay for, white without a smudge or a speck a work-dirt on it.” (Pg 151)

“We start calling his daddy Crisco cause you can’t fancy up a man done run off on his family. Plus he the greasiest no-count you ever known” (Pg 5)

She might be built like Marilyn but she ain’t ready for no screen test (Pg 31)

…she is the laziest woman I’ve ever seen. Including my sister Doreena who never lifted a royal finger growing up because she had the heart defect that we later found out was a fly on the X-ray machine (PG 48)

“Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person. Is you one of them peoples?” (Pg 62)

Actress Viola Davis will play Aibileen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So,  back to Hollywood and The Help

I doubt if the character of Leroy will be in the movie. If he is, his role will be reduced.

Since the film was a rush job in my opinion, I don’t think those who love the movie will be disappointed.

The screen will be filled with enough of Aibileen, Minny and Constantine’s frightenly cornball sayings, because that’s what many readers responded to, in addition to the black characters proving how “good” they were by being generous and loving to the white characters. While at the same time dumb enough to ignore and talk ill of the growing civil rights movement:

“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny speaking of a person holding a community meeting concerning the Woolworth sit-ins (Pg 217)

And I know there are plenty of other “colored” things I could do besides telling my stories or going to Shirley Boon’s meetings-the mass meetings in town, the marches in Birmingham, the voting rallies upstate. But truth is, I don’t care that much about voting. I don’t care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing silver. Minny (Pg 218)

And why does Stockett have Minny making such stupid statements? Because for whatever reason, Minny apparently can’t hold her tongue when dealing with a character named Shirley Boon. But there’s also another reason. Stockett sets up the maids stories to appear as great or of greater importance than the civil unrest that actually went on in Jackson. Thus Minny distances herself from the community meetings in order to keep her appointments with Skeeter. But there was no need to disparage the very real civil rights activities to do so.
 
By confining Aibileen and Minny to their respective ”kitchens” and also a singular church, Stockett’s 1960s Jackson is almost idyllic in its lack of racial problems. Hence the only character in danger is Skeeter, since she  has to worry about being stopped going to or from Aibileen’s house. However even then there’s no real danger, it’s only implied and never materializes.
More on Stockett’s greatest blunders can be found here:

The questions is whether its better to have the movie viewed exactly as Stockett wrote it, warts and all.

Because like Ablene Cooper’s lawsuit, it may be the only way those who just can’t see what all the fuss is about to see. But I doubt if they’ll truly get it even then. They’ll just realize enough dust is being kicked up so that they may have to take another look. And when they do, they may finally notice:

A black character named Cocoa with a venereal disease (spoilt cootchie = venereal disease. So deal with it.)

A black character named Yule May Crookle  who steals and goes to prison.

A black character named Aibileen who coddles and grins for her “special baby” Mae Mobley but will barely make a peep when Minny hollers and cracks jokes about her children, and labels her youngest one trouble, just like Elizabeth Leefolt does to Mae Mobley. But if your best friend can’t tell you that you’re wanting as a mom, who can? Oh Law.

A black character named Minny who’s an abused woman, yet she takes up a knife  (one of the longest running stereotypes about African Americans was us and a knife and the quick nature to confront) to go after a pervert (probably won’t be naked in the movie, but who knows. And I doubt if Minny will tell Celia to lock the door behind her, as some moviegoers may walk out).

It’s just something about that scene that reminds me of Mammy, from Gone With The Wind, shooing away all the skalliwags and white trash when Scarlett walked down the main street. Mammy made certain everything was just right to let a lady pass. And Minny is doing the same thing. Never mind that she’s pregnant with her sixth child (which is yet another stereotype Stockett includes in her novel, blacks and their large family. Even Aibileen gets in on the act, stating that her two sisters have eighteen children between them)

The city of Jackson, Mississippi, a place  Stockett has revised the history of.  It’s in the grip of a madwoman named Hilly Holbrook, who somehow believes that in 1962 the most pressing issue Jackson has is the need for separate toilets for the help. Guess she missed the Freedom Riders and civil rights activists as well as reporters entering her city by the bus loads in 1961. That’s right, 1961. And even before that Jackson was a hotspot for civil rights activity.  

 
 
 
 

 

An arrest in Jackson, Mississippi of Hellen Jean O’Neal-McCray at nineteen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on the real life bravery of these two college students can be found in this post:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/song-of-the-south/

 

 

 Kathryn Stockett created a bizarre Pleasantville scenario for Jackson, Mississippi. There’s racial unrest, but not so much that it disturbs Aibileen or Minny from doing their jobs.

Just by reading through archived newspapers like the Jackson Daily and Clarion-Ledger, the front page during the 1960′s onward were all about the building racial unrest around the country. So what exactly was Stockett basing HER research on? By 1963 the city of Jackson was at a fever pitch, with letters to the editor that clearly stated citizens of Mississippi, and not just Jackson were either pro or con integration. Examples of some of these real life letters can be found here:

 http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/letters-to-the-editor/

 

  

 

To be continued . . .

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