I know it will be hard, especially since everyone who “just loved the book!” will be clammoring to see the movie.
But you may want to think twice, since the movie is based on a book that:
Contains several veiled and very direct, jarring insults about African Americans. Some of these offensive statements are from the mouths of the black characters. I believe this is what threw many readers off, perhaps even made them think African Americans carry an enormous amount of self-loathing.
Had the reviewers or readers who loved the book really empathized with the characters, they would have wondered why Stockett chose to have the oppressed culture in her novel behave like stereotypes.
While the movie is playing up the “sisterhood” aspect, and “female empowerment” angle, nothing of the sort occurred in the novel. Skeeter had to shake both Aibileen and Minny from their self-imposed “That’s just how things are and I’m so slow and poor and black that law, I don’t know no better. So thangs can’t get no better.”
Think I’m kidding?
Here’s but a taste of the dialogue Kathryn Stockett had her black characters, who are supposed to be “admirable” and “funny” saying. Items in bold are my doing:
“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny speaking of the person holding a community meeting concerning staging a sit-in (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)
We start calling his daddy Crisco cause you can’t fancy up a man done run off on his family. Plus he the greatest no-count you ever known. (Aibileen, Pg 5)
As usual, Minny’s house be like a chicken coop on fire. Minny be hollering, things be flinging around, all the kids squawking. I see the first hint a Minny’s belly under her dress and I’m grateful she finally showing. Leroy, he don’t hit Minny when she pregnant. And Minny know this so I spec they’s gone be a lot more babies after this one. (Aibileen, Page 396)
How his foot fell asleep and he say it tickle. I told him that was just his foot snoring. And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Pg 91) Aibileen
Yet the smears tainting The Help are not only being condoned, but celebrated.
Betting on apathy and ignorance of history, and WINNING
Kathryn Stockett and her publisher have never publicly acknowledged the Medgar Evers gaffe in the novel.
No, they just ignored it, printing out millions of copies as if the error would just quietly go away.
They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. ——Skeeter Pg 277
Because it’s the “message” of the novel right? And since so many reviewers missed it, why bother to mention it?
Then how is it that Kathryn Stockett could do
two no, actually three audio interviews (a third one was recently found and there’s no telling how many more may be out there) repeating that Medgar Evers was “bludgeoned”, and in one interview the author embellishes it to add: “. . . he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.”
Oh boy. Stockett’s a native of Jackson, and part of the hype was that she had credibility because of that, and also that she’d been raised in the grand old tradition of having a black woman do all the chores.
Only there’s some very ugly humor as well as sociological statements in her work.
Keep in mind that the movie was bankrolled BECAUSE THE BOOK WAS SO SUCCESSFUL AND “BELOVED”
That’s important. Had the book been given the critical analysis it should have, then there may not have been a movie, much like the film version of acclaimed writer and Pulitzer prize winner William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner was shelved after protests.
So while rumor has it that Mary J. Blidge is on the soundtrack for the film, and veteran actresses Cicely Tyson, Viola Davis and Sissy Spacek, as well as up in coming actresses Emma Stone and Jessica Chastain are in the film, that doesn’t change the fact that the movie was based on the “sensationally flawed bestseller”.
A book that over time, will reveal itself to be just what it is. Poorly researched and full of offensive insults, with passages that bamboozled many readers into believing it had “heart”.
It fooled so many readers, that some people don’t realize what they’re laughing and loving are actually scenes based in segregationist ideolgy. Bigoted slurs about the black culture, the very ones that the civil rights movement sought to educate individuals on. And to stamp out.
The very ones that sent freedom riders into Jackson, Mississippi and surrounding areas of the south, risking their lives in order to combat the mis-information spread about why African Americans should always be considered “inferior”.
Some of the things Stockett uses in her novel to demean the African American culture:
The old slur of African Americans carrying venereal diseases
On page 23-24 of the novel, Stockett has Aibileen and Minny having an Amos n Andy moment, where the two cackle about Aibileen’s ability, via the power of prayer and “black magic” of casting down a venereal disease on a woman named “Cocoa”.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that Cocoa is the same woman who ran off with Aibileen’s husband twenty years ago. According to Aibileen’s good friend Minny, “week before Clyde left you, Cocoa wake up to her cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster. . . didn’t get better for three months”
Aibileen’s not horrified to realize she may have contracted and been carrying a venereal disease all this time, since she was sharing Clyde with Cocoa. No, all Aibileen is concerned about is:
“You saying people think I got the black magic?” (Aibileen, Pg 24)
“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.” (Minny’s response)
Let me just say, that this conversation alone blows Stockett’s rebuttal statement to Ableen Coopers lawsuit to smithereens. Because Stockett claimed that Aibileen was “a devoted servant of the lord” yet:
Anyone who believes in the bible and truly worships God knows that “Black magic” has no place in Christianity. But this is yet another scene where Stockett (unintentionally I suppose) shows her bias and her upbringing. Aibileen and Minny are to be chuckled over for how “backwards” they appear. And of course, no matter what faith African Americans practice, we always go back to the motherland (Africa) beliefs right? Of black magic. If this was supposed to be another inside joke, it wasn’t the least bit funny.
And then I find out it was the center piece of the road show, with video no less of the author reading in a pseudo “black” voice?
Oh please. PLEASE.
The African American male as lazy, violent “brutish” and an absentee father.
Minny’s un-named father.
We start calling his daddy Crisco cause you can’t fancy up a man done run off on his family. Plus he the greatest no-count you ever known. (Aibileen, Pg 5)
Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got kids to think about – Minny Jackson (Pg 311)
You want to know what “plenty of black men” were doing during the early 60s and prior?
They were either leaving the south, marching with other civil rights protestors or missing and presumed dead by the hand of some “good ol’ boy”.
Separating the black characters based on skin tone.
The lighter characters like Yule May, Lulabelle and Gretchen don’t have thick southern accents, but they do have a backbone. This is par for the course, as the “tragic mulatto” was also the ones who complained and refused to see themselves as unequal to whites. The problem was, many times they preferred the whites over blacks. Lulabelle passes for white at Charlotte Phelan’s DAR meeting.
Gretchen, while never fully described, is light enough to wear pink lipstick though, and is considered “trim” which is a plus in the novel, as anyone heavy “waddles”.
Yule May has “good hair, no naps” dialogue that the resident Uncle Tom of the book, Aibileen muses over, as she sit behind her.
Yule May, Miss Hilly’s maid setting in front in me. Yule May easy to recognize from the back cause she got such good hair, smooth, no nap in in. – Aibileen Pg 208
Stockett not only equips Yule May with “good hair” AKA “straight hair” but a few years of college so that Yule May sounds close to the southern dialect lacking white characters of the novel, even the white trash Celia Foote. Unfortunately for Yule May, Stockett goes even further, injecting a not so sly reference to her last name, which is Crookle.
Needless to say, Yule May lives down to the name given her, as she steals and is sent to prison.
Which brings up another insult that was spread about African Americans during segregation
That we were prone to thievery. And Stockett creates a character who does just that.
Black people are so bold! They’ll say and do anything!
See Minny’s scene on the bus, where she’s loud and crass, even gossiping about her employer Miss Walters. Never mind that during this time period, all the bus drivers were still white. And there were probably white passengers sitting up front. Stockett ignores all this, having Aibileen claim that blacks can sit anywhere now.
Bullshit. A black person with any sense and who valued their life knew that Jim Crow laws were still in place and strictly enforced. On a public bus, in segregated Jackson, Mississippi, home to the Klan and the Citizen’s Council (formerly the White Citizen’s Council), you got on that bus and either whispered, kept your eyes down and acted accordingly.
Yet Stockett justifies making up a more modern day scenario like this:
Oprah Radio host Nate Berkus (no transcript available)
“Yes absolutely. And you learned, I think as an African American in Mississippi to be very careful with your words and then one of my favorite scenes from the book is when all the maids were on the bus and they get to talk about all their white employers and they get to make fun of them as openly as they can.”
No, the book wasn’t supposed to be a history lesson. But making things up just to fit the plot which was Skeeter as the great white savior, a young woman who graduates from college with a degree in journalism and acts as if the civil rights movement occurring in her own hometown is as history making as watching paint dry. Skeeter is a piss poor journalist, detached from not only the maids but also the premise that Stockett thrusts her into.
Nevermind making one of the maids (who by the way, are are stereotypically older, darker and heavier) the catalyst or leader of this “movement”. No, there’s no way Aibileen’s brain would ever think that it might be a fitting memorial to Treelore, the son whose idea she gave over to Skeeter with nary a thought about “Maybe we can list him in the acknowledgement section of the book somehow, maybe we could use his initials”. No, Aibileen behaves like Delilah from the novel Imitation of Life, even begging Skeeter at one point to keep her on the project, after Skeeter hollers at her for not rounding up enough maids!
Also see Aibileen and Minny discussing another woman’s cootchie or vagina, something Stockett doesn’t dare touch when Skeeter and the gals play bridge. Uh-huh, no sex talk for them. No “Raleigh thinks I’m frigid in bed” conversations for these southern belles.
Skeeter is the virgin of the novel, with Celia Foote being the only one who fornicated prior to marriage. All their husbands wed and stay with their wives, henpecked but loving it, showing how Stockett played favorites with the white males while downgrading the blacks.
I’m guessing most of the African American male characters were negative portrayals because they were based on Clyde or Plunk, the real life hubby of Stockett’s childhood maid Demetrie. Only Demetrie stayed married to the abusive (according to Stockett. I wish Demetrie’s living relatives or either Clyde’s would come forward with more info) Clyde until her untimely death, when the author was just sixteen.
Here are her words in an interview during 2009 with Jessamy Calkin of the UK site The Telegraph.com. Items in bold are my doing:
“The Stockett family went to Demetrie’s funeral, it was the first time Stockett had been to a black church. ‘I’d never had any interaction with black people except those who worked for our family. And I couldn’t believe how overt their emotions were. There were people speaking out during the sermon, joining in, agreeing with the eulogy, singing loud solos impromptu… but what really struck me as heartbreaking was how Demetrie’s husband was carrying on.’
‘Demetrie’s husband was called Plunk, and he was drunk and abusive, so much so that she slept with a pistol underneath her pillow. ‘As I understand it he beat the crap out of her, but at the funeral this man was wandering the aisles, screaming, fainting from heartbreak that Demetrie was dead, calling out her name and throwing himself at the coffin – people were dragging him away, soothing him. It horrified our family. I was 16. I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut.’ ”
Though Stockett has told anyone who’ll listen that Demetrie was role model for many of the maids in the book, instead of either having Aibileen as a widow or Constantine with a mate, she makes them both asexual hermits, turning them into Mammies. Both seem to be just fine with their lonely existence, behaving as if giving love to their white charges (no black children are coddled, hugged or nurtured in the book) is the only thing they need to exist on.
It’s Mammy ideology 101.
As much as Stockett heaps on the insults, she omitts any scenes where she believes there is beauty in the black culture. Skeeter describes playmates and even the maids who will provide her ticket out of Jackson like this:
While visiting Constantine, this character talks about playing with two little girls who were “so black I couldn’t tell them apart and called them both just Mary.” (Pg 62) – Skeeter
Pascagoula is described as tiny as a child, not five feet tall, and black as night (Pg 59) – Skeeter
Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums (Pg 65) – Skeeter
The foreman drags a red cloth across his black forehead, his lips, his neck. (Pg 239) Skeeter
The women are tall, short, black like asphalt or caramel brown. If your skin is too white, I’m told, you’ll never get hired The blacker the better. – (Pg 257) Skeeter
I clear my throat, produce a nervous smile. Minny doesn’t smile back. She is fat and short and strong. Her skin is blacker than Aibileen’s by ten shades, and shiny and taut, like a pair of new patent shoes. – Skeeter’s first impression of Minny (Pg 164)
Aibileen’s face is turning darker. She giggles again into her knuckles. Clearly she’s not getting this. Skeeter (PG 386)
And here’s Aibileen doing a skin color swatch test with of all things, a roach:
That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me. Aibileen’s battle of wills with a cockroach (Pg 189)
Please understand that this is a novel coming from a professional publisher, with at least two editors and several copy editors checking Stockett’s work. And yet they all simply ignored or missed the slights against African Americans. But what’s even more insensitive, is that those who lined up to produce the movie based their eagerness on the novel and how well it was received.
What does that say for the taste of the reading public? What if this had been a book where the maids were Jewish? Or Asian? Would the negative slurs have been easier to spot then?
Is America so in denial about race that many believe African Americans during segregation thought so little of themselves? And are we as a reading public, so desperate as to accept anything, even if it insults our intelligence?
Then why do people think freedom and equality was fought? And who initiated it?
It was African Americans who were sick and tired of being treated like we didn’t matter, and being portrayed as useless, helpless, ignorant, all the things Stockett pads her book with, in order for readers to feel “sorry” for her black characters.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear . SAY IT LOUD. I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD.
The latest spin on the movie from what I can tell, is whoever speaks negatively about the film risks speaking ill of the countless domestics who toiled under segregation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is one film, and it doesn’t represent all voices.
Keep in mind that Constantine, Aibileen and Minny are not “admirable” in the novel, and if the movie had to change their behavior in the film, what does that tell you? So don’t be fooled.
Because the primary issue with the novel, is that Stockett, much like the book clubs who adore her words, chose to speak not only about their black domestic, but in some cases to SPEAK FOR THEM.
This is also what the movie attempts to do, and in trying to silence any criticism by pitting black against black, they follow a historical pattern : Divide and Silence. Not. This. Time.
For more on the beauty lacking in the novel please go to: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/absence-of-beauty/
To be continued . . . in the meantime, please read