Is The Help truly about feminism, or favoritism?

Posted on June 21, 2011

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Who woulda thunk?

Skeeter and Aibileen and Minny are supposed to be thought of as “feminists” now.

Aibileen and Minny, those bold feminists try to watch white people on the downlow

Maybe I missed something in the book, so I’ll take another look. I don’t recall a stirring speech by Skeeter, meant to rally and empower the maids.

Perhaps they created one for the movie, where Skeeter as their editor and “leader” tells all the maids they need to do the book, not just for her  but they need to stand together, fighting for the good of their gender.

Might work on screen. But in the book Skeeter says this to Minny:

“Now hold on. I’m not out to change any laws here. I’m just talking about attitudes and-”  (Pg 164)

This is after she takes a look at Minny and in typical Skeeter overshare, decides Minny’s ten times blacker than Aibileen (items in bold are my doing):

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)

Now, I wonder how that can be, since Aibileen clearly declared the roach in her kitchen the winner in the “blacker than me” contest: 

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)

What I also recall is Skeeter scared Aibileen so bad, the woman wound up  begging:

“Please, don’t give up on me. Let me stay on the project with you.”

I close my eyes. I need a break from seeing her worried face. How could I have raised my voice to her? “Aibileen, it’s alright. We’re . . . together on this.” (Aibileen begs, Skeeter relents on Pg 161)

So much for “Empowerment”

See, this is part of the problem with spinning the book as some sort of “Feminists in the 60s” angle.  And since the movie is based on the book, changing things so that it neatly fits in two and a half movie hours is sort of like what Stockett did with the modern additions she put in the book (Minny talking smack on a public bus in the segregated south and living to tell about it, Minny putting feces in Hilly’s pie and living to tell about it. Minny going after a white man with a knife and living to tell about it) . And it only serves to dilute just how horrid the conditions in Jackson, Mississippi really were.

Does anyone think for a minute this would have been even remotely considered if the book were based on a best seller about The Holocaust?

I think of the power in the scenes of Schindler’s List, where Ralph Fiennes character  of Amon Goeth systematically picked off Jewish prisoners, and feeling the heartbreaking hope when it appeared he might “pardon” the young man scrubbing his bath tub. Yet he killed the youth anyway. There was a sickness in Goeth’s warped hatred, much like the bigots who were intent on fighting to keep whites and blacks segregated.  

So I don’t agree with Kathryn Stockett’s decision in the novel, and with the producers behind the movie deciding segregation needed to be “fun”.

Celia, just so happy to have a black maid as a “Friend”

Celia gives Minny a hug, which is supposed to make moviegoers chuckle and go “Awww”

It’s as if the story about African Americans being oppressed must be  “entertaining” or “enjoyable” or there’s no sense in dwelling on it. How messed up is that?

Perhaps the problem lies more in they’re fearful that the money won’t roll in if too much truth is in the movie, unlike the book.

And this way moviegoers can laugh and think Well, segregation couldn’t have been that bad. Look at how much fun Aibileen and Minny are having.

Stockett’s novel sought to appease instead of making people think and feel. It became a beach read, though a very successful one.

When I think of feminism and civil rights I think of Anne Moody, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. Ida B. Wells.

Who is Ida B. Wells?

It was in Memphis where she first began to fight (literally) for racial and gender justice. In 1884 she was asked by the conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man and ordered her into the smoking or “Jim Crow” car, which was already crowded with other passengers. Despite the 1875 Civil Rights Act banning discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color, in theaters, hotels, transports, and other public accommodations, several railroad companies defied this congressional mandate and racially segregated its passengers. It is important to realize that her defiant act was before Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the fallacious doctrine of “separate but equal,” which constitutionalized racial segregation. Wells wrote in her autobiography:

Ida B Wells, a “feminist” before her time

I refused, saying that the forward car [closest to the locomotive] was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies’ car, I proposed to stay. . . [The conductor] tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn’t try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out.

Wells was forcefully removed from the train and the other passengers–all whites–applauded. When Wells returned to Memphis, she immediately hired an attorney to sue the railroad. She won her case in the local circuit courts, but the railroad company appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, and it reversed the lower court’s ruling. This was the first of many struggles Wells engaged, and from that moment forward, she worked tirelessly and fearlessly to overturn injustices against women and people of color.

Her suit against the railroad company also sparked her career as a journalist. Many papers wanted to hear about the experiences of the 25-year-old school teacher who stood up against white supremacy. Her writing career blossomed in papers geared to African American and Christian audiences. “

Excerpt from Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Her Passion for Justice  by Lee D. Baker  Read the full biography here:

http://www.duke.edu/~ldbaker/classes/AAIH/caaih/ibwells/ibwbkgrd.html

 

 

 

But I guess because Minny, Aibileen and Skeeter plus the other maids roles are being beefed up for the movie, then just like the problem in the novel, the civil rights movement is getting sidelined for the whole “feminist” storyline.

Let’s see, did Minny pack up her kids and leave Leroy? Nope, not until he threw the kids out of the house and threatened to burn the place down with her in it. But there may not be a Leroy in the movie, that way Minny can be at her “Sassy” best.

Did Skeeter tell Stuart where he could stick his ring? Nope. Stuart left Skeeter, taking back his ring after she reveals her part in getting the maids stories published. Though I did see the UK trailer has Skeeter and Stuart having a serious argument. So Skeeter, like Aibileen has been given more of a backbone.

Did Aibileen stop being such a doormat and learn to love the black skin she was in?

Oops, sorry about that. Guess I thought someone who’d be a “Feminist” would at least have a sense of self worth, and not self loathing. Ol’ Aibileen has such a complex about her brown skin I wonder how she can instill positive affirmations in Mae Mobley. Or maybe she can, because Aibileen is the biggest Uncle Tom in the book (I KNOW the movie definitely changed this)

Listen, I know the studio’s PR department needs to latch onto something that will resonate with moviegoers. I get how the game is played.

Only the book was nothing of the sort. If anything, Skeeter was all about Skeeter, an opportunist who left Jackson without even admitting how much Aibileen and Minny risked to help her get the hell out of town. And like all stereotypical books that have black side characters, Aibileen and Minny were all for Skeeter living her dream, while the two of them were just fine with not having any.

(Insert stereotypical dialogue meant to “empower” Skeeter and absolve her of any guilt for what may befall the maids after she leaves. Cue the violins)

There was no “moving” moment like the film’s newly inserted scene:

The touch Skeeter dared not do in the book. She ‘touched” Aibileen in the dark of night, when it was raining and she was about to leave Jackson.

 

 

The problem with all of this is that the movie was made because the powers that be, those “investors” backing the film like Nate Berkus and Dreamworks fell in love with the novel. Warts and all. Offensive ideology about the black culture and all. So as far as I’m concerned, the movie looks more like “Girls just wanna have fun” or more appropriately, “Favoritism, since only one character can be the “chosen one” When I look at groveling and grinning Aibileen, and the grumpy but oh so “sassy” Minny, they pale in comparision to actual feminists who could chew gum and fight for their gender and race at the same time. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, the lioness for civil rights and Mississippi native who dared to speak during the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

 

 

Fannie Lou Hamer

 

 

Famous Quote “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”

FANNIE LOU HAMER: Mr. Chairman and to the credentials committee, my name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and I live at 66 East Lafayette Street, Ruleville, Mississippi. Some … (inaudible) is the home of Senator James O. Eastman and Senator Stint. But the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated. Now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of their hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America.”

 

How the black female as a devoted domestic was promoted during segregation:

And how Hollywood returns to the past with a “kinder, gentler” version of segregation and chic white women. Same as it ever was. Guess Dreamworks and Disney didn’t realize they’d never “changed” anything with this film.

The Help Movie Poster – “change” is looking like more of the same (black actresses as domestics)

 

 

 

To be continued . . .

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