The New Jim Crow – “Chicken Party” and “The Help”

Posted on July 14, 2011

0


Last week an Iowa conservative group created a controversial document called The Marriage Pledge.

In what was a truly misguided attempt at being “inclusive” the group inserted this passage:

” ‘Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American president,’ the statement read, according to Fox News.”

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/11/iowa-marriage-pledge-drop-slavery_n_895006.html

 

 

Here’s the section of Michelle Alexander’s book that they used out of context:

“More African American adults are under correctional control today-in prison or jail, on probation or parole-than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.” (Pg 175 of The New Jim Crow, published by The New Press)

**While I can’t fully agree with the last part of her statement, something about this passage “spoke” to the writers crafting the Marriage Pledge, and perhaps they assumed (wrongly) that African Americans would be swayed by their mis-appropriation. **

From what we know of slavery, there were no “two parent”  families in the traditional sense. Blacks were chattel to be bought and sold at a slave owners whim. So the chances of a child being raised, as in guided by two adults until they reached their own adulthood was slim to none.

Families were split apart and sold. African Americans were business transactions. There are more than enough history books which discuss this, so I know what Michelle Alexander was getting at. But through no fault of hers, this statement was too juicy for those who wished to use it as a political football.

It backfired on them. The passage had to be deleted, and a retraction given. But not before two Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential campaign signed the pledge.

What does all this have to do with The Help? Well, a curious thing seems to be happening and African Americans are in the thick of it.

Suddenly we’re popular enough to be “used” to make money or to give cheap political jabs.

Kathryn Stockett shot to the top of the publishing world because many were struck by the “authentic” voices in her novel, even with the numerous blunders in the book and her own questionable statements during interviews. “Medgar Evers was bludgeoned” comes to mind, stated by the author in not one, but three audio interviews. Links can be found here.

Now it’s been revealed that Stockett’s good friend Tate Taylor, the man she personally picked to write the screenplay as well as direct the movie version of The Help, wrote and starred in a 2003 movie of his own creation dealing with race called (Drumroll):

Chicken Party

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0383984/

Tate Taylor's Chicken Party

Someone gave the short film a rating of 6.3 out of 10 (was that you Tate?)

Thanks to AmethystNite on twitter for the tip. And also the link to not only Chicken Party, but this quote by Taylor as he promoted his new film, The Help (items in bold are my doing):

“About 20 minutes into the movie, you’re craving fried chicken,” says director Tate Taylor. That movie is The Help, the new film based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel . . .”

Article link: http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/the-help-southern-food

In trying to get much too cute promoting the novel, mistakes are being made. There was even a statement on twitter by someone connected to #TheHelpMovie, to the effect of advice on getting out stains and who has to do it. I think I’ve got a screenshot I can dig up and post.

I’d like to say that Tate Taylor is probably unaware of how often fried chicken has been used to demean and ridicule African Americans (it’s just below watermelons), but after seeing the poster for his independent short film, Taylor’s cavalier statement shows just what’s wrong with The Help.

Children weren't immune to mockery. This GE ad uses the stereotype of blacks and fried chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1950s bigoted advertising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demeaning Ad again connection African Americans to chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a detachment by principals of the movie regarding the subject matter, and frankly, the subjects themselves. Namely African Americans and how Jim Crow wasn’t at all funny, yet they seem to wish it was.

Perhaps that’s what Taylor and Stockett recall about their youth and that’s why the hours African American women spent tethered to a hot stove while working for meager wages isn’t of concern. Its the marketing of the film that’s the main thing, whereby they can tie in the mouth watering dishes and pretend as if they’re helping the locals do something truly community minded.

I don’t know whose idea it was to do the food article, but it was a truly bad one. From the article:

“What’s unusual is that almost all the food in the movie was made by real Southern cooks—including teachers, a journalist and a cafeteria manager—recruited in Greenwood, Mississippi. Hollywood filmmakers typically work with caterers and food stylists, but Taylor, a Jackson native, wanted authenticity. “There’s a way we cook in the South; vegetables get a certain color to them,” he says. “That gets lost a lot of times, unless the right people make the food.”

 

The color of food versus the oppression of African Americans is possibly the least of my worries. The “authenticity” I crave is to known why the Citizen’s Council of Jackson was nowhere in the book, and possibly isn’t spoken of in the movie.

 

Not to mention how the maids look as if they were cast using one rule of thumb. They all must be dark, as if only dark complexioned African Americans were domestics. That was not the case, contrary to Stockett’s assertion in the novel.  

All the "blacker the better" maids in one room, as the film attempts to duplicate Stockett's words with heavy handed film shots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taylor appears clueless about his own screenplay and what the film was trying to convey, especially if the heart and soul of the movie truly was about “Sisterhood” and the unlikely friendship Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny shared while writing about the segregated city they resided in.

By trying to play up trivial items like how great the food was and how funny certain scenes are, it just underscores the very real reservation many had about the whole thing, and that’s whether a white author could truly understand and convey what black maids went through during segregation.

In the movie, Minny serves up jokes as well as food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My contention has always been that Stockett had every right to portray the story as she saw fit. The problem was, she didn’t do a very good job of it.

Like Taylor, she showed a detachment about the subject matter which resulted in sloppy research and tasteless jokes put into the mouths of the black characters that were rooted in segregationist ideology:

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)

More on what went wrong in the novel can be found here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/ten-issues-that-tarnish-the-help/

 

 

Not once, not twice but three times the author states in separate audio interviews that Medgar Evers was “bludgeoned”  and in one interview she claims he was bludgeoned in front of his children, thereby inferring that they witnessed it. This kind of mistake is unheard of and highly embarrassing.

Yet it’s similar to Taylor’s “fried chicken” reference, where even some in the media don’t get how offensive and bone headed much of the issues in the book and outside of it are.

It’s this very disaffected attitude that at least for me, came through in the novel.

Why no interviewer asked Stockett about the stereotypical scenes concerning African Americans is another curious thing regarding the aura surrounding the novel, and now the movie.

No one wanted the book to be wrong, yet it clearly is with it’s stereotypical depictions of African Americans. Now the same thing is occurring with the movie, as those with an investment in the film hope people forget about the book, yet Taylor’s  insulting “fried chicken” reference can’t help but make you wonder.

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

Another interesting thing about the article;

Minny’s dated, thick dialect is in stark contrast to the other quotes.

“Ain’t just for frying. You ever get a sticky something stuck in your hair, like gum? That’s right, Crisco. Spread this on a baby’s bottom, you won’t even know what diaper rash is. Shoot, I seen ladies rub it under they eyes and on they husband’s scaly feet . . .  And after all that it will still fry your chicken.” (Minny, Pg 43-44)

The dialect is so overdone, it screams stereotype. Now here’s how the writer of the article presents the quotes by those who provided food for the film:

“Another real-life cook enlisted to prepare food for the film was Mary Hoover, who ran a popular soul-food restaurant in Greenwood’s historically black  Baptist Town neighborhood for nearly 30 years. ‘I’ve been cooking since I was eight years old,’ Hoover says with a wide, gap-toothed smile. Asked to reveal her mother’s recipe for butter rolls, however, she balks: ‘I’ll go to my grave with that.’ Growing up on a farm, Hoover helped her mother feed 10 children on what her father earned as a field hand. ‘Our chicken and pork all came from the yard. Dessert came from the tree or the vine.’ She jokingly calls her culinary style ‘dirt-row cooking. ‘ “

Comparing Stockett’s fictional cook Minny, to real life culinary cook Mary Hoover again shows something is amiss.  

It concerns the perception of how one race views African Americans, and how we really are. There’s the portrayal that has black maids doing comedy in the kitchen during segregation, which is not only ridiculous, but offensive. I sense that Taylor’s Chicken Party short film may be partially responsible.

The Help was riddled with similar errors and packed with bad fiction, like all the maids having to be “the Blacker the better”.

But it’s not just how the characters read in the novel, its what they say.

Crisco is also used by Aibileen to demean her ex-spouse in a game the maid plays with her only child. Aibileen trains her son to call his father “Crisco” because as she reasons

“. . . he the greasiest no-count you ever known.” (Aibileen, Pg 5)

There is a big racial disparity in the book, as far too many things being divided along black and white. And sadly, the movie appears to follow that pattern, at least from the misguided attempt at the trailers playing up how “Funny” segregation was.

Hilly, played by Bryce Dallas Howard thinks Minny is using her bathroom and spreading disease

No where in the book is there a comparable statement about a white male being greasy as Crisco. Stockett wouldn’t dare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And no where do the white females even mention the race of their mates in a negative way. Yet somehow Kathryn Stockett believed not only do black females hate the skin they’re in, but that black women detest black men. The novel has many instances of the primary maids making derogatory statements about black males, and in Minny’s case, a far reaching statement that Stockett had no credentials or basis in which to make.

“Plenty of black males leave their families behind like trash in a dump. But that’s something the colored woman do. We’re got the kids to think about.” (Minny, Pg 311)

The parody of blacks and food continues all through the book as Minny also says:

“Let’s see,  I put the green beans in first, then I go on and get the pork chops going cause , mmm-mmm, I like my chops hot out the pan, you know.” (Minny Jackson, Pg 166 of The Help)

Link: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/the-help-is-a-parody/

To be continued . . .

About these ads
Posted in: Blog