When black people don’t bother to read, sh*t like The Help happens

Posted on August 9, 2011

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Back in 1967, prolific author William Styron wrote a novel called The Confessions of Nat Turner.
 

Cover of the novel "The Confessions Of Nat Turner"

 
Now, Styron was also good friends with writer James Baldwin. So when public outcry rang out over Styron’s depiction of his emotionally conflicted protagonist, Nat Turner, Stryon was deeply hurt that his intentions were misconstrued.
 
I mean, how could anyone think Nat was self loathing  and one crazy mofo while reading beautifully worded lines like this:
 

“The black people do not sing but stand respectfully in the hot gallery, mouths agape or with sloppy uncomprehending smiles, shuffling their feet. Suddenly they seem to me as meaningless and as stupid as a barn full of mules and I hate them one and all.” (Pg 103)

 
That’s Nat’s inner dialogue as he observes his own race. And he’s in church at the time.
 
Nat Turner staged a historic  slave revolt. Styron partly used information from a twenty page pamphlet from 1832 to build upon his tale. In Styron’s book, Nat’s a leader who distains the black slaves that follow his command and also sexually repressed under Styron’s direction:
 
“In my fantasies she began to replace the innocent, imaginary girl with the golden curls as the object of my craving, and on those Saturdays when I stole into my private place in the carpenter’s shop to release my pent-up desires, it was Miss Emmeline whose bare white full round hips and belly responded wildly to all my lust and who, sobbing ‘mercy, mercy, mercy’ against my ear, allowed me to partake of the wicked and godless yet unutterable joys of defilement.” (Pg 183)

Styron further assured the book would be mired in controversy with the character voicing inner dialogue like this:

“a few of the crouched men and boys without shirts, picking their noses and scratching, sweat streaming down their black backs in shiny torrents, the lot of them stinking to high heaven. I sit down on a bench near the window in an empty space between Hark and an obese, gross-jowled, chocolate colored slave named Hubbard, owned by the Widow Whitehead, who sports a white man’s cast-off frayed multicolored vest over his flabby naked shoulders, and whose thick lips even now, as he meditates conscientiously upon the sermon from below. . .I can see around me a score of faces popeyed with black nigger credulity, jaws agape, delicious shudders of fright coursing through their bodies as they murmur soft Amens, nervously cracking their knuckles and making silent vows of eternal obedience. . . Ooooh yes! he groans, a fat house nigger, docile as a pet coon.” (Pg 97)

“a negro, in much the same way as a dog, has constantly to interpret the tone of what is being said. If, as certainly possible, the question  was merely drunken-rhetorical, then I could remain humbly and decently mute and scrape away at my rabbit. This (my mind all the while spinning and whirling away like a water mill) was the eventuality I preferred-dumb nigger silence, perhaps a little scratching of the old woolly skull, and an illiterate pink lipped grin, reflecting total incomprehension of so many beautiful Latinisms.”  (Pg 61)

 
 
The book went on to win a Pulitzer, but the planned big budget movie was shelved. There was also a heavily publicized answer to Styron by ten black writers titled William Styron’s Nat Turner : Ten Black Writers Respond 
 
 

Ten Black Writers Respond to William Stryon

 
An article from Ebony magazine, circa 1968 reviewing the novel and the controversy can be found here
 
 
Now, if only the The Help had been as thoroughly reviewed.
 
 
Here’s an example of Aibileen’s inner dialogue (items in bold are my doing):
 

It always tickle me how these babies believe anything you tell em. Tate Forrest, one a my used-to-be babies long time ago, stop me on my way to the Jitney just last week, give me a big hug, so happy to see me. He a grown man now. I needed to get back to Miss Leefolt’s, but he start laughing and memoring how I’d do him when he was a boy. How the first time 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. (Aibileen, Pg 91)

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)

 
 
And here’s Minny, cracking jokes at the expense of those who want to join in with the Freedom 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)

So why does Stockett have Minny making such stupid statements? Because for whatever reason, Minny apparently can’t hold her tongue since she so “sassy.”  Plus she’s got a serious personality conflict with 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. And so does Aibileen. But there was no need to disparage the very real civil rights activities to do so.
 

The character most readers and probably moviegoers will identify with, Skeeter Phelan, voices her impressions of the black characters like this: 

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   

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

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)

Charlotte Phelan played by Allison Janey nags her daughter Eugenia aka Skeeter

 
 
 
 
It’s one thing to create a bigoted character. It’s another to play omnipresent narrator and live vicariously through your own literary creations, which imo is what Stockett did. See, when the author wants the reader to know the males who benefited from segregation were really “good” or “honest” she has no problem having Skeeter voice it outright. It’s a special “twist” in the novel.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Funny thing is, this happens most often to the white male characters.
Stockett also includes a few scenes where the disconnect Skeeter has regarding the plight of the maids she works with becomes apparent:
 
I search through the card catalogues and scan the shelves, but find nothing about domestic workers. In nonfiction, I spot a single copy of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. I grab it, excited to deliver it to Aibileen, but when I open it, I see the middle section has been ripped out. Inside, someone has written NIGGER BOOK in purple crayon. I am not as disturbed by the words as by the fact that the handwriting looks like a third grader’s. I glance around, push the book in my satchel. It seems better than putting it back on the shelf. (Skeeter, Pg 172)
 
 
This scene highlights the two sides of Skeeter, which don’t war with each other very much. The character thinks I am not as disturbed by the words as by the fact the handwriting looks like a third grader’s. Skeeter is a character who’s had years of being a willing recipient and participant of segregation. To somehow believe that in a span of a few years, she’d somehow see the system is all wrong, when Stockett makes it clear that the character has not reached that point in her young life is projecting what the reader may wish to occur with the character.  A happy ending, with her being the one “good liberal” out of a band of bigots.
 
And there’s also the scene where Skeeter is neither thrilled nor surprised at seeing James Meredith enroll at her Alma Mater, Ole Miss while she’s watching the event unfold on television.
 
 
Why she’d be so disaffected is odd, since she was the editor of the school paper (called The Rebel Rouser while the real newsletter was the Rebel Underground). This is also the school she’d only recently graduated from a few months earlier. That a journalism major would care so little for such an historic occasion is another mis-step by Stockett. In addition, the book reads as if Skeeter would have no idea that Meredith tried to enter Ole Miss during the very time period she was in school!  
 
Meredith attempted entry into the Law school of Ole Miss in 1961. Skeeter graduated in May of 1962. Meredith was finally admitted in late September of 1962 (some reports state Oct 1st of 1962). Here’s a copy of the Rebel Underground Newsletter, dated Feb 12th 1962. Note what it says about Meredith who won’t officially be admitted until the Fall of  1962:
 
 
 
 
Rebel Underground Feb 1962
 
 
 
Click image for larger view: 
 

Feb 1962 Rebel Underground student paper insults James Meredith

 
 
 
 

My people, my people.  Falling for the hype over the movie, this I can understand.

But not bothering to pick up the book it’s based on,  so you won’t be embarrassed should things be pointed out to you is CRITICAL.

The Help Movie Poster

 
 
 

“I didn’t have any great expectations for a movie based in the ’60s about domestics…I thought it would be a heavy, dark movie that would bring to mind segregation. After seeing the film, though, I felt so proud. My grandmother was a domestic in Florida, and when she passed, almost two generations of families whom she had taken care of sent condolences saying what an important part she was to their family. And it never really connected with me until I saw this movie….I ask each of you: Tell your friends, your family, your co-workers, your church. Organize screening parties. Go see this movie.”  -Representative of a local NAACP chapter who shall remain nameless in this post

Link:  clutchmagonline.com/2011/08/disney-and-dreamworks-reach-out-to-black-leaders-to-promote-%e2%80%9cthe-help%e2%80%9d/

Yes, go see the movie.

Plan parties even though there are black writers languishing for lack of sales and support. Why, I’ve got an idea! Throw a party using cookware by Emeril because the studio has a product deal with HSN. Read all about it here. Now you too can be reminded of how  black women slaved in a hot kitchen from generations upon generations. And why not fry some chicken while you’re at it, because as Minny states in the movie:

“Fried chicken make you tend to feel better about life” 

Remember to pass that wisdom on to your children.

All this talk of food is making me hungry. Guess it’s just like director/screenwriter Tate Taylor said:

“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

And he should know. He just loves black people and fried chicken (why yes Virginia, that’s a pic of Octavia Spencer. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you):

 

Tate Taylor's Chicken Party

 
 
 

Great segue into Tate Taylor, the director of The Help’s first movie, called Chicken Party. Find out more here)

 

“My key objective was to give this movie street cred especially within the African-American community, to represent them and not sugarcoat it,” said Taylor.

LA Times interview By NICOLE SPERLING

Reprinted by http://www.kansascity.com/2011/08/05/3058228/the-help-actresses-talk-roles.html

 

Is writing and directing a short movie  enough “street cred” to get picked as the director of a major motion picture on black maids during  segregation? Especially since blacks and fried chicken were one of the most demeaning and mocking advertising ploys repeatedly used in America. Well I guess it really is all about who you know in this case.

 

Yes, throw your support behind a book, and now a movie that had to purge most of what was offensive and then some, because it actually dogs the black culture, and is still being touted as our next bible.

 

Once you wake up (and you will), remember that if Dreamworks and Disney had pulled this little bait and switch with any other historically maligned culture, there would be hell to pay.

As it is, this whole situation for lack of a better term, is so utterly f ‘ed up.

Only in America. Only in America can a rich white woman pretend to channel a poor black maid and have some people claim it’s “authentic”

Here you have a book that clearly demeans the black male. The studio knows this. The author and director now know this. Yet because there wasn’t much of an outcry from the black community (meaning not enough black males read it, because many of the sistas who did failed to say anything. Which would have been a whole different story if Stockett had skewed us.

Hold that last point, because Constantine, Aibileen and Minny are serious stereotypes in the book. But since this is the movie, why even bring up the book? I mean, the film’s different from the book right?

 

Based on the sensational-LY FLAWED bestseller

 
 
 
Oh. My mistake. I thought this was a totally different take on the novel.

If you want to know why I’m pissed off, it’s because my dad was in the Navy during the Korean War. They made him a cook, because this was segregation after all. For the rest of his life he’d watch war movies, loving Richard Widmark and anyone else who looked heroic in battle. And I’d wonder why. Now I know.

 

Four African American males are in the book, who have some relationship with the primary maids.

Clyde. Leroy. Connor. And Minny’s father.

Clyde is paired with Aibileen. Here’s what she trains her son to say about his father:

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 know (Aibileen, Pg 5)

No sooner than you get over the shock of that bit of negativity, check out Aibileen and Minny’s conversation. And remember, they’re supposed to be church going women, devout Christians. Minny speaks first (items in bold are my doing):

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

“Phhh. you know I never forget her.”

“Week after Clyde left you, I heard that Cocoa wake up with 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 drop 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 just think you got a better connection than most. We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear.”

Yes, these two black women are discussing Aibileen’s power, via prayer to call down a venereal disease on her rival. How black magic and religion combine to make Aibileen all powerful is another slur, as in even though we (blacks) profess to be Christians, we still revert to the practices of our Motherland which is “black magic.” Also, guess what bigots liked to say about blacks during segregation?

Why that we were immoral and carried venereal diseases. Even our children:

Women of Mississippi spread demeaning myths, scan from Clarion-Ledger 1963

 

 

wim-wednesdays-in-mississippi, residents talk about blacks having venereal diseases and that northern agitators are communists

 

 

WIMS stands for Wednesdays in Mississippi. This organization sought the participation of upper class women of both races during the early 60s. The book is called Mississippi Women: Their Histories , Their Lives by Elizabeth Anne Payne, Martha H. Swan, Marjorie Julian Spruill and Brenda M Eagles. The publisher is University of Georgia Press.

Shout out to Liza Cowan for leaving this message about WIMS. ” These are two websites about a real- life activist group- Wednesdays In Mississippi – in which Black and White women from the north and the south worked together in Mississipi at the exact same time as the fictional activities in The Help. http://wimsfilmproject.com/          http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/WIMS/ “

Many Thanks Liza!

 

But if you think what Stockett wrote about  a black woman having a “spoilt cootchie” was cold, you haven’t read anything yet.

 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)

What “plenty of black men” in 1962 Mississippi were doing was trying not to get killed just because of the color of their skin.

“Plenty of black men” left the south for the north, in order to find employment, a more hospitable place for their families to stay and because the north was thought to have opportunities that weren’t available in the south.

“Plenty of black men” were being called “Uncle” and “Boy” yet they fought for the right to become soldiers and die for a country that didn’t see them as equals or even human.

Famous Quote by Medgar Evers:
“We fought during the war for America, Mississippi included. Now, after the Germans and Japanese hadn’t killed us, it looked as though the white Mississippians would.”

“Plenty of black men” were husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers working for little pay with no benefits and pensions. And “plenty of black men” went missing during segregation, not because they abandoned their families, but because they are presumed dead at the hands of those who followed segregation to the letter. Many cold cases are still unsolved. There’s an organization headed by famed journalist Jerry Mitchell (http://coldcases.org/) that’s dedicated to seeing many of their disappearances solved.

From the website:
“Today in the American South, scores of civil rights murders remain unsolved, uninvestigated, unprosecuted, and untold. Those two legacies of violence and silence still haunt the region and continue to damage race relations in the United States.”    

 

A lynching in Marion, Indiana 1930. The ultimate price black men paid during segregation

 
 

But the hits just keep on coming. Leroy is Minny’s pathetically violent and brutish, as well as not too bright husband:

Minny’s husband comments on her pregnancy (this zinger comes after having five other children) “You don’t get tired. Not till the tenth month.” Leroy (Pg 406 )

He terrorizes his entire family and beats Minny almost daily for any perceived slight. Yet Stockett crafts Minny as an abused woman who’s somehow able to perform stand up comedy routines at the drop of a hat, thereby making her a medical miracle. Because she’s loud, crude, rude and at times a bully.

Stockett even has this abused wife (for over fifteen years Leroy has been beating her) smack her own child in defense of Celia Foote, a ditzy, color blind white trash but oh so lovable character that’s in the movie:

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

 
 
 
Y’all would do well to remember that newspaper article I posted. Because the picture above is truly Hollywood magic. Here’s a bit more about what the good folks of Jackson were really up to, that Stockett conveniently left out of her novel. 
 
 

The Ugly Truth Hurts

The Citizen’s Council, formerly known as the White Citizen’s Council isn’t mentioned in the novel. Yet this organization was influencial in publicizing their opposition to integration and the pending Civil Rights Legislation. Stockett not only omitts this from the book, but crafts the husbands and suitors of the main white protags as if they’re going along with segregation just to get along.

Much like the book’s U.S. cover masks the subject matter on the pages (the Disney-esque three birdies), Stockett skillfully diverts who the real villains of segregation were. Many of the white males who had power and control, like some prominent businessmen and politicians are given a pass. Even though Stockett has her characters married to the movers and shakers in the community, she only uses Hilly to crack the whip so to speak, in order to keep everyone following segregation to the letter. No, the only one Stockett reserves most of her scorn for are African American males. You can read more about how Stockett demoralized the black males in the novel here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-help-useless-to-african-americans/

 

White Citizen's Council Jackson Pamphlet cover

 
 
 
Click image for a larger view: 

Clarion Ledger, Sept 1963 regarding Jackson's Citizen Council, formerly the White Citizen's Council

 
 

And these are some of the articles The Clarion-Ledger used to print for the good citizens of Jackson to read
 
 
 Click image for a larger view:

Article on the Negros Qualifications to live among whites

 
For more on what it was like in the REAL Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s, click here:
 
 
 
 
Now, a bit more about the men in the lives of these “admirable” maids:

Connor is another absentee father. All that’s known about him is what Aibileen tells Skeeter, who by the way has become the Oprah of the maids in Mississippi, because not only does Aibileen fall under her spell (giving her only deceased son’s idea for a novel to the journalism grad who cares not a damn thing for actual historic breaking news, case in point the protests at her Alma Mater Ole Miss)

Anyway, Aibileen tells Skeeter Connor was “black as me.” How’s that for a ringing endorsement?

Minny is not only saddled with the abusive Leroy, but she says this about her father: ” . . .my no good drunk daddy”

Understand that not one white male, not even the naked pervert is labeled negatively. The perv comes out of the woods, jacks off, calls Minny a “fat black nigger” gets a beat down from Celia Foote’s fireplace poker and is on his merry way.

Yet he’s never called “no account” “no good” “Crisco” “dickhead” or any name. Only the black males earn these dubious dishonors (thankfully none were called “dickhead”)

Moving right along, earlier in the novel Skeeter receives a letter from a maid she doesn’t even know.

This maid’s name is Yule May Croo- . . .wait for it CROOKLE. Yes, Stockett gives this black maid a last name befitting what she’s in jail for. Guess it was an inside joke at the publishing house.

Yule May confesses her crime to Skeeter (she stole a worthless ring from Hilly Holbrook, the Queen B of Jackson after Hilly turned down her request for a loan)

‘Cause that’s how black folks do don’t cha know. Stockett includes one of the main slurs of segregation, that blacks steal. Hilly runs all over town, telling all the good white folk this myth, and Stockett creates a character who does just that.

But don’t tell anyone at the NAACP. I mean, if anyone should know the history of segregation and what negative ideology was spread, I’d think they would.

But then, I could be wrong after reading that glowing statement on The Help movie from one of their reps. I do have to remind myself that the NAACP has independent branches. So what one branch does may not be what another will do. I truly hope someone will read the book first, which might save face later, you know in case they have to answer questions regarding their support for the movie versus the book.

And didn’t Detroit’s NAACP  just give Kid Rock an award, even though he’s got a Confederate Flag draped on the stage during  his shows?

Not to say I don’t enjoy Kid Rock, but an NAACP award?

Well, I’m sure they had a good reason and did some research before coming to their conclusion. Just like the branch that’s advocating this movie without knowing diddly about what’s in the book.

That should be a  new motto. Why read books? Just go see the movie instead.

That way you won’t know about the Medgar Ever’s error in the novel, and also how the author did PR for the book repeatedly saying that Evers was “bludgeoned”. In one of the three known audio interviews Stockett also claims Evers was bludgeoned in front of his children in the front yard of his home. Full story with excerpts and links to the audio sites can be found here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/medgar-evers-error-in-the-help/

But in case you don’t get the memo and you pick up the book from a friend or the library (don’t pay for it, I beg you) If you love the movie, You’re sure to scream over the book, just like Hilly:

Hilly screams while reading the maids novel

 
 
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