War of the Words: The Debate over The Help has finally begun

Posted on August 11, 2011

1


Finally. Fi-nal-ly

After two, no make that over two years, when the book was released in early 2009, riding a wave of accolades and love and peace and rose pedals thrown at Kathryn Stockett’s feet, we’re now having a conversation about the issues in THE BOOK.

Well, it’s not actually a conversation. More like a debate. No, I’d say more like a war of words.

It took the movie to come out before others ventured to speak on the issues that were in the book, which were then transferred over to the film.

First, let me say this. I could give rat’s ass what Oprah, Tyler Perry or any other “famous” black person has to say. My opinion is my own. And this tactic, which was used all during history to silence dissenting African Americans by claiming Booker T. Washington says “yada yada yada” and that was supposed to make African Americans who wanted freedom NOW to say, “Well, if that’s what Booker says, then I guess I’d better be quiet.”

Not only that, but Oprah’s trying to gain viewers for her network, not lose them. And Tyler Perry will need bodies in the seats, since he’s reported to be the new Alex Cross. Understand this. The Help is BELOVED by many. And the film is backed by Steven Spielberg as well as producer Chris Columbus. So I wouldn’t look for anyone in film, television or the entertainment industry to come out publicly against it.

 

This just in: Octavia Spencer and MAMMY are used in the same sentence by a reviewer from the Hollywood Reporter:

“Hers is a great character, the antithesis of Gone With The Wind’s Mammy, and she nearly upends this movie with her righteous sass”

Reading the whole description, is “antithesis” the right word? You decide:

Click image for a larger view:

The Hollywood Reporter reviews The Help, and compliments Mammy aka Octavia Spencer

 
 
 
Link to full review can be found here:
 
 
“Meanwhile Spencer’s scrappy Minny Jackson, Aibileen’s best friend and the best cook in the county provides not only comic relief but a feistiness that shows some maids found the gumpion and means to get back at overbearing employers. Hers is a great character, the antithesis of Gone With The Wind’s Mammy, and she nearly upends this movie with her righteous sass”
 
He’s just described Mammy to a T. As a poster on Amazon.com pointed out, why even put them in the same paragraph if you’re not trying to link them in some way? Mammy was comedic relief and she was “feisty” even telling Scarlett straight out that Ashley hadn’t asked to marry her. Minny is “feisty” in The Help.
 
So where went the “abused” wife storyline? Have people forgotten, just like in the book that Minny is a victim of domestic violence?
 
By making Minny almost purely comedic in character, it almost negates the pain and terror she’s under from her husband’s abuse.
 
 

 

And in other news, The National Association of Black Women Historians has issued a smack down to both the novel and the film version of The Help:

“Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers”

And it’s in the form of a PDF:

http://www.abwh.org/images/pdf/TheHelp-Statement.pdf

Another link if you don’t want to open a PDF:  http://www.abwh.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2:open-statement-the-help&catid=1:latest-news
 

Click image for larger view, or just read the PDF or click the text link why don’t cha

 

Now perhaps someone can answer my question on who’s bright idea it was to put three damn birds on the cover, as if blacks don’t have enough issue with being associated with those winged creatures.

Pay no attention to this cover. It's just a marketing ploy. So which bird is Aibileen?

There’s the jive talking, high stepping crows in Disney’s classic Dumbo (with one actually named Jim Crow get the joke?)

Dancing, wise cracking crows from Disney's classic animated feature Dumbo

 

And there’s all that advertising during segregation. You know the ones I mean, where blacks and fried chicken went hand in hand. Sort of like these:

1950s bigoted advertising, for of all things, blacks and fried chicken

 
 
 
 

I't's Chicken Time!

 
 
 
 

Tate Taylor's Chicken Party

 
 
 
Oops, now how did the director and screenwriter on The Help, Tate Taylor’s first film short get in this post? Well, it is called Chicken Party, and it does feature black people, specifically, actress Octavia Spencer who plays Minny in The Help. Maybe I should’ve called this post Six Degrees of Chicken Party.
 
 
And how’s about some major online publication FINALLY CHECKING OUT THE MEDGAR EVERS ERROR IN THE BOOK.
 
Come on people! I’ve been on this since 2010. Skeeter says Evers was “bludgeoned” on page 277. Stockett says Evers was “bludgeoned” in THREE known audio interviews.
Does that not prove . . .
 
That Skeeter is Kathryn Stockett?
 
 

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. (Pg 277) – Skeeter

 Umm… correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Stockett also write how Evers was shot some pages back?
Then how is it the author can’t keep it straight on how Medgar Evers died. Inquiring minds want to know.
 
Post with excerpts from audio interviews and audio links:
 
 
 
Couple links of interest courtesy of the longest running active online discussion of The Help, Amazon.com with over 1900 comments and counting. Shout out to the ladies holding it down from all over the globe on that thread. We’re got Australia, South Africa, the UK and the US  keeping the discussion going right here
 
 
 
 
 And now for some of the latest reviews:
 
 
  
“Melissa Harris Perry breaks Down The Help”  by Frances Martel

“It’s ahistorical and deeply troubling,” she argued, to make the suffering of these laborers a backdrop for a happy story. But there was a silver lining to the film, and Harris Perry concluded on a good note: actress Viola Davis’s buzz was well-earned. “What kills me,” she concluded, “is that in 2011 Viola Davis is reduced to playing a maid.” – Professor Melissa Harris-Perry

Professor Melissa Harris Perry

 
 
 

Read the article here: 

Link: http://www.mediaite.com/tv/melissa-harris-perry-breaks-down-the-help-ahistorical-and-deeply-troubling/

Shoot. Being a professor doesn’t mean anything to people who love the book and want to love the movie. Hell, just reading some of the comments, they’re getting off the issue of the book and jumping on Harris-Perry’s skin tone.

Which only provides more ammunition regarding how one race is undervalued in this country, even when we’ve been granted the right to express our own opinions.

See, if  Harris-Perry loved the movie, there’d be no problem. Go along to get along, and you’re a “credit to your race.” Sorta like Aibileen, when she hooked up with Skeeter in The Help. She wasn’t “uppity” like Gretchen or Lulabelle. Or even vindictive like Yula May. Those black females got what they deserved in the novel, yeppers.

Guess I’d better snap a picture of myself sitting at my kitchen table writing this blog out on a notepad.

Then I’ll contact a nice white reporter and it’ll probably gain more credibility that way. Because it sure looks like a whole lotta folks don’t take kindly to any negativity over The Help. Oh Law

Aibileen writing out her thoughts. And living the life of an asexual hermit

  

 

Here’s journalism instructor and author Valerie Boyd’s take on the movie for Arts Critic ATL.com:

“Skeeter, who wants to become “a serious writer,” is moved by her ambition — not by any extraordinary love of black people — to write a book about the help, about what it’s like to be a black servant in a white home.

We get the sense that Skeeter sees a good story here because it’s never been told, but not that she wants to change race relations in the South. Sure, she’s upset that her maid, Constantine (Cicely Tyson), who has worked for her family for 29 years, is not there when she returns from college, and that her own mother (Allison Janney, in the most complex performance of any white actor in the film) is evasive about what happened. But Skeeter never questions the system itself. She is no civil rights pioneer; she just wants to write a good book.”

Read the full review here:

Link: http://www.artscriticatl.com/2011/08/film-review-the-help-a-feel-good-movie-for-white-people/

 

 

Race, class, and Hollywood gloss: ‘The Help’ manages to mean well without forging new ground

by Boston Globe film Critic Wesley Morris

 “. . . One woman’s mammy is another’s man’s mother. What can you do? It’s possible both to like this movie – to let it crack you up, then make you cry – and to wonder why we need a broad, if sincere dramatic comedy about black maids in Jackson, Miss., in 1962 and ’63 and the high-strung white housewives they work for. The movie is too pious for farce and too eager to please to comment persuasively on the racial horrors of the Deep South at that time.

Ads mostly feature the white actors in various tizzies, using accents wide as a boulevard. It’s “Tin Magnolias.’’ Meanwhile, the heart of the film itself belongs to Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), the two very different maids and best friends at the center of the story. Aibileen is stoic. Minny is defiant. But the movie, like the extremely popular Kathryn Stockett novel it’s based on, uses the civil rights movement to suggest that the help could use some help. And so a young white woman named Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) finds herself writing a controversial book in the words of the maids who work in the homes of her girlfriends.”

Read the full review here:

http://articles.boston.com/2011-08-10/ae/29872908_1_hilly-holbrook-maids-emma-stone

 

Another Review of  movie by Manohla Dargis from the NYTimes:

“What does remain, though, is the novel’s conceit that the white characters, with their troubled relationships and unloved children, carry burdens equal to those of the black characters. Like the novel, the movie is about ironing out differences and letting go of the past and anger. It’s also about a vision of a divided America that while consistently insulting and sometimes even terrifying, is rarely grotesque, despite Hilly’s best (worst) segregationist efforts. Inside all these different homes, black and white women tend to the urgent matters of everyday life, like the care and feeding of children. And while every so often the roar of the outside world steals in like thunder, Mr. Taylor makes sure it doesn’t rattle the china or your soul.”

Link: http://movies.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/movies/the-help-spans-two-worlds-white-and-black-review.html

 

 

 

The Christian Science Monitor weighs in with The Help: A movie review Peter Rainer

Set in the Jim Crow South, ‘The Help’ too often feels like a civics lesson despite moments of nobility with stellar performances by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.”

“ . . .It should not have been necessary for Taylor to caricature Hilly and the gossipy others, who also include scowly Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly), Aibileen’s boss, and the childless, flirty trailer-trash Celia (Jessica Chastain). The ordeals of Aibileen and the other maids are sufficiently powerful without having to stack the deck.

Did the filmmakers perhaps feel that they would be capitulating to racism if they portrayed Hilly and her sister belles with a smidgen more “understanding”? (The men in the film barely register.) But comprehending a character’s actions is not the same thing as endorsing them. The intense superficiality of Hilly and the others is a disservice to the emotional complexity of racism and what it does to people, black and white. The superficiality is doubly felt because the performances by Stone – but especially by Davis and Spencer – are so much more deeply felt. A lifetime of pain is in Aibileen’s weary rectitude and hard-set eyes. Minny, though much more flamboyant, carries the same burdens. The presence of these two women, which is ennobling without falsifying that nobility with sentimentality, periodically lifts “The Help” into a higher realm than, given its civics-lesson trappings, it probably deserves.

At the same time, I would defend “The Help,” simplistic though it is, against the charge some have leveled against it for being “patronizing.” It’s true that, by framing the maids’ stories through Skeeter’s lens, the film implicitly overvalues the historical contribution of whites to the civil rights movement. But this film is a far cry from, say, “Mississippi Burning,” which made white FBI agents into civil rights heroes.

There are not so many stirring, full-fledged black characters on the screen, particularly black female characters, that we should feel it necessary to downgrade the few that we have by playing the blame game.”

Read the entire review here:

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Movies/2011/0809/The-Help-movie-review

 

I’d lke to give the last word to a woman who actually was a domestic. From YouTube, an independent filmmaker recorded his grandmother’s recollections of that time period:

My grandmother, HELEN DENNIS, spent over 25 years as a domestic worker. At age 93, I asked her about some of her experiences. THE HELP is out now in theaters everywhere. Photographed and edited by Mike D. on August 11, 2011.

 

 

 

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