Awards are the validation of all that hard work those behind a movie and on the screen have put in. And it should be a joyful time for all involved. Only this year will be different.
This year a nominee comes into the proceedings carrying not just baggage but the ire of many in the racial group it claims to pay “homage” to.
This year unlike last year, there’s real controversy over a nominee that some will claim is “Beloved” while others loathe Kathryn Stockett’s work.
In addition, the movie like the book has behind the scenes drama and WTF quotes that highlight the problem of authors failing to do their research. Embarrassing, glaring errors that were swept under the rug by mainstream media when any other author would have been, at the very least questioned.
So in this corner is the heartwarming, coming of age story concerning a volatile timeperiod. A young person’s affection, fond memories and determination to re-connect with . . .
Oh, did you think I was talking about The Help?
No, I’m referring to something else that’s big and brown. War Horse, the Steven Speilberg drama of a majestic horse, a horse so smart that its not really an animal, but the true love of a young man. But I still think The Help, the story of a bunch of maids who need to be led by a spunky Shirley Temple clone will win for Best Picture, simply because.
Because this is America, and one of the greatest myths in this country is that while African Americans hated segregation, they grew to love their oppressors, so much so that they developed unbreakable bonds.
Or as the director and screenwriter of the movie, Tate Taylor states (items in bold are my doing):
“We just wanted to tell the truth. Tell the real story and get it right. Many times as southerners our stories have been handled, taken into hands that were outside the south that’s not always as we know it to be. So we just really want to tell the truth . . . (pause) the good and the bad.” – Screenwriter and director of The Help, Tate Taylor
Which, you may have already guessed, is why The Help was probably a labor of love for those behind the film, like Taylor. He got a chance to tell, as he’s also quoted as saying:
“If you want to see a historically accurate portrayal of life in the sixties, but go behind the door and see the humanity and the love behind these courageous . . .” – Director of The Help Tate Taylor
Like other Southerners before Taylor, from those who wanted to erect a National Mammy Monument in our nation’s capital during the 1920’s, to many who believed in the very affection Stockett writes about in her novel, the “truth” on black/white relationships in the south during segregation can be seen differently, depending on whose perspective its coming from.
So where did the “affection” terminology and ideology originate?
An excerpt from Encyclopedia Virginia may hold a clue (again, items in bold are my doing):
“Following the war, white Southerners told stories of the happy slave, the “Mammy” or “Uncle Tom” who appeared as part of the family. “Generally speaking, the negroes proved a harmless and affectionate race, easily governed, and happy in their condition,” according to the 1908 edition of the textbook History of Virginia by Mary Tucker Magill. The 1964 edition of Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis Butler Simkins, Spotswood Hunnicutt Jones, and Sidman P. Poole was not much different. “A feeling of strong affection existed between masters and slaves in a majority of Virginia homes,” the authors wrote. Such statements are not supported by modern scholarship, which suggests that many slaves were desperate to escape their often harsh conditions both before and during the war, when they became refugees. In fact, escaped slaves helped to precipitate national political crises such as the one surrounding the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
The image of African Americans who had been happy under slavery but were overwhelmed by the responsibilities of freedom became widespread and could be found in the fiction of Thomas Nelson Page and Margaret Mitchell, whose novel Gone with the Wind won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The image also proved particularly useful to white supremacists. In the 1880s and 1890s, white Southerners, decrying “Yankee aggression” and black “betrayal,” embarked on an effort to reverse the policies of Reconstruction (1865–1877). They sought to remove black office holders, disenfranchise African American men, forestall black economic advancement, and institute state-sanctioned segregation.”
More on “the Affection Myth” can be found in this post – http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/the-affection-myth/
It doesn’t bode well when Kathryn Stockett rejects what real African Americans told her, in her own research for the novel (items in bold are my doing).
D.N.: When you interviewed people for the book, was there anything that stood out?
K.S.: What stood out was the emotion that white people had about the connection to their black maids. When I spoke to black people it was surprising to see how removed they were emotionally from those they worked for.
That was not always the case, but it was one of the dynamics that struck me. Sometimes it was a total disregard. It was just a job.
And in this interview, where the author admits:
“I think they were surprised that I was able, hopefully able to portray the love we felt for these woman and that you know, I assume that they felt for us . . .” (11:29 into the interview)
“If the only thing good about us is how lovingly we treat white people and how loyal we are to them, then I don’t see that as a positive portrayal.” – quote from a post on Amazon.com on The Help
Look for Hollywood to think its easier to believe a bunch of maids would be more backwards than a horse. Here’s a review on War Horse which might knock the award out of its saddle:
” . . . Where War Horse derailed for me, where it dried my tears right up, was when Spielberg treated the horse like a dog or a person – anyone who has been raised with horses, as I have been, will smell a rat immediately. Whoever made that decision made a very very bad one. My own 13 year-old daughter would not buy it. Maybe a seven year-old might. If I could reach in and lob off those scenes I would. See, what I think Spielberg missed with War Horse is the idea that with this kind of story you must do less, not more. It is already so powerful to begin with he didn’t need to guild the lily. It is our job to see the horse as a mythical creature, a miraculous thing. It’s not Spielberg’s job to drive this point home as if we’re too dumb to get it. This the film’s primary problem, to my mind.
War Horse is about human kindness. It is about how there are always going to be good people, even in the worst of times. We cling to this notion and to the concept that people are basically good, not evil. The horse is there to illustrate this, and it’s a Jesus-like horse. You almost expect him at one point to look upward and say “forgive them. They know not what they do.” Spielberg need not have embellished much of this. It was plenty clear.
However, it is hard not to be won over by this movie. If you are an animal lover, if you can appreciate dazzling filmmaking as only a director as experienced as Spielberg, there is enough there to appreciate, even with the few really jarring, pure hokum scenes. If you’re prepared for this you will be fine with War Horse. Just don’t expect Saving Private Ryan (or maybe it IS like Saving Private Ryan, just not the first 45 minutes).”
However, one thing the horse gets that the maids of The Help don’t, is a fairly accurate description.
You see, though the maids are brown in complexion, here’s what Stockett calls them in her novel: “black as asphalt” “black as night” “black as patent shoes” to “so black I couldn’t tell them apart.” The kind of black Stockett creates gets compared to a roach, one of the filthiest insects on the planet. For as Aibileen reasons “He black. Blacker than me.” (Pg 189)
Not to worry. Since these are characters in the novel stating the lines, readers aren’t supposed to think Stockett, who admits she grew up under grandparents who still followed segregation to the letter during the 1970s and 80s mind you, we’re not to think any of that influenced what the author wrote. No, Stockett’s so “liberal” that as a native of Jackson, Mississippi, she had no idea that Medgar Evers means of death wasn’t by “bludgeoning” even though it’s written in her own novel that Evers was shot.
For as Stockett recites in three known audio interviews. “he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard . . .”
“…1963 was a horrifying and momentous year in Mississippi’s history as well as the entire United States. It was… the fall of 62 when James Meredith was accepted into Ole Miss and in 1963 Medgar Evers the uh…who was with the NAACP, he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.” (stated at 8:34 minutes into a 10:31 interview)
Excuse me, WHAT? . . . WHAT?
Well, let me just check the book. I thought I read a moving scene on Ever’s assassination. Buth then, how in the world did this section get in the book:
Since this was potentially damaging, especially since it calls into question how much research the author did concerning African Americans, its no wonder the author’s publisher quietly corrected later versions (like the ebook). But the hard copy and paperback are still being sold with the error.
In addition, there’s the author’s own blunder in verbally repeating that Evers was “bludgeoned,” which may confirm Stockett originally wrote the passage in the book (possibly from an earlier draft that somehow made it into the finished novel) and that it stuck in her mind. Here’s a link to a post which includes the sites Stockett mentions (they’re audio interviews, so there’s no doubt that its the author talking) Evers was “bludgeoned.”
Keep in mind Stockett rode a PR wave of credibility with her heartwarming tale about Demetrie McLorn practically raising her, and because she is a native of the south, in particular Jackson, Mississippi. Medgar Evers was also a native of Mississippi and has a statue erected in his honor in Jackson.
Link to audio on Stockett’s verbal gaffes: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/medgar-evers-error-in-the-help/
What could have easily saved Stockett later headache was a quick Google search. Yet Kathryn Stockett was given a pass, which can serve as an example of how differences are made in American culture, either based upon race, sex or socio-economic status.
And her novel turned film will now be up for major awards by Hollywood, even though it contains broad stereotypical depictions of not just black characters, but white. Gotta love the irony.
Here’s what else is known that may taint any award The Help reaps:
A real maid by the name of Abilene Cooper sued Stockett in 2011, alleging the best selling author appropriated parts of her life, her behavior and even her first name and nickname in the novel The Help. The lawsuit was thrown out due to the statute of limitations, not on the merits of her claim. See more in this post.
Stockett admits using real life maid Demetrie McLorn as the basis for Constantine, the character Cicely Tyson portrays in the film. Photos of the real Mrs. McLorn are posted below.
In the novel, Stockett describes Demetrie as being “stout and dark-skinned” (Pg 448 Too Little, Too Late section of The Help) however, Demetrie is not a dark complexioned woman.
The real Demetrie McLorn, according to Stockett is also supposed represent both the character of Constantine and also Aibileen Clark. Only real life maid Abilene Cooper believes the character of Aibileen is her.
Stockett also verified using the names of individuals she knew, and also observing actress Octavia Spencer in order to craft the character of Minny Jackson. In the book as well as the movie, Minny is short and stocky. So is Octavia Spencer.
From the Atlanta Journal Constitution (items in bold are my doing):
”In past interviews with the AJC, Stockett has said she wrote “The Help” as part of a writing club. She used names of people she knew simply because they were handy, she said.
“When I was writing this book, I never thought anyone else would read it, so I didn’t get real creative with the names,” Stockett told us in 2009. “I just used people I knew. Some of them aren’t talking to me right now, but I feel like they’ll come around.”
She has repeatedly called the book, which has been adapted into a film, a work of fiction.
“I wrote it purely for me and finally had the guts to show it to my mother and my writing group, ” Stockett told us in the 2009 interview. “I was terrified when I realized it was going to be published.”
To be continued . . .