Fixing THE HELP: Too Little, and Much Too Damn Late

Posted on January 14, 2012

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The DVD of the The Help reportedly has a segment called In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi.

 

Maid at the door, silent and almost invisible. Hey, how come she’s not laughing and grinning like Minny and Aibileen?

But much like Stockett relegated Mrs. Demetrie McLorn to the back of her novel, the clean up on the fiasco both behind the book and the film comes Too Little, and Much Too Damn Late.

What’s sadly funny is Tate Taylor, after seriously putting his foot in his mouth in several earlier and more recent  interviews, has finally been apprised to one more thing left out of the “agreement” among a group of Southern friends intent on sharing their view of a rosey childhood, courtesy of having black maids.

I know the film courted a lot of controversy when it was in theaters. How important was it to include the documentary In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi on the bonus section of this release?

Tate Taylor: It was very important to me to have this. And I don’t want to call it a tribute or a thank you. We just knew that couldn’t come from a white author, or a white filmmaker, or a studio. The people owed this thanks were the children of these women.”

Link: http://www.movieweb.com/news/exclusive-tate-taylor-talks-the-help-blu-ray

 

If I’d outlined my findings on this blog any earlier, much like the inserted piece in the DVD, then statements now on the Web by the principals associated with The Help and in published articles would probably look much different.

Stung by criticism that they hadn’t anticipated (gee, maybe if they really did have a black historian, like BEFORE the book was published they could have avoided all this). Or maybe simply seeing the black culture for what it is, one of BEAUTY, failings and triumphs similar to any other racial group, perhaps then a group of southern friends who lacked diversity would have worked a bit harder to be more inclusive. Sorry, but continuously calling on Octavia Spencer as a “black friend card” just isn’t enough.

It wasn’t her sole place to educate Taylor or Stockett on the stereotypes included in novel and the movie. Being Gay is not the same thing as being an African American, just as being African American is not the same as being Disabled or Physically Challenged (for the record, imho both of these terms fail to adequately describe or do justice to this group).

Even though his finished movie contains samples of his own flawed knowledge, Taylor stated:

Tate Taylor: “I didn’t think we should talk about the Jim Crow Laws because I felt like people know what that is and she told me when she wrote the novel, her editors in New York – highly educated people – had no clue about Jim Crow Laws. I go, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I know, I swear! You think people know. They don’t. So she goes, ‘I’m telling you put it in,’ and I did. I thought, being a Southerner, it was too much. ‘Oh really? Of course there’s Jim Crow Laws.’ That was the one thing.”

Link: http://movies.about.com/od/thehelp/a/tate-taylor-interview.htm

Laws are one thing. Not being able to discern that to further demean males of the black culture, men who’d already experienced enough skewed mythology which originated during segregation, while putting the black female on a fake pedestal highlights just what’s wrong in all this.

Respecting African American fathers, many of whom were also  The Help and married to The Help would have been a good start Far too many African American males died at the hands of bigots, including bigoted “southerners” and  those who didn’t wish to view them as men.

Howard Rollins Jr was the lead in A Soldier’s Story. Black men, many of whom were soldiers, still served in a US military that practiced bigotry during segregation

Note Disney and Dreamworks’ bullshit overseas marketing which called Stuart a “handsome good ole boy” and deemed Johnny Foote a “dreamboat and a southern gentleman.”

“A Handsome Good Ole Boy” You’ve got to be kidding

 

That “Southern Gentleman” and “Dreamboat” Johnny Foote

 

 

 

 

Really Disney and Dreamworks? REALLY?
On a personal note, I didn’t appreciate Stockett labeling most of the black men in the novel either “no-ccount” “lazy” “drunk” “a fool” and absentee fathers, while making certain readers knew the white males she created were either “an honest man” (Carlton Phelan, renamed for the movie) “A good man” (Skeeter says this about Stuart after he takes back his engagement ring). There’s also Constantine’s daddy, who’s white and can’t afford to take care of his many bi-racial children or marry Constantine’s mother, yet Stockett concocts the scene where Constantine explains that he cried and told her he was sorry, so of course he doesn’t get labeled “no-ccount.”

That term is singularly reserved for some of the black males in the novel. For more on where the book went wrong, see this post

 

I AM A MAN. The march meant to have America recognize that fact. Note the brave white male who showed his solidarity in PUBLIC and in the daytime, Unlike Skeeter.

Senator Stoolie Whitworth, the man whom Stockett has standing shoulder to shoulder with avowed segregationist Governor Ross Barnett (scene in the book has them blocking James Meredith from entering Ole Miss)

Stockett has Stuart Whitworth do the character rehabbing for his daddy, as Stuart reveals that Ol’ Stoolie is really a progressive who’s trapped into doing the will of his constiuents, which is adhering to segregation.

The one white guy who should be given hell is the naked pervert who comes out of the woods and jacks off several times outside Celia Foote’s house. The only thing he gets called is a “fool” when black males get called much worse. Aibileen even teaches her son Treelore to call his daddy “Crisco” in a not so funny game of word association:

One day I say Crisco. He scratch his head. He just can’t believe I done won the game with something simple as Crisco. Came to be a secret joke with us, meaning something you can’t dress up no matter how you try. 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 known. (Aibileen, Pg 5)

For an additional post that goes into the differences made in the black and white characters, see this post:

The naked pervert is dropped from the movie after Tate Taylor realized how messed up and out of left field this scene was. Instead he has Minny run from Johnny Foote, as laughs abound. The trouble concerns how the scene depends on being funny. Because like the novel, Minny’s girth and behavior as she runs from Johnny causes the laughs.

Much like Stepin Fetchit was required to cower and mumble, Octavia Spencer is reduced to buffoonery that should have ended up on the cutting room floor.

I found it offensive in the book and I’m pretty sure others caught on that laughing at Minny rather than laughing with her was the aim of the scene.

So Taylor’s DVD “Tribute” rings not only false and an afterthought, but more like a calculated ploy to counter the still building negative criticism.

I doubt if Taylor now thinks watching Viola Davis pretend to take a crap is even remotely worse than viewing a real lynching, especially after he was probably called on the carpet about his gaffe. For more on Taylor’s truly in bad taste statement, see this post

1936 lynching of Lint Shaw in Royston, Georgia

Here’s a much better explanation of  the  “bash a black man” mentality that happened in the book and in the film (wording in bold is my doing):

“. . . I see it as writers trying to stir up sympathy for black women by exploiting existing animosity for black men. It seems like there’s an inherent belief that portraying black men as abusive drunks is not actually racist because it teaches white people what the women go through.

But obviously it doesn’t work; look no farther than a mob of white protesters picketing a new Mosque, claiming, among other things, that women in Islam are oppressed. In what possible way do those actions help the women out?”

Comment credited to Mr. Matt Pizzuti

Link: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/01/05/choosing-between-the-help-or-faces-at-the-bottom-of-the-well-on-reproducing-racially-easy-work-or-constructing-courageously/

Damn. So on point. Many comments that hone in on what’s wrong with both the novel and the film come from males. For more on what went wrong with the movie, please see this post with excerpts from Writer/Editor Max Gordon:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/the-help-can-kiss-my-ass-and-go-to-hell/

Keep in mind that:

Stockett never mentions she loved Demetrie, not until it finally came to her attention. Not in her “special section” and not through her alter-ego in the novel, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan.

Here’s what she stated in the novel:

“. . . How I loved to talk to Demetrie. . . you felt loved when you tasted Demetrie’s caramel cake.” (Too Little, Too Late, Pgs 447 and 448 of the novel)

And as Skeeter, Stockett focused on how much Constantine (Demetrie was reportedly the inspiration for this character) “loved” and did for her and her family.

As much as Constantine loved me, I can imagine how much she must’ve loved her own child.  (Pg 358)

I don’t put in that Constantine’s daughter was high yellow; I just what to show that Constantine’s love for me began with missing her own child. Perhaps that’s what made it so unique, so deep. It didn’t matter that I was white. While she was wanting her own daughter back, I was longing for mother not to be disappointed in me. (Skeeter, Pg 360)

Cicely Tyson as Constantine in film version of The Help, coddling a young Skeeter. Tate Taylor stated the young actress is Stockett’s own daughter.

 

 

As close as Skeeter ends up with Aibileen and Minny, by novel’s end it’s Aibileen who makes the first move to touch, hugging Skeeter and bragging on her hair:

We ain’t seen each other in six months. I give her a good hug.

“Law, let me see your hair.” Miss Skeeter pull back her hood, shake out her long hair past her shoulders.

It is beautiful,” I say and I mean it.

She smile like she embarrassed and set her satchel on the floor. “Mother hates it.”  (Pg 435, Aibileen)

From giving nurturing hugs to publicly stating the white characters are “pretty” (Aibileen tells this to Mae Mobley on Pg 392, saying “How you like your teacher?” and Mae Mobley responds with “She’s pretty.” Aibileen makes it a point to tell the child “You pretty too.”) and finally crying buckets of tears she was never able to shed in the book for her own son Treelore, Aibileen finally turns into the perfect Mammy.

Wisely dropped from the movie but still in the book:

That night I lay in bed thinking. I am so happy for Miss Skeeter. She starting her whole life over. Tears run down my temples into my ears, thinking about her walking down them big city avenues I seen on tee-vee with her long hair behind her. Part a me wishes I could have a new start too. The cleaning article, that’s new. But I’m not that young. My life’s about done (Pg 437, Aibileen)

The touch Skeeter dared not do

Yet where are the sections of the novel, or the movie where white characters impart observations that those of the black community, or that one of our children are either “cute” “pretty” or “beautiful?” Where’s ol’ liberal heroine Skeeter proudly proclaiming in the novel that any black person strikes her as attractive?
Even as Skeeter describes Constatine’s honey colored eyes, here’s what she states:

What you noticed first about Constantine, besides her tallness, were her eyes. They were light brown, strikingly honey-colored against her dark skin. I’ve never seen light brown eyes on a colored person. (Skeeter, Pg 65)

The acting legend, Cicely Tyson played Constantine in The Help

 

 

Stockett as Skeeter never mentions that Constantine’s eyes are “pretty” or “beautiful” against her brown skin. Nope. What she does next is focus on detailing all the many shades of brown/black on Constantine’s body, which make the woman sound as if she’s a calico cat:

In fact, the shades of brown on Constantine were endless. Her elbows were absolutely black, with a dry white dust on them in the winter. The skin on her arms and neck and face was a dark ebony. The palms of her hands were orangey-tan and that made me wonder if the soles of her feet were too, but I never saw her barefooted. (Skeeter, Pg 65)

Combine this with Skeeter’s admission of “Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums” (Pg 63) and its no wonder Stockett doesn’t have Skeeter, or herself for that matter initially admitting feelings of “love.”

It’s either in the context of “We love them and they love us.” from the novel (Skeeter trying to sell her book’s premise to Ms. Stein) or Stockett’s after the fact interviews. And edited movie scenes, again, after the fact.

The movie is based on the novel. Most of the skewed attitudes and also omissions come from the novel, that book which many claimed was “pitch perfect.”

Based on the sensational-LY FLAWED bestseller, you mean. This was part of the trailer for The Help

Far too many rapturous reviews of The Help appeared to see the novel from the perspective of “Hey! Obama’s been elected and now all racism is gone, and oh wow, let’s talk about how funny those poor black women were back in the day! Oh, and my friend and my wife likes it!”

Too bad the US publisher didn’t have the guts to get rid of the Disney-esque three little birdies cover for the one the Brits used:

UK Cover of the Help AKA The cover they dared not put on US bookshelves

“Cover-gate” as well as “Dialect-gate” simply foreshadowed the myriad of other problems with this book and its too saccharine to be true PR spin.

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

 

 

I’m not even going to get into how a few of them were hoping that Stockett was the next Harper Lee.

Just like Stockett could only view the maids she created as carrying weight, dark in complexion and English language challenged, the movie attempted to faithfully duplicate the author’s words from the novel with the scene posted below, where most, if not all of the maids are one color fits all and are matronly, a direct contrast to how Stockett and Taylor view their own culture.

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. Words in bold are my doing)

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

 

 

This is a glaring error and insult

The scene goes on to show more of Skeeter’s observations and to talk about women like Callie, who’s “wide and heavy and parts of her hang over the chair” (Pg 259) Faye Belle is “palsied and gray-skinned, cannot remember her own age” (Pg 257). Yet the reader is supposed to believe this woman recalls “hiding in a steam trunk with a little white girl while Yankee soldiers stomped through the house.” (Pg 257)

Faye Belle is such a loyal maid, years later she’s still tethered to that white girl and her family, working as a maid for the grandson of the little white girl who’s now deceased (they were lifeline friends and Faye Belle held the woman in her arms as she died). Stockett/Skeeter claims “When she’s feeling strong, Faye Belle sometimes goes over and cleans up his kitchen” (Pg 257)

If you do the math, you’ll realize that Stockett (or her editors or a ghostwriter) inserted The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman type character, where a woman who experienced the Civil War lived long enough to tell Skeeter her tale (but not join in with the Civil Rights Movement) and still get up to clean kitchens, as if that’s someone over one hundred years of age would look forward to.

It’s important to note that the maids stories are glossed over, another major error in the book. Because you see, it’s not about the maids stories, but Skeeter’s journey to “enlightenment.”

The best thing Stockett and co. could have done for the African Americans referenced in her novel was to not just use the maids as props to move Skeeter’s story along. But to appreciate and see the beauty and love that Demetrie McLorn imparted to the author. And that she (Demetrie) was also beautiful and beloved, SHE ENCOMPASSED ALL THESE THINGS even while the woman was being treated in Stockett’s grandparents household during the 1970s and 80s as less than equal.

Only Stockett failed to see and weave that in her book, just as Taylor neglected to portray this in the film. Thus readers and moviegoers are again treated to the same old same old. A resurrection of caricatures that consist of matronly African American domestics, one docile and blindly loyal to the point of sainthood, and the other sassy enough to bring the funny in every scene.

Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for playing the grumpy, “shoot from the hip with her comedic quips” character of Mammy. Now Hollywood will honor the other Mammy, the one Louise Beavers portrayed (ironically she played the serene, angelic Delilah from 1934′s Imitiation of Life before there was a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Otherwise Beavers, and not Daniel may have been the first Africam American to win an Oscar.

Louise Beavers in Imitation of Life, touted as “the greatest screen role ever played by a colored actress”

Animated black woman, one of many comedic depictions of the black race, this one especially for children

Hattie McDaniel’s haunting Oscar pic. Hard not to wonder what she was thinking or going through

A product of her upbringing, Stockett failed to filter out what she’d wrongly been taught about African Americans. That our mothers and fathers were far more than the depictions previously presented, stereotypes which originated during segregation. That’s the true failing of her book, and now the movie.

For as Stockett again reveals in her own creation:

Grandmother wanted Demetrie to rest so that she could finish her work, not to mention, white people didn’t sit at the same table while a colored person was eating.

That was just a normal part of life, the rules between blacks and whites. As a little girl, seeing black people in the colored part of town, even if they were dressed up or doing fine, I remember pitying them. I am so embarrassed to admit that now.

I didn’t pity Demetrie though. There were several years when I thought she was immensely lucky to have us. A secure job in a nice house, cleaning up after white Christian people. But also because Demetrie had no babies of her own, and we felt like we were filling a void in her life. . . . (Pg 448, Too Little Too Late)

Much like Tate Taylor admits about the hastily slapped on “thank you black people” that’s really not a “Thank you” on the recently released DVD:

“It’s not about white people saying ‘thank you’. It’s about their children.”

You see, after checking out just what the criticism was, the clean up began. Children of The Help began speaking out long before the movie was released. And some of their posts are on this very site. The carefully conceived Mayberry/Pleasantville/Gone With The Wind hybrid that is the dramedy called The Help got wind of the empty void in both the book and the film.

Nevermind Skeeter. Or Mae Mobley.

The littlest victim of Segregation

What about Sugar, and Kindra, and Benny and Robert. And Treelore? What about all The Children of The Help reading the book (like me) and those who paid to see the movie (not me) only to realize it wasn’t about the maids, but Skeeter.

Only they didn’t have an answer to that. Because they’d never thought to focus on it. Until the DVD.

Read actual accounts from The Help and  Children of The Help, some of whom became domestics themselves, here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/actual-accounts/

Next up . . . how The Help ignored and caricatured the next generation, The Children of The Help

You can get a headstart by reading this post:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/comparing-mae-mobley-to-kindra/

Sunflower, the stereotypical centaurette from Disney’s Fantasia. Kindra is another stereotypical depiction of a black child

To be continued . . .

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