Why Black people complain, and should keep on complaining about The Help

Posted on February 7, 2012

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If I get a question or a point of view that may indicate why there’s a difference of opinion on The Help, I like to do research on it.

So when I got this response:

Face book debate

 

 

Okay. Ummm where do I start. How about instead of the “unofficial” employment rate for African Americans at 39 percent, a quick look at the current official rate is in order.

Keep in mind the source though, since the government isn’t well thought of these days. I guess for his next feat Obama may need to walk on water for some people. I’m also inclined to think the rate given in that post may refer to the stats for that commentor’s state, but since no citation or reference was given, its hard to know where it was taken from. One of the unfortunate problems with social media is how many people just give an opinion as if its gospel without any links or statistics to back it up. That might work if it were all about shooting the bull, but its high time we all learn to research, analyze and cite.

Anyway, here’s the current stats (as of the date of this post) from big brother:

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.7 percent) and blacks (13.6 percent) declined in January. The unemployment rates for adult women (7.7 percent), teenagers (23.2 percent), whites (7.4 percent), and Hispanics (10.5 percent) were little changed. The jobless rate for Asians was 6.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

And the stats for the month before that in December:
Both the number of unemployed persons (13.1 million) and the unemployment rate (8.5 percent) continued to trend down in December. The unemployment rate has declined by 0.6 percentage point since August. (See table A-1.)
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult men decreased to 8.0 percent in December. The jobless rates for adult women (7.9 percent), teenagers (23.1 percent), whites (7.5 percent), blacks (15.8 percent), and Hispanics (11.0 percent) showed little change. The jobless rate for Asians was 6.8 percent, not seasonally adjusted.

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

 

 

The next part of the comment states “No roles we cry out, Mammie roles we cry out. All this whining is missing the point.”

Let me take the first part. “No roles we cry out.”

It’s also important to define “no roles” because while Hollywood wasn’t too keen on casting black people back in the day, that doesn’t mean there weren’t any roles, you know, for black people:

 

Al Jolson, a beloved American entertainer in blackface singing about his "Mammy"

 

 

Yes we complain. Because if we didn’t, I guess we’d simply have to depend on the kindness of strangers.  And we can see how far that’s gotten us:

 

Protest against stereotyping African Americans

 

 

And while I’m at it, let me state that most African Americans don’t have the luxury of “whining.” When we complain its because the body count has piled up (racial profiling, lynching, etc) or images that are touted which some non-minorities believe are “accurate” or “funny” depictions while we complain that they’re really not.

 

"Prince Chawmin" cartoon character meant to depict black male and the game of "shooting dice"

 
 
 

Something for the "children". An animated black woman, one of many comedic depictions of the black race in cartoon form.

 
 
 
 
For more information on how African Americans were and are depicted in print and in film, see  this post:
 
 
 

So yes, African Americans do complain. Because for far too long we were forced to remain silent over our depictions, our employment and in some cases our own bodies. Only brave souls spoke out during segregation, like Ida B Wells, who refused to give up her seat on a train and stood her ground even when thrown off. Ida filed a lawsuit that went for naught. But the point is SHE COMPLAINED. And she did this during segregation.

 

Ida B Wells, a “feminist” before her time

 

 

For her courage, for her vision, and her feminist before it was even cool to be one legacy, she’s an important part of black history.

More examples are Rosa Parks, Recy Taylor, Fannie Lou Hamer, Anne Moody and Joan Trumpaur Mulholland. And the list goes on. Even those who worked in Hollywood during segregation spoke out. Like Paul Robeson, whose eloquent voice didn’t lend itself to sing “Ol Man River, Dat Ol Man River.” Paul was able to lessen much of the thick dialect of a tune written by white writers who felt, like Stockett, that they were capturing African American vernacular, this time in song. Many people don’t realize that the original lyrics included “Niggers work all day on the Mississippi.” which were only changed because . . .

You guessed it, African Americans complained.

More recently, when this ad caused an uproar on the internet, instead of sitting back and staying silent, even though there may have been some who wondered what all the fuss was about, especially since the ad was reportedly the brainchild of an African American, guess what?

African Americans complained. And it got pulled:

 

Controversial "Re-Civilize Yourself" Ad

 

 

Only the powers that be in Hollywood haven’t been listening. Here are some memorable examples of how Hollywood put black people to work, then and now:

 

Delilah (played by Louise Beavers) begging to stay in Imitation of Life, the 1934 film version

 
 
 

Theresa Harris on the cover of Jet Magazine, 1952

 
 
 
 

From the Disney animated film Mothergoose from Hollywood, a caricature of Stepin Fetchit

 
 
 
 

Aibileen and Minny having a ball in the kitchen, as the whitewashing of segregation via films returns

 

Much like the show Mayberry was set in the south during the 60s, and the town had virtually little if no interaction with any black residents, the show Friends and Seinfeld got similar complaints, and not just about the lack of black faces.

If I recall correctly (if not, please leave a comment with a correction) Friends ended up signing Aisha Tyler in a role where she was Ross’ love interest (I think at first she was with Joey).

I’ve got more information on what happens when black people complain. But I think these two photos say it all:

The littlest victim of Segregation

 
 
 
 
 

A Sea of Humanity. The March on Washington, DC 1963. Black people complained, and people listened.

 
 
 
 
 
TODAY
 
Hollywood salutes the Black woman as Mammy:
 

Hollywood gives it up for Mammy Love

 

 

This site was created to present another side amid the coronation for the next great southern writer. A dissenting viewpoint.  I didn’t know back in 2010 I’d find so much baggage with this book, both behind the scenes and within the pages. And the movie makes similar errors, though not on as grand of a scale as the book.

To that end, here’s a recent movie review of The Help, by the writer Toure for TIME magazine:

Is The Help the Most Loathsome Movie in America?

” . . . I don’t see any of The Help‘s journey as pleasurable for anyone: black women are oppressed and fight back in a passive-aggressive way. (Black men are all but invisible in this world.) Whites are mostly evil, or else sheep: soulless and brainless. It’s a Lifetime-y simplistic movie, a Disneyfication of segregation, with a gross and unintentionally comical stereotype parade marching through it. There’s the ditzy blonde who can’t manage to do anything but get dressed. There’s the callous ice queen who thinks blacks have special diseases that can be transmitted by sharing a toilet. There’s the undeterrable do-gooder. And then there are the blacks who are the latest iteration of that Hollywood staple: the magical negro. They are blacks who arrive in the lives of whites with more knowledge and soul and go on to teach whites about life, thus making white lives better.”

” . . . In The Help, Octavia Spencer’s Minnie actually says to a white woman, “Frying chicken just makes you feel better about life.” I must be doing it wrong. Once the ditzy blonde learns to use Crisco properly, she does indeed feel better about life. Even though she has just learned that she’s probably infertile. Minnie helps turn her boss lady into a regular Martha Stewart, and what does she get out of it? The promise of lifetime employment as the family maid. Thank yuh, ma’am. Davis’ Aibileen tells the white kids she’s raising, “You is important,” while being constantly reminded that she is not.”

Link: http://ideas.time.com/2012/02/02/is-the-help-the-most-loathsome-movie-in-america/

 

 

Haha. He references two of my favorite lines from the film (I’m being sarcastic here)

 

And in the interest of opposing views, uh, here’s Jim Izrael’s:

” . . . I don’t know what some black folks want from a film — the Hollywood machine is an ugly marriage of art and business, propaganda and entertainment. People going to the cineplex in search of edification or some ethereal, cathartic moment of spiritual actualization should be in school or church — because they expect more than they reasonably should from a movie.

. . . Some may be discouraged to see a black woman get an Oscar nod for playing a house cleaner — never mind that women in their 40s of every stripe are having a hard time everywhere in Hollywood. Viola Davis is a gifted actor — smokin’ hot! — but not buxom, biracial or conventionally beautiful. She already has a truckload of Tony and other theater awards, just got a SAG award, and works steadily. Her nomination pushes an opening door even further, soliciting an appreciation for the beauty of dark skin, full eyes and lips, and a new beauty aesthetic for Hollywood to consider. . . “

Link: http://articles.cnn.com/2012-01-30/opinion/opinion_izrael-davis_1_black-woman-black-women-white-audiences?_s=PM:OPINION

 

 

I guess Jim didn’t see how the powers that be marketed The Help. The only actors in the book or who the PR Department called “pretty” “handsome” or “a dreamboat” and “cute” were white. A little further down in the post I mention the differences made in Emma Stone and Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (in the marketing of the film). The “appreciation” Jim Izrael so longing speaks of has been mighty slow in coming, and The Help hasn’t changed that. Especially since the original descriptions of the characters in the novel were less than flattering (I guess Jim didn’t read the book) and even Viola Davis admitted to not reading Stockett’s descriptions of the black characters.  For as she says, authors rarely get it right (items in bold are my doing):

 

“If you didn’t object to the dialect, were there aspects of the book that did bother you?

Davis: The one thing I don’t embrace in any book about black women is I don’t embrace how the looks are described. I always erase that. I don’t care if it’s the greatest writer in the world. I know these black women. The first woman of beauty in my life was my Aunt Joyce, and she was over 300 pounds, and we thought she was Halle Berry to us.

Every time she came to visit, she would have these earrings, and these clothes and the beauty of her skin. We would all sit around her touching her hands and her face and her skin and she was beautiful. I didn’t see the bigness. I just have a different idea of how we look, the hues of our skin, how we exude sensuality and sexuality and how our hair looks. So I always just interpret that for myself. It’s like Chris Walken cuts out all the exclamation points, and the periods. I cut out all the descriptions.”

Link: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/31/entertainment/la-ca-the-help-excerpts-20110731

 

“Crying like a dog,” Davis listened as Tyson, who costars in “The Help,” told her it was OK to embrace her success. Says Davis, “Cicely told me, ‘I know the road.’ And what she meant by that was she is a dark-skinned black actress. She has the full lips, the dark skin, that look that doesn’t meet any conventional standards of beauty…. She understands the obstacles that were placed in front of me, and she knows that I was able to achieve what I achieved only through hard work. A lot of times people have to give you permission to enjoy your life.”

Link: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-en-viola-davis-20111110,0,2609985.story

 

 

Click image for larger view:

Hilly's billed as "pretty and well groomed" while Minny defaults into the stereotypical "sassy" black woman who can cook. So what else is new?

 
 
 
 

"A Handsome Good Ole Boy" You've got to be kidding

 
 
 
 

That "Southern Gentleman" and "Dreamboat" Johnny Foote

 

 

 

Not one black person is called attractive in the book (Yule May Crooklyn Crookle is given a compliment of sorts, that her figure is better than Hilly’s. And yes, some readers caught Stockett’s corny inside joke on Yule May’s last name, which foreshadows what she’ll do in the novel. No wonder it was changed for the film) so its kinda hard to have “appreciation for the beauty of dark skin, full eyes and lips and a new beauty aesthetic for Hollywood to consider.” With descriptions like these:

“He black. Blacker than me” (Aibileen comparing her skin color to a roach, Pg 189)

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 giving advice to grow on for one of her white children she raises Pg 91)

And how about this for “appreciation”:

“Sometimes two girls from next door would come over to play with me, named Mary Nell and Mary Roan. They were so black I couldn’t tell them apart, so I just called them both just Mary.” (Skeeter, Pg 62)

I’m sorry to say, there’s much, much more.

Here’s when the reader is first introduced to Minny:

. . .Minny short and big, got shiny black curls. She setting with her legs splayed, her thick arms crossed . . . Minny could probably lift up this bus up over her head if she wanted to. (Aibileen describing Minny as a big woman sitting on a bus with her legs wide open, Pg 13)

Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis reported stated the novel was “beautiful” even after reading it several times.

During the press junket for the film, here’s an audio quote from Viola Davis: “I’m essentially playing a Mammy.”

Viola’s statement starts at about 8 minutes into the 10 minute audio clip

“I’m playing a maid, a black actress playing a maid in 2011 in Hollywood, is a lot of pressure. You don’t play a maid. That is something  you don’t do. When you play a maid where a white woman has written a story and a white man is directing it, so there is no way that it’s gonna be. . . I’m essentially playing a Mammy. So I felt a lot of pressure. Absolutely. And then and of course pressure from the readers who all wanted Oprah to play the role. And saw her as being seventy years old and about two hundred and  fifty pounds or you know,  yeah, I felt a lot of pressure. But it’s like Tate says, if you work from that point of pressure and fear, your work is gonna crack. At some point you just have to leave it alone. And know that we have our own standard of excellence . . .”

Link: Atlanta Mom’s on The Move  

Viola’s quote starts at about 8 minutes into the 10 minute audio clip

 

 

 

And here’s what Octavia Spencer stated back in Feb 2009, as part of her “agreement” with Kathryn Stockett. See more on the pact between these two in the links below this image.

 

Octavia Spencer speaks up for The Help

 

 

If you want to know how The Help came to be, without the hearts and flowers PR spin,and  in the words of those who were part of  an “agreement” of sorts, then see these posts:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/so-about-the-help-and-this-agreement-among-friends/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/how-the-help-was-pimped/

 

 

 

On to the next part of the comment “All this whining is missing the point. This was someone’s story.”

 

Yes it was. The Help contained pieces of this woman’s life:

The real deal Aibileen, a distraught Ableen Cooper after her lawsuit tossed out

 

 

Read Abilene Cooper’s sad tale here

 

And Stockett admits using this woman, Mrs. Demetrie McLorn for the inspiration of several black maids in the novel:

Stockett on CBS, a photo of Demetrie is in the background

 

 

The Help was also mixed with a whole lotta literary tropes like the docile, blindly loyal manservant Tom  in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, later in Imitation of Life with the sweetly affable Delilah, played by Louise Beavers (1934 movie version) and later on Juanita Moore (Delilah is renamed Annie and Moore receives and Oscar nomination in 1960). In the novel Stockett throws in just about every stereotype known the fiction. Lulabelle is the tragic mulatto (renamed Rachel and re-cast as brown in complexion in the film). Leroy is the black brute caricature, better known these days as the “thug.” Celia is the buxom blonde with the heart of gold (best played by Marilyn Monroe in the film Bus Stop). Skeeter is the coming of age hero/heroine, Hilly is Cruella De Ville lite, so over the top that you’d think she invented segregation, as The Help movie tries to be more of a Dramedy.

Minny is simply an updated Mammy. A similar character is also in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Aunt Chloe where the character is called the best cook in the county (its been awhile since I read UTC, I need to recheck). And then in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. There have been male versions, like Andy of Amos ‘n’ Andy.

 

The creators of the radio show portraying Amos and Andy

 

 

African Americans take over the roles of Amos ‘n’ Andy:

 

Amos n Andy TV show

 

 

 

But you can  believe neither Abilene Cooper or Demetrie McLorn thought of their skin color as even remotely being comparable to a roach (Aibileen, Pg 91) or brought up another woman’s vagina as  a “cootchie spoilt as a rotten oyster.” (Aibileen and Minny talk cootchies and Aibileen’s ability to call down a venereal disease on Cocoa, via prayer and “black magic” Pg 23-24)  That’s Kathryn Stockett in blackface.

Yes, it was someone’s story. But it it’s important to point out the author was born in 1969. Let me state that again. Kathryn Stockett was born in 1969. Here’s her personal knowledge of segregation, since the author admits her grandparents practiced it while the author spent much of her formative years in their home:

But my brother and sister and I weren’t allowed to bother Demetrie during her own lunch break. . . Grandmother wanted Demetrie to rest so she could finish her work, not to mention, white people didn’t sit at the same table at the table while a colored person was eating. (Too Litte Too Late, Pg 448)

(Let me interject here. Who still talks like this? Who still says “colored?”)

That was just a normal part of life, the rules between blacks and whites (I’ve got to interject again. Stockett’s talking about the 70s and 80s here not the 40s or 50s, keep that in mind) as a little remember pitying them. I am so embarrassed to admit that now. (Pg 448)

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 children of her own, we felt like we were filling a void in her life. . . (Pg 448)

 

Well, that was what Stockett said in 2009. Now here’s what she stated more recently about her work: “I just made this shit up!”

 

And how about the author describing a scene in her Oscar nominated film where Minny is in an alternate universe, as she’s able to get away with feeding a white woman some of her poop in a pie: “It’s fucking hysterical!”

Octavia: Oh my god! [Laughs] People always ask me if we were laughing hysterically through that scene, but I always say no, because it was never a funny thing for Minny. She always knew the danger. We never played the comedy of it; the comedy is knowing when it’s revealed.

Stockett: Tate was such a prankster! He still is. The horrible things he did to the people he even loved, or in high school, to me—he told me at one point I had to stop telling people what he used to do. [Laughs] For me, it was, “What was the worst thing you could do to Hilly Holbrook?” And it was her having the image in her own mind that she had eaten Negro shit. It’s kind of corny, the whole concept, but what saved that scene was Sissy Spacek.

Chris Columbus: “Run, Hilly Minny, run!” was a completely improvised line. People were falling down behind the monitor because we had no idea how Sissy was going to react. But the way that scene is shot, it’s a textbook scene of how to direct a comedic moment.

Octavia: And I did the “eat my shit” line about five or six times. That was the fun part!

Stockett: It’s fucking hysterical!

Link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/12/the-help-an-oral-history-with-viola-davis-octavia-spencer.html

 

 

To say Stockett has no clue would be an understatement. There’s a Mad TV skit called “Nice White Lady.” I’m going to link to it at the bottom of this post for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

If you don’t know already, then let me repeat. Kathryn Stockett claimed in not one, not two, but THREE known audio interviews that Medgar Evers was bludgeoned to death. And this mistake actually made it into the novel on Pg 277:

 

Error on Evers in the Paperback version of The Help

 

 

For more on this error, see this post: The Medgar Evers Error in The Help

 

 

Back to the original comment again:

“It gave black actresses work, nominations, awards and honestly, greater acceptance in Hollywood . . . “ 

The Help did put black actresses to work. And also a bunch of white actresses who got to dress in designer clothes and get their hair done, and also have better lighting in their scenes:

 

Skeeter and the gals all gussied up, even while playing cards. Their outfits were on sale at HSN, while the maids pots and pans were the hot item in a tasteless tie in the movie studio cooked up.

 
 
 
 
 

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

 

 
See the truly tasteless way Dreamsworks collaborated with HSN to promote The Help in this post

And yes, Spencer and Davis received prestigious nominations. As far as greater acceptance? Meh. That’s stretching it. The same thing was said when Halle Berry won the first ever Academy Award for Best Actress over ten years ago. And while Jennifer Hudson and M’onique also won best supporting actress Oscars, the doors are still painfully shut as far as additional roles and work for black actors, both male and female (except for Will Smith and Denzel Washington)

But it looks as if the one who really benefitted, or got more “work” was Emma Stone. Stone was everywhere, and it seemed on just about every magazine. Early on Stone was touted as the star of the film when it opened worldwide. And more recently the actress even inked a lucrative cosmetics deal.

 

Emma gets Glamour cover May 2011

 

 

Emma on Elle Mag

 
 

Emma Stone on Vanity Fair

 
 
 

EW promotes The Help with an insert of Emma Stone sans Davis and Spencer

 
 
 
 

Viola Davis on Essence Mag cover

 

I’d mentioned months ago how Stone graced the covers of several magazines while Davis and Spencer were left at the starting line. No cosmetic offers (hint, hint Covergirl) Even now. Here’s Vanity Fair’s recent cover, doing what Vanity Fair does best by putting the minorities in the fold out section:

 

Human Zoo inhabitants. A popular attraction back in the day, before people complained

 

 

Oops! Wrong picture. Still, I guess it’s another example of  “job creation.”

 

 

Here are some of the new roles Spencer and Davis have  lined up:

“Spencer, who is up for the best supporting actress Oscar, has signed on for the  sci-fi film “Snow Piercer.”

Directed by Joon-ho Bong, “Snow Piercer” tells the story of a future  in  which an Ice Age kills off everyone except those aboard a train that  crosses  the globe thanks to its perpetual-motion engine.

When a revolt against the class system of the train emerges, Spencer’s  character joins in to save her son. Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, John Hurt and Korean actor Kang-ho Song have also  signed on to the project.

“Meanwhile, Spencer’s co-star Viola Davis, who’s nominated for a best actress  Oscar, has two new projects on her plate. Variety reports that Davis will appear  in the highly anticipated adaptations of the books “Ender’s Game” and “Beautiful  Creatures.”

“Ender’s” centers on talented strategist Ender Wiggins (played by Asa   Butterfield), who’s recruited to a military school to train to take  down an  alien race. Davis will portray a military psychologist who  watches over the  emotional well-being of the trainees in the futuristic  film, which is being  directed by Gavin Hood.

In “Beautiful Creatures,” directed by Richard LaGravenese, two teens work  to understand a curse that has been haunting  the young woman’s family for  generations. Davis will play a librarian  who was also the friend of the young  man’s deceased mother.

Read more: http://www.kmbc.com/entertainment/30374899/detail.html#ixzz1lf92qanN

 

 

To quote SAG and Golden Globe winner Octavia Spencer “You do a role like The Help to get to this.”

Link:

Viola Davis and her husband have formed their own production company and have already acquired the rights for an initial project.

For more on what went wrong with the novel The Help, see this post:

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

 

 

**Update **- I’m not sure what’s happening here, but it’s sure not “appreciation” or “greater acceptance.” I’ll come back and work this into the post. I think Clutch Magazine has an article a bit more complimentary on Spencer’s discussion of her weight.

Here’s an interesting take on the whole Octavia Spencer vs. The  Media vs. Her weight. :

 

Is It Just Us, Or Is Octavia Spencer Oversharing?

” . . . Octavia Spencer is a force to be reckoned with these days. She’s won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her role in The Help, not to mention dominated the red carpets of both events in pitch-perfect Tadashi Shoji gowns. I think it’s refreshing to see someone in Hollywood who’s not a size-zero top the best-dressed lists, and I know plenty of other people agree. So can she please stop talking about her weight?

Spencer mentions the topic so frequently and in such detail that she’s beginning to overshare. On a recent episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the actress told Ellen about a private conversation she had with Melissa McCarthy at a post-SAG celebration. “I was like, ‘Oh my god Melissa, I’m about to die, my Spanx are killing me,’” Spencer said. “And she [McCarthy] said, ‘I just went to the bathroom and took mine off.’” “I could not party that night because I was being pinched in places I didn’t know it was possible,” Spencer added.

To a certain extent, it’s endearing to hear about celebrities and their relate-able struggles. But really, I never wanted to know about (or picture) anyone being “pinched” by Spanx.

http://www.allure.com/beauty-trends/blogs/daily-beauty-reporter/2012/02/octavia-spencer-oversharing.html

 

 

This post is still in development . . .

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