And the winner is . . . Nobody

Posted on February 25, 2012

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We all lose with The Help.

Still, I’ll be seriously surprised if the producers aren’t holding up an Oscar for best picture, especially with the LA Times article on just who make up the majority of Academy voters. It shouldn’t be surprising, since older white males control the entertainment industry. So why would anyone think the voting would be any different?

The Academy Awards

 

 

And much like the excuse given when criticism of the book and film are brought up, I’m sure the reasons voters will give for handing over an Oscar will be that the “intent was good” or that the author “meant well.” Too bad they didn’t bother to read the interviews of the author and the screenwriter. Because both Stockett and Tate Taylor reveal The Help was less about being a feel good social commentary, and more a vehicle for a bunch of southern friends to get their foot into Hollywood. For more info, see this post.

 

Now that they’ve done it, its still not time to breathe a sigh of relief. Though mainstream media has neglected to mention the errors behind the book and the film, errors that are more than troubling as they show just how important protecting Stockett’s “brand” was, it’s still out there. And its possible one of those who’d been part of the original pact or “agreement” may run off at the mouth, just like Tate Taylor did.

But it also must be pointed out that enough people in Hollywood knew something was off with The Help. Otherwise the film would have been nominated and ended up a finalist in just about every category, like The Artist.  Still, there are those who are blissfully unaware, branding the book and the movie just the thing. A whitewashed, Disney-esque feel good about ourselves film and book Americans needed, as this recent article from The Huffington Post highlights:

 

Gwen Harmon, National Civil Rights Museum Rep, Discusses Accuracy Of ‘The Help’

 

You’ve seen “The Help” – what did you think of it?


I’ve seen it and I’ve read the book. I am from Jackson, Mississippi so I read the book first. I thought it was an excellent piece of work. The book was good, engaging. The movie — of course the cast — was just phenomenal, well-represented. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer just did a tremendous job of bringing those characters to life. So that was to me very authentic, how they did that and how they captured the whole moment of that mood back in the 1960s.

Link: http://news.moviefone.com/2012/02/23/gwen-harmon-national-civi_n_1296347.html?ir=Entertainment

 

 

You’ll have to read the entire article to see how Ms. Harmon speaks in general terms and is so vague, that I’m surprised the interviewer didn’t pick up on it. Harmon gives no specifics, just polished answers that don’t really tell much. But that’s part of the reason Stockett’s creation has been able to skate by any real scrutiny. Only a few have been willing to go on record criticizing the novel and film. However, to quote the cop from The Hangover “Not up in here!”

In her favor, I’m so glad Ms. Harmon mentioned how maids were on the forefront of marches and the civil rights movement. Because the novel has both Aibileen and Minny wanting no part in the civil rights movement that history shows Jackson MS was a big part of.  In fact, Minny says some mighty unkind and uncalled for things. See, it’s because she’s the “sassy”  maid. So in an woeful attempt to be funny, here’s the dialogue Stockett wrote for her in the book:

“Last meeting everybody was holding hands and praying they gone let blacks in the white bathroom and talking about how they gone set down on a stool at Woolworth’s and not fight back and they all smiling like this world gone be a shiny new place and I just . . . I popped. I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s.” Minny, Pg 217

Minny goes on to make her views even clearer (note the items I’ve put in bold):

I don’t want anybody to know how much I need Skeeter’s stories. Now that I can’t come to the Shirley Boon meetings anymore, that’s pretty much all I’ve got. And I am not saying the Miss Skeeter meetings are fun. Every time we meet, I complain. I moan. I get mad and throw a hot potato fit. But here’s the thing: I like telling my stories. It feels like I’m doing something about it.  . . . and I know there are plenty of other “colored” things I could be doing 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 the silver.  (Minny Pg 218)

And note what the resident Uncle Tom from the book and the movie, Aibileen has to say just after Medgar Evers death in the book:

Lately, the meetings is more about civil rights than keeping the streets clean and who gone work at the clothing exchange. It ain’t aggressive, mostly people just talking things out, praying about it. But after Mr. Evers got shot a week ago, lot a colored folks is frustrated in this town. Especially the younger ones who ain’t built up a callus to it yet. . .  Aibileen, Pg 207

 

A little further on Aibileen says this:

I look around to see who’s here, reckoning I better ask some more maids to help us, now that it look like we squeaked by Miss Hilly. Thirty-five maids done said no and I feel like I’m selling something nobody want to buy. Something big and stinky, like Kiki Brown and her lemon smell-good polish. But what really makes me and Kiki the same is, I’m proud of what I’m selling. I can’t help it. We telling stories that need to be told. (Pg 208)

After Tate Taylor got wind of the controversy over how the maids behaved, he switched it up for the film to make it seem as if Skeeter’s book was part of the civil rights movement, having Medgar Evers murder as the reason the maids join Skeeter. However, the book gives a different reason. The other maids decide to help Skeeter when Yule May goes to jail after stealing from Hilly. And check out Yule May’s full name in the book: Yule May CROOKLE, which was changed for the film.

On this blog I mentioned in 2010 that Stockett’s premise was a greedy one. That Skeeter went “rogue” without aid of the NAACP, CORE or SNCC. And that Stockett put the premise of the maids stories AHEAD of the very real racial uprising and freedom marches going on, ironically in the very city she set her novel in. For the movie here’s what Disney has tried to do to gain Oscar gold, per that same Huffington Post article:

 

In order to ramp up Oscar consideration, Disney has been sending out a bunch of emails inviting folks to town hall-style discussions and calling the film “a social awakening” that incites “social change.” In the text they compare “The Help” to classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Norma Rae.” Do you think it stacks up with those greats?

While the Huffington Post didn’t interview me, I’d like to address the “accuracy of The Help.” And so here’s my response to that question:

I’m sorry. I guess I missed the scene in any of these other films where black women are frying chicken and suggesting that doing so makes one feel better about life. I also missed the scene where there’s a black woman telling a white child “You is kind, you is smart, you is im-po-ent.” then lapses back into standard english because the line had to sound like the thick dialect bullshit in the book. Funny how Aibileen doesn’t say “You is a godless woman” in her scene with Hilly (their clash had much less fireworks and was minus this line in the novel)

No, the signature lines from the films mentioned include “They call me Mr. Tibbs”  (In the Heat of the Night) which is a hell of a lot more dignified than “Eat my shit!”

And excuse me, but Disney’s the same company that gave us “classic beloved” stereotypes like Uncle Remus from The Song of the South, Sunflower, the deleted hoof shining centaurette from Fantasia and the crows from Dumbo. Now they’ve simply added two more in the form of Aibileen and Minny. Talk about a company with a serious lack of “social change” in the depiction of minorities.

Y’all better wake the fuck up.

Aibileen's folksy sayings and demeanor resemble Uncle Remus from Disney's Song of The Song

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Dancing, wise cracking crows from Disney's classic animated feature Dumbo. There's one even named Jim Crow

 

 

 

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

So lets be clear. Would Dreamsworks or Disney have put their muscle behind the film if it had no Sandra Bullock lite character like Skeeter?

My answer: HELL NO

Skeeter says goodbye to her new friends

Would Dreamworks and Disney have been involved if Aibileen had truly been a part of the civil rights movement, and there were no comedic sidekick around to play the fool? And she had a strong male at her side? And the children she gave comfort to involved BOTH black and white. Children of freedom marchers shipped off to jail where the character must tell them to stay strong, instead of the novel’s demeaning inner thoughts and voiceover have Aibileen salivating over all things white, because she doesn’t appear to realize her own worth?

My answer: HELL NO. Because Mammies can’t have a man at their side. It’s all about instilling love and sage advice in an effort to continue the “Magic Negro” trope. Thus the only children Aibileen dotes on, save for her deceased son, are the eighteen or so white kids who grow up to behave just like their parents. Yet as one reviewer noted, Aibileen doesn’t get angry. In the novel Aibileen can see the good in all kids, even Hilly’s children. Yet guess when she turns judgmental?

You guessed it. When she watches Minny’s daughter Kindra, as Minny hollers at the seven year old (Kindra’s five when the novel starts) to prepare dinner. And Aibileen is so chicken shit, when Leroy wakes up raging at Benny, she hurries down the street because she needs to get to church.  Yet in the book, all Minny and Aibileen do when they’re in the Lord’s house is gossip like a couple of grown up mean girls. From the novel:

“Kindra! Get your butt off that floor! Minny holler. “Them beans better be hot when your daddy wakes up!”

Kindra – she seven now- she sass-walk her way to the stove with her bottom sticking out and her nose in the air. Pans go banging all over the place. “Why I got to make dinner? It’s Sugar’s turn!”

“Cause Sugar at Miss Celia’s and you want to live to see third grade (Aibileen observing Kindra and Minny, Pg 396)

We make it out the door and down the street fore we hear Leroy hollering at Benny for waking him up. I walk faster so she [Minny] don’t go back and give Leroy what he good for. (Aibileen, Pg 397 scurrying down the street to avoid sticking up for Minny’s kids. If this had been Mae Mobley she would have run back with all deliberate speed)

Disney’s casting in many of its own films seems to be straight out of the era of segregation. These days African Americans are sidekicks or “best friends” but there’s no race mixing in many of the films they back. I’d have to double check to see if their current films have any minority leads. That’s probably something for a future blog. Here’s how the film was marketed overseas:

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

 

 

 

That "Southern Gentleman" and "Dreamboat" Johnny Foote

Somewhere along the way neither Dreamworks or Disney thought to market the film with either of the Oscar nominated actresses playing maids as even remotely “attractive.” No, their marketing defaulted into the standard “sassy” and  “docile” tags. Yet notice how they marketed Hilly:

False Advertising about Hilly

 

 

 

Again, from the Huffington Post article:

Do you have any words of encouragement for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, since they’re both up for Oscars this coming Sunday?


We’re very proud of the way that they portrayed the women in the film. It was accurate, it was done with dignity and compassion – we saw our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts, our neighbors, our church members in their portrayals. And we’re just very proud of them and their work, and we’re very proud of the film.

Link: http://news.moviefone.com/2012/02/23/gwen-harmon-national-civi_n_1296347.html?ir=Entertainment

 

 

Respectfully, there’s no “we” unless Harmon’s talking about her own family. But the article makes it appear as if she’d speaking for all African Americans. So let me state again, no matter how wonderful Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer played their roles, their parts were stereotypes imo. And  I’d be hesitant to claim “we” especially when the book and the movie threw black males under the bus. In the book most of the African American males were painted as “no-ccount” or absentee fathers. So while Kathryn Stockett thought it was just peachy to rehab the southern males who practiced segregation, crafting them into closet liberals and henpecked males who only followed Hilly’s lead, some readers like myself recognized the antebellum ideology Stockett simply resurrected and dusted off for her novel. The grinning, blindly loyal maid and the grumpy maid who cracks jokes are literary and movie tropes. The need to separate the black female from the “abusive” or  “no account” black male is ever present in the book and the movie. These degrading myths originated with white authors and have never been “accurate” as most times they only serve to provide caricatured comedy, reinforcement of stereotypes, or help the white protag, just like what was done in The Help.

Also, Ms. Harmon may be shocked to know Viola Davis has admitted “I’m essentially playing a Mammy.”

“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 . . .”

 

 

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

Link: Atlanta Mom’s on The Move http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shc0mdT-0Cc

 

 

So I’ll be damned if I’ll ever claim to be “proud of the way they portrayed the women in the film” when one of the stars admits she’s playing a Mammy, and the other had some sort of deal going with Kathryn Stockett that entailed who knows what, but slowly more details are coming out  on just what Spencer was willing to do to land the role of Minny, like act as a buffer for Stockett. Here’s Spencer speaking up for Stockett:

“You know early on from page one that she’s not making a statement about race. She’s writing about people with a limited education, limited financial needs . . .I say one doesn’t have to be male or female, white or black, to tell this story. You just have to be a brilliant storyteller and I applaud Kathryn Stockett whether I knew her or not. I would have actually enjoyed the book.” – quote by Octavia Spencer

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFOPpdYPMIw

 

Now, here’s what contradicts Spencer’s statement from the novel. Note how these are very direct, negative assessments on race that should have been caught:

“Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s just not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think about – Minny Jackson (Pg 311)

How 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. (Pg 91) Aibileen

 

And here’s Aibileen’s demeaning comparision of her brown skin to a roach, one of the filthiest creatures on the planet:

He black. Blacker than me. (Aibileen, Pg 189)

 

“Brilliant storyteller?” Are you kidding me? Stockett had a bevy of editors and others helping to polish the novel, and none of them caught the whopper of an error at the end of this post. Kathryn Stockett claimed Medgar Evers was “bludgeoned to death” and that misinformation got printed in the novel in Skeeter’s inner thoughts on Pg 277.

Unfortunately, The Help has also has more insulting scenes and offensive dialogue featuring African American characters.

Nowhere in the novel does Kathryn Stockett even touch the subject of negatively painting white males in general like she does when slipping into “blackface” while inhabiting her maids.

Here’s an excerpt from a Dec. 2009  audio interview where Stockett admits there was an “Agreement” about Spencer landing the role of Minny:

Dapito: And is there a movie version coming out of The Help? Did I hear that right?

Stockett: The movie rights have been sold to a fellow Mississippian Tate Taylor (inaudible) Green and I’m just so lucky that the book is in the hands of people, not only Mississippians but friends of mine from Jackson. They’re two filmmakers based in Los Angeles.

Dapito: Oh I can’t wait. Do you think they will cast Octavia and some of the other narrators?

Stockett: I think Octavia will be the part of Minny because ah . . (pause and laughter) you know, that was just the agreement. It wasn’t that hard of, it you know, there was no pulling hair on that one. She’s such a natural.”

Link: An Interview with Kathryn Stockett, Author of ‘The Help’ Narrated by Diana Dapito

 

 

There’s a screenshot below this interview excerpt showing how Spencer popped up on websites defending The Help. Later it was revealed that Spencer was enlisted to “help” Stockett, as a UK interview revealed in March of 2011 (items in bold are my doing):

. . . As a result, she [Stockett] wrote with “abandon,” letting her feelings lead her. It was only much later, when she decided to try publishing what had become a full-blown novel, that she started to get “very nervous that I had crossed a line that should never be crossed in America.”

To help cover her tracks over that line, Stockett recruited an actress friend, Octavia Spencer, to participate in her first book tour. “I would read the white parts and she would read the black parts and we had a lot of fun,” Stockett says, adding that Spencer’s free spirit was the inspiration for Minnie, one of her two black heroines. “She got it. She grew up in Alabama and she understood that world probably better than we do.”

Link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/kathryn-stocketts-southern-discomfort/article2012818/singlepage/#articlecontent

 

Notice that this is from Feb. of 2009, shortly before Stockett went on her book tour, taking Spencer along to voice the maids.

 

Octavia Spencer speaks up for The Help

 

 

You can read more quotes from Davis and Spencer in this post

 

 

And really, I’m not trying to pick on Ms. Harmon, but when Minny, played by Octavia Spencer states “Frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life” and “Minny don’t burn no chicken” (thankfully, she didn’t look directly into the camera and there was no laugh track) I’m pretty sure that’s neither dignified or compasstionate acting. Just buffonery. And it reeks of the historical coupling of African Americans with fried chicken just for cheap laughs, which is what The Help did. It was a huge error imo.

In the book here’s what Minny states. It’s moronic reasoning, but at least she limits it to herself:

I watch the chicken sizzle, try to forget she’s there. Frying chicken always makes me feel a little better about life. I almost forget I’m working for a drunk – Minny, Pg 224

 

By Tate Taylor changing Minny’s movie  dialogue from “me” to “you” it appears that Minny’s advocating fried chicken as therapy for Celia, thus the line’s not just stereotypical but even more stupid as hell. Because there are some things you can’t change about history, as these old ads show:

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

 

 

 

It's Chicken Time! The stereotype of blacks loving chicken is resurrected in The Help

 

 

 

This GE ad uses the stereotype of blacks and fried chicken, using a child.

 

 

 

It certainly could be argued that screenwriter and director Tate Taylor didn’t know. Why, he had no idea. But his “good friend” Octavia Spencer, the actress who uttered the words did. And somehow I think Taylor knew. Take a look at the poster for one of his early film shorts:

 

 

Tate Taylor's Chicken Party, starring Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney and of all things, "fried chicken"

Take note of who’s mentioned as co-stars in this film. Also note what Tate Taylor said in reference to why the film was made:

“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

Link: http://screencrave.com/2011-08-11/interview-writerdirector-tate-taylor-and-author-kathryn-stockett-on-the-help/

 

 

Hmm. Well, here’s the “truth” that two other southerners wanted to world to know. The book was called The Clansman by Thomas Dixon and the movie was The Birth of A Nation by D W Griffith. Notice how African Americans and fried chicken are also paired in this film, which film buffs now admit was propaganda though its still deemed a “classic”

 

Birth of a Nation movie poster

 

 

 

Birth of a Nation, where a black legislator is loving and eating a piece of fried chicken, just like Minny from The Help

 

 

 

Aibileen as well as Constantine were both living alone in the book and the movie, able to exist on loving them some white children. This is the Mammy stereotype. If you don’t believe me, then maybe you’ll believe Davis, who stated in an interview with Essence Magazine:

“Why do I have to play the mammy? But what do you do as an actor if one of the most multi-faceted and rich roles you’ve ever been given is a maid in 1962 Mississippi? Do you not take the role because you feel in some ways it’s not a good message to send to Black people?”

Davis says she understands where critics are coming from, but it’s the quality of the film that matters. “That message is greater,” she adds.

Link: http://www.essence.com/2011/07/27/viola-davis-on-playing-a-maid-in-the-help/

 

Ah no, I think Viola’s ambition was greater, which isn’t a crime.

So I truly hope she wins the Oscar. I’d hate to think playing a stereotype that almost everyone else pretends its an “admirable” character would all be for naught. And since I don’t pay her bills, I can understand that she had to do what she had to do.However I’m in agreement with The Root poster Robert Johnson who stated Davis and Spencer would be rewarded for what they were playing.

America has always loved the Black woman as caretaker, AKA the grinning, loyal, overweight, living to cook well Mammy.

Aunt Jemima mangles the english language, just like Aibileen and Minny

 

That’s right, the actress up for an Oscar for the part of Aibileen, which far too many other moviesgoers think is an admirable role because Aibileen cringes, sweetly smiles, is matronly and obedient, docile and loyal, and dotes on Mae Mobley, and Skeeter, and fondly recalls the other children she’s raised. Is a Mammy.

The film couldn’t have been made without the novel. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know about the Medgar Evers error that’s not only in the novel, but repeated in quotes by the author, Kathryn Stockett.

Error on Evers in the Paperback version of The Help

 

 

The section above (Pg 277 in the hard copy, though I’m not sure what page its on in the paperback version) states:

Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. The rish they’re taking is proof they want this to get printed and they want it bad.

The first edition hard bound was sold (and is still being sold) with the error that states Civil Rights icon Medgar Evers was “bludgeoned.” The ebook has only recently been changed, after almost three years (it was released in February 2009). That’s right, the publisher never mentioned a word of it during all that time, even courting Evers widow to give Stockett credibility, which gives you some idea of  what I mean by protecting Stockett’s “brand.”

Too bad they weren’t able to stop the author from doing several interviews saying almost the same thing. That Evers had been “bludgeoned to death.”

 

Here’s just one of the quotes, which can still be found on the Barnes and Noble website:

“…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)

Link: http://media.barnesandnoble.com/?fr_story=59e76c8fa39941fb2ff1013f7928b8ed42d449c2&rf=rss 

You can find the other two quotes on this post

So to all those who want to claim Stockett “meant well” I say, Google was readily available in 2009. And prior to that while Stockett was crafting her novel. The author is also a native of Mississippi, like Evers. So how could she get it so wrong on Ever’s death? I think I know the answer, courtesy of the author’s response when a brave soul asked a question on the civil rights events inserted into her novel:

“I just made this shit up!”

Young Actress playing Mae Mobley learning her "You is" isms, a contrived and condescending piece of dialogue meant to "inspire"

But the hits keep coming. Kathryn Stockett torpedoes her own premise in several other interviews. First up is her “We love them and they love us” which is at the heart of the novel and film. This antebellum myth of black domestics, which originated during slavery being so loyal and “in love” with the whites they work for and their children.

In the novel and the film, Skeeter sells Ms. Stein on the maids stories using this tactic:

“I’d like to write this showing the point of view of the help. The colored women down here. They raise a white child and then twenty years later the child becomes the employer. It’s that irony, that we love them and they love us, yet. . . we don’t even allow them to use the toilet in the house.” – (Skeeter Pg 105-106)

 

Now, note what Kathryn Stockett says when asked about her reseach:

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.

Link: http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2011/feb/11/q-help-author-work-book-no-2/

And there’s also this interview with the author (items in bold are my doing):

“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)

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/speakingvolumes/2009/05/26/interview-with-kathryn-stockett

More information on Kathryn Stockett’s use of the antebellum “affection” myth can be found in these posts:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/the-affection-myth/

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/they-love-us-sez-who/

 

 

Huffington Post, there’s your “Accuracy”

This post is still in developmemt

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