Will criticizing books like “The Help” and “Revealing Eden” cause white authors not to write black characters?

Posted on August 7, 2012

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The title of this post is in part, based upon a counterargument that’s usually framed this way:

“White authors may stop writing minority characters if all they do is get criticized.”

 

I’ve seen this around the internet several times, though worded a bit differently. But in the same context, and so I thought it was time to address it.

 

Will criticizing books like “The Help” and “Revealing Eden” cause white authors not to write black characters?

 

My answer: NO

 

 

Unfortunately, we’ve now entered a true Twilight Zone in publishing, where some authors believe they don’t have to do any research on minority characters (namely African American) because a stereotype will suffice. And controversy sells, something I’m pretty sure both Stockett and Foyt know. With the lack of diversity in publishing its now become easy enough for a non-minority author to get a publishing contract and/or an audience, and merrily write minority characters who border on caricatures. Because there’s rarely anyone who calls them on it prior to the book going public.

Yes, these days some reviewers will proclaim a stereotype is “authentic” and “admirable” while praising an author who knows damn well that the shit they wrote was INCORRECT and INSULTING.

 

 

And many readers will flock to their book, loving it all the more because it follows a  tried and true formula:

1) Make the main protag white

2) Make her unsure that she’s pretty, but let the readers know, and make sure someone in the story tells her that yes, she’s attractive.

3) Make her scared of those big, bad black people at every opportunity (See an example below, from “BELOVED” novel turned film, The Help)

Over done angry black woman pose of a full stare down from Oscar winner Octavia Spencer

 

 

 

Over done angry black woman pose featuring hand on hip

 

 

 

Angry black woman results in frightened look from lovely, young, liberal and scared do gooder (cue audience laughter)

 

 

 

4) Make sure the “heroine” has a romantic interest, but not her minority side kick/shoulder to lean on.

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

 

 

 

5) Make certain to have the black male as a”Brute” which falls back on the antebellum ideology of black men bordering on animalistic, which has its roots in books like Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman, which was the basis for the movie The Birth of A Nation.

 

Birth of a Nation movie poster

 

 

Intra-racism with the Black Brute Stereotype

 

 

 

The “Black Brute” stereotype was prevalent during segregation

 

 

 

6) Add in a silently loyal or “funny” minority, one who “proves” their worth by either risking their own well being for the heroine, and who has more than enough self loathing to appear “admirable” for talking or thinking about themselves or their race in derogatory terms.

This site goes into detail where The Help veered woefully off track. Now there’s another award winning, groundbreaking look at race (I’m being highly sarcastic here) called . . . Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden.

Save the freakin’ Pearls already

 

 

First though, have a look at just one of the many misguided promotional trailers for this indie pubbed YA novel:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, if after viewing the book trailer you’re thinking WTF? You’re not alone.

 

 

“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!” is uttered by the main protag, the lovely Mary Sue named Skeeter I mean Eden from Save the Pearls on page 12 of my ereader

 

 

All I could think of while reading that line was the one from the original Planet of the Apes, where Charlton Heston as Taylor finally speaks (after being shot and temporarily losing his voice):

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” – Taylor, played by Charlton Heston from the 1968 film Planet of the Apes

 

 

In this post-racial society (I’m talking about the myth of NOW, whereby electing a bi-racial president means we’re truly living in a color-blind society, AKA “If we just don’t talk about race, prejudice would all go away! DUH”) since controversy sells, author Victoria Foyt decided to tackle global warming by having blacks as the uppity oppressors, tactlessly labeled “Coals” and whites as the oppressed, hard working, aptly named “Pearls.”

 

 

Sexual chocolate blackface. Yes, this is still “blackface” though the book calls it “Midnight Luster”

 

 

 

 

Here’s the book blurb:

Eden Newman must mate before her 18th birthday in six months or she’ll be left outside to die in a burning world. But who will pick up her mate-option when she’s cursed with white skin and a tragically low mate-rate of 15%? In a post-apocalyptic, totalitarian, underground world where class and beauty are defined by resistance to an overheated environment, Eden’s coloring brands her as a member of the lowest class, a weak and ugly Pearl. If only she can mate with a dark-skinned Coal from the ruling class, she’ll be safe. Just maybe one Coal sees the Real Eden and will be her salvation her co-worker Jamal has begun secretly dating her. But when Eden unwittingly compromises her father’s secret biological experiment, she finds herself in the eye of a storm and thrown into the last area of rainforest, a strange and dangerous land. Eden must fight to save her father, who may be humanity’s last hope, while standing up to a powerful beast-man she believes is her enemy, despite her overwhelming attraction. Eden must change to survive but only if she can redefine her ideas of beauty and of love, along with a little help from her “adopted aunt” Emily Dickinson.

 

 

 

Since the black maid card had already been played by Kathryn Stockett, Ms. Foyt chose to write articles like this to promote her literary effort:

“I’m white, and except for our housekeeper, everyone I knew in my hometown in the Southeast was white. It was a white world with white actors on TV and white models and white teachers and a white president. There were a few Cuban kids in my private high school, but just a few.

My parents, both Ivy League grads, never uttered a word of prejudice in our home. Perhaps our insulation avoided such comments, or perhaps, having grown up in more diverse Northeast, they were aware of racial issues. After all, we claim an ancestor on my father’s side who fought in the Civil War, for the Yankees.

It’s safe to say that, while on American soil, I have never suffered from prejudice. That I haven’t a clue what it would be like to be in the minority. That as a white woman who was raised in a white community, I take many social or economic issues for granted.

Yes, thankfully, my world has grown to embrace people of many different ethnicities and cultures. And the world has changed too. My kids attend much more diverse schools. And well, we have Obama, to my surprise and utter delight. . . “

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-foyt/white-and-in-the-minority_b_1632207.html

 

 

 

 

Okay, here’s part of my mini-review of the book, which I will expand on in an upcoming post

Yada, Yada, Yada . . . like the book (which is a snoozefest) I’m not sure what Foyt hopes to gain from her personal testimonials sprinkled around internet sites. While the author proclaims her novel to be about ecological issues (with a side of race baiting), there’s the pesky, yet perky Eden who is frankly, very annoying. Like far too many books about teens, it’s Ms. Foyt’s protagonist that’s the real problem with her novel. Eden is in every scene, and unfortunately, she’s not up to the task.

From using repeated terms like “my Dark Prince” to describe Jamal, the guy she has the hots for when the book begins, to calling Bramford, the guy who wins her over “a monster” while he’s still human, and when he finally does turn into some kind of were-panther she opines about him still being a monster and  a “beastly man” or “his beastly self.”

The terms that keep getting repeated about the minority characters pretty much confirm Foyt’s assertion that “That I haven’t a clue what it would be like to be in the minority.”

All we ask for, all any reader wants is a fully fleshed, interesting character. I didn’t find any in Foyt’s divisive, but heavy on the panting and longing instead of real sexual tension novel. At times the dialogue was meh,and then by the end of the novel all the characters read the same, as if the author gave up inserting a personality into them.

 

 

If I wasn’t reading about Eden whining over her “Dark Prince” or the beastly Bramford, or that “Bitch” Ashina, there’s this ill conceived part in the book:

The hair on the back of Eden’s neck prickled. Did the nosey bitch suspect her hidden connection to Jamal? Coals often killed Pearls who seduced their kind.

Hmm. Looks to me like Ms. Foyt has inserted the ol’ myth of black women vs. white women over black men.

 

 

Now here’s an excerpt from the beginning of this tale complete with my initial impressions as I read the ebook (responses in bold are mine. Book excerpts are in Italics):

Hide Beauty Map!

 . . . in a flash, the holographic images that appeared in front of her – a blond girl playing on a sunlight beach – disappeared.

Oh-huh. Red flag. Beauty=blond girl playing on a beach

 

 

“What’s going on?” a woman asked.

Eden shot to her feet, her heart racing, as a plump, dark-skinned lab assistant

Oh no! Another red flag. Why does sister gal have to to be “plump and dark skinned?” sorta like:

Minny the Mammy, at the door with an apology and a shit pie for Hilly

 

 

 

It was only Peach . . .

Oh hell naw. PEACH? PEACH? WTF . . . does Ms. Foyt not know . . . guess she doesn’t

 . . . who wasn’t as cruel as the rest of them. –  Excerpt from Save the (freakin’) Pearls, page 1

“Them” uh okay, “them” as in “those people”  or “you people” yeah, right. And it’s important to note that in the book “Them” stands out in italics, so Ms. Foyt wanted readers to focus on the word, and intent.

 

 

A bit further on in the book comes the tired ass, overused Mary Sue trope about Eden not realizing her beauty:

Me? Eden Newman, beautiful? No matter how often she studied the precious map she couldn’t imagine it. She was a lowly Pearl, worth nothing in a world ruled by dark-skinned Coals . . .

 Oh, so we all look alike huh? Black people don’t have any skin variation in this mofo, we’re all just “dark skinned”

 

 

That bitch Ashina was now fifteen minutes late and Eden wanted to take her break. She glanced around the lab, hoping for a sign of the haughty Coal.

Bitch? Ashina gets called a BITCH? And “haughty” which is just another term for “uppity”

Ms. Foyt . . . please.

 

 

And now we come to my almost, not quite favorite part:

Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.

“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!”

 

 

And what does Ashina do?  I mean, I really thought  things were picking up and I’d read a two, possibly three page fight, but it was not to be:

The girl lunged for her, but Eden jumped out of reach.

“She pushed me!” Ashina cried, falling to the floor.

 

 

Oh Dear God. Make it stop. Not only is Ashina called a “bitch” but she’s made out to be a liar. And really, Ashina never “touched” her. She grabbed Eden’s lab coat and asked “Are you calling me a liar?” And under the author, Ms. Foyt’s imagination, a few lines later she makes Ashina out to be just that, a liar, by having her claim poor, lovely, oppressed Eden “pushed” her.

 

 

And here are the “racial epithets” hurled Eden’s way by those mean old COALS who suddenly become a gang:

“Earth damned Pearl!”

“White Death!”

 

 

Huh? What? What? Is that the best this gang can do? Even Robert Downey Jr’s character in Tropic Thunderhad better retorts:

“Look at those eyes . . . those beady white devil eyes!”

Robert Downey Jr. as Lincoln Osirus from the comedy Tropic Thunder

 

 

 

After reading how Eden wonders about “Ms. Polka-Dot Bikini was Eden’s kind, right down to her long blond hair and big blue eyes” because if she’d been born during the time period in the Hologram, she’d get to be Malibu Barbie, I was ready to create a Kickstarter campaign to get up up enough money so that Ms. Foyt never has to write again using black people  to show how liberal and aware she is about saving the planet.

Still, Eden has much in common with Kathryn Stockett’s heroine Skeeter. See, Skeeter’s also blonde and blue-eyed. And Skeeter doesn’t think she’s attractive, yet handsome Stuart Whitworth calls her “pretty.” The only ones not called “pretty” in the book or movie of The Help are . . . drumroll . . . the black help.

 

 

And like Eden, here’s what Skeeter has to say about the African Americans she’s around (items in bold are my doing):

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 and called them both just Mary. (Skeeter, Pg 62)

 

 

Remember, like Eden, Skeeter’s the “heroine” of the novel and movie.

 

 

Yet here’s how she describes the multicolored maid (I’m not kidding. Read the description below on the many shades of black/brown Constantine is) she pines all book long for, even more than Aibileen does for her deceased son Treelore (items in bold are my doing):

 

Constantine wasn’t just tall, she was stout. She was also wide in the hips and her knees gave her trouble all the time. (Skeeter, Pg 61)

 

 

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. 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 were dark ebony. The palms of her hands were orangy-tan and that made me wonder if the soles of her feet were too, but I never saw her feet. (Skeeter, Pg 65)

 

 

And here’s how she describes Minny, the maid who will be crucial in her escape from Jackson:

I clear my throat, produce a nervous smile. Minny doesn’t smile back. She is fat and short and strong. Her skin is blacker than Aibileen’s by ten shades, and shiny and taut, like a pair of patent shoes. (Skeeter’s first impression of Minny, Pg 164)

 

 

 

And here’s how Minny is first introduced, by the book’s resident Uncle Tom/Mammy, Aibileen:

I spot Minny in the back center seat. Minny short and big, got shiny black curls. She setting with her legs splayed, her thick arms crossed. . . Minny could probably lift this bus up over her head if she wanted to. (Aibileen, Pg 13)

 

 

Back to Skeeter’s visual observations on the additional maids enlisted to tell their stories:

The women are tall, short, black like asphalt or caramel brown. If you’re skin is too white, I’m told, you’ll never get hired. The blacker the better. (Skeeter, Pg 257)

Which ultimately produced the scene below. Oddly enough, the film falls into bringing to life the insulting ideology that originated during slavery and was passed on during segregation, that all blacks look alike.

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

 

 

 

No one called Stockett on her “the blacker the better” line. It must have been assumed that since she had the pedigree (she had a black maid, that was enough to make her word bond). Yet, take a look at Lillian Rogers Parks, whose novel “Backstairs at the White House” was made into a groundbreaking mini-series in the late 70s. Lillian was a maid and a seamstress. And she was light in complexion. See, it didn’t matter how light you were or even if an African American had a college degree. Because of the mindset of some back then, African Americans were routinely steered towards domestic work, even in the progressive Northern states.

Lillian Rodgers Parks, seamstress and maid for the white house.

Lillian Rodgers Parks worked as a maid and seamtress at the white house from 1929 – 1960

 

 

There’s a pattern here folks, where black women are reduced to dark skin color and girth in both of these novels. Not so for the “heroine” of these books, whom I suspect are fan fiction versions of the authors themselves. Stockett does add three other black women/tropes into this mix. That being the “Tragic Mulatto” in Yule May (“Yule May easy to recognize from the back cause she got such good hair, smooth, no nap to it” per Aibileen’s observation on Pg 208). There’s Gretchen, who’s light enough to wear pink lipstick like Skeeter and her friends, and is apparently gifted with articulate speech. And finally there’s  Lulabelle, Constantine’s daughter, who’s somehow able to pass for white even though Constantine is bi-racial and described as dark, and her father Connor (another stereotype of the black male who beds and leaves the black woman to raise her child alone. Both he and Aibileen’s husband, the lothario Clyde – see spoilt cootchie) are absentee fathers. Lulabelle “passes” during one of Charlotte Phelan’s DAR meetings.

 

 

Other similarities:

Much like Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, early reviews of Revealing Eden were gushingly complimentary (although recent scrutiny over Foyt’s glowing reviews and awards have uncovered some troubling findings. See the articles posted at the bottom of this post from Clutch Magazine and Legendary Women.org). As with similar accolades given to The Help, many of those reviewers weren’t minorities. Thus neither author faced any real criticism of their novels until BOTH black and white readers voiced it. However, here’s what the author of Revealing Eden had to say about the building backlash:

“This brouhaha began on Friday, and I think it has come, in large part, from members within the African-American community who have not read the book. If they did, they would see that this is a cautionary tale about the need to care for our planet, not a slap at the African-American community . . . “

Link: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/author-of-controversial-revealing-eden-hits-back-at-critics-1.898520

 

 

 

 

BULLSHIT lady.

Here’s what’s on the pages of your less than stellar novel, because in addition to a weak, meandering plot full of dialogue that did more “telling” than “showing,” here’s just some of what readers, particularly African American readers were greeted with:

Like an animal, he had marked his territory by carving a ridiculously large initial “B” onto each door. – Eden whining about Bramford, and this is before he turns into a manimal.

A signal seemed to ring through the frenzied crowd. Hundreds of Coals turned to stare at her; a rabid look in their eyes. She would be lucky to make it out of there alive.  - Eden showing fear, because the sight of her white skin is actually a turn on for those COALS don’t cha know. This touches on another myth, one of many skewed in the Mel Brooks classic comedy Blazing Saddles, when Cleavon Little utters this line  “Where the white women at?”

And Foyt’s rationale that an uproar over her book has come “. . .  in large part, from members within the African-American community who have not read the book” is similar to the same excuse two talented and beautiful (but unfortunately brainwashed imho) actresses, namely  Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis used when defending Kathryn Stocketts’ novel (items in bold are my doing):

Spencer: There are a lot of people who don’t like the idea of us playing maids without knowing anything about the story. Not knowing how proactive these women are in their community and how they are propagating change.”

Davis: They don’t care. It’s the fact that we are playing maids. It’s the image and the message more so than the execution.”

Did that give you pause before signing on?

Davis: “Yes.”

Link: http://popwatch.ew.com/2011/08/04/the-help-this-weeks-cover/

 

 

 

 

Ignore this next part if you still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Because “The Help” was less about unsung black domestics and more about a group of southern friends gettting together to make their mark in Hollywood.

“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/

 

 

For more on how The Help came to be, see this post:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/the-help-on-the-wrong-side-of-history/

 

 

 

Let me break it down further. Here’s the “proactive” and “propagating” change that never was, from Octavia Spencer’s character, Minny (items in bold are by me):

“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny, speaking of a person she has a personality conflict with, and who’s also holding a community meeting concerning staging a Woolworth sit-in.(Pg 217)

And I know there are plenty of other “colored” things I could do 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 silver. Minny (Pg 218)

 

 

 

 

Minny was the stereotypical comedic wit of the novel. She was the “sassy” maid who was quick with the quips, just like in days of old. And here’s that ol’ activist, the blindly loyal walking stereotype of a maid, Aibileen. Pay particular attention to the items I’ve put in bold:

About a year after Treelore died, I started going to the Community Concerns Meeting at my church. I reckon I started doing it to fill time. Keep the evenings from getting so lonely. Even though Shirely Boon, with her big know-it-all smile, kind a irritate me. Minny don’t like Shirley neither, but she usually come anyway to get out the house. . . lately the meetings is more about civil rights than keeping the streets clean and who gone to 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. They done had meetings all week over the killing. I hear folks was angry, yelling, crying. This the first one I come to since the shooting. (Aibileen, Pg 207)

 

 

As written, Aibileen is a dispassionate observer. Even more incredulous is Stockett having Aibileen crowing about what she and Minny and the other maids are doing is “important” while both maids downplay what Shirley Boon is attempting to do (gather church members to stage a sit-in) because they have a personality conflict with her.

From the novel:

 . . . But what really makes what me and Kiki the same is, I’m proud a what I’m selling We telling stories that need to be told (Aibileen, Pg 208)

 

 

Thus Aibileen and Minny come across as a female Amos n’ Andy, oblivious to the importance of the civil rights movement in their own city, but ready to risk their lives just to “help” Miss Skeeter. In the above excerpt from the book Stockett has Aibileen actually admit that Minny only comes to the meeting ” . . . to get out the house.”

And Aibileen gets over the death of rights icon Medgar Evers with a quickness, stating “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 is the same character who Stockett decides should compare her skin color to a roach, one of the filthiest insects on the planet. “He black, blacker than me.” (Aibileen, Pg 189)

 

 

She also gleefully recalls giving this advice to one of her now grown charges “don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he ain’t drunk a cup a coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Aibileen, Pg 91)  Her advice is neither funny or sound, since it was a slur used by bigoted whites back in the day.

In the book, just like the movie, Aibileen is a voracious reader. So it stands to reason she would have known about African American newspapers and novels at that time which did recount the stories of domestics like herself (such as Naomi Ward’s 1940 first person account I AM A DOMESTIC), and were available to African Americans and whites who effected change.  In addition, her son Treelore was twenty-four when he died. Yet Stockett kills him off, which ends his storyline (before it can truly begin) but inserts Skeeter’s mustering of the maids up, to implement his idea.

Neither Minny or Aibileen, as written in the novel, cared about the civil rights movement, even though actual history shows that Jackson, MS was a hotspot for rights activity, and real domestics risked life and limb to join rights organizations such as CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), the NAACP, and SNCC. But not these two fictional characters.

 

Once those behind the film got wind of the criticism, the movie/screenplay was changed. But the book is still out there with THE TRUTH about Stockett’s characters actions and motivations.

 

 

 

What also should be noted:

Spencer had a deal with Stockett, revealed in a December 2009 Audible interview:

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

 

 

I get why Spencer defended the novel. There are other published articles which confirm that Stockett didn’t know Spencer very well, at least not until the book became popular (later on their “friendship” was played up in several articles). And while terms of their “agreement” haven’t been made public, Spencer popped up on blogs and went on Stockett’s book tour, voicing the part of Minny as early as Feb. of 2009. Spencer also stood on stage while Stockett voiced the part of Aibileen from the sordid “Spoilt Cootchie” dialogue, which shows just how badly she wanted the part. For more on “Cootchie Gate” see this post

 

 

But look at what Viola Davis has to say, where she reveals what she refused to read in Stockett’s novel when asked about the book by LA times writer Nicole Sperling:

“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

 

 

 

THE LOOK OF EMPOWERMENT. Viola as Aibileen showing just what Kathryn Stockett thought it will take to make a black woman break down during segregation. Being separated from Miss Skeeter and Mae Mobley

 

 

 

 

And here’s one more quote from Davis, which shows how conflicted she appeared to be about doing the role (items in bold are my doing):

“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: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/contributing-to-our-own-stereotype/

 

 

So to review, Spencer cut a deal and Davis ignored parts of the book which could be considered offensive, in the way Stockett visualized her African American characters. Yet recall they stated:

Spencer: There are a lot of people who don’t like the idea of us playing maids without knowing anything about the story. Not knowing how proactive these women are in their community and how they are propagating change.”

Davis: They don’t care. It’s the fact that we are playing maids. It’s the image and the message more so than the execution.”

For more on this subject, please see this post:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/all-souled-out-in-the-help/

 

 

And here’s what screenwriter/director Tate Taylor used to justify keeping the insulting and offensive dialogue/scenes in the movie version of The Help (items in bold are my doing)

 

 

What Taylor stated to a UK newspaper:

“All of the criticism we’ve been facing is based on the fact that I’m not an African-American director and that Kathryn is not an African-American writer,” Taylor says. “It suggests that race relations in my country are still very black and white. But outside of a small academic elite, it doesn’t matter. . .”

AND

” . . .Civil rights is just the backdrop. I’m not qualified to make a film about civil rights. People say to me: ‘Why wasn’t there a lynching? Why aren’t there houses burning down?’ But that’s not what this story is. For me, the most horrific moment in the film is the scene where the maid is sitting with her panties round her ankles in a three-by-three plywood bathroom, like a cat in a litter-box, while an impatient white woman is tapping her foot outside. If people need to see blood and gore and can’t see how horrific that is – well, I don’t have answer to that.”

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/oct/20/the-help-domestic-servants-on-film

 

 

 

Ah yes, even Taylor used the old psychological ploy of some black people don’t read, they just react. Funny how that’s rarely used when the reader is white.

Before I move on, please notice Taylor at least admits he’s not “qualified” to make a film about civil rights. YET HE DID. And he was rewarded for it, by a highly prestigious Hollywood organization that apparently hadn’t read the book, or his and Stockett’s remarks (“I just made this shit up!” – Kathryn Stockett’s quote See this post)

“Tate Taylor is set to receive the Writers Guild of America West’s Paul Selvin Award for his adapted screenplay for the civil rights-era drama “The Help.” The Selvin Award “recognizes written work which embodies the spirit of constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

Link: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118049466/

 

 

Keep in mind that the film, under Taylor’s helm includes the stereotype of African Americans loving chicken, as Minny proclaims “Frying chicken just tend to make you feel better about life” and “Minny don’t burn no chicken.” In the book, Minny’s line reads “Frying chicken tend to make me feel better” not “you” as stated in the film, and being stated as though she’s offering this foolhardy advice as words oto live by.

But with the movie playing up Minny’s love of chicken, Taylor went with an old Stereotype of African Americans, and one rampant in the south during segregation. It’s one that still exists today:

It’s Chicken Time! The stereotype of blacks loving chicken is resurrected in The Help. Note the stereotype of the bug eyed, dark as night black male

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Here’s Tate Taylor’s earlier contribution to the reinforcing of stereotypes,  the indie short flick Chicken Party, starring Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney and of all things, “fried chicken”

 

 

 

 

This folks, is American history 101. How African Americans were linked with chicken for cheap laughs. And yet it was inserted into The Help, for . . . you guessed it. Cheap laughs.

So what I want to know is, why put a known stereotype anywhere near a minority character, and try to play it off as an “asset” or that they’re “funny” and “admirable” when the plot is still about the main heroine getting her HEA. We’re (people of color) just side characters.

 

 

In an interview with The Grio.com Tate Taylor also reportedly stated (items in bold are my doing):

“The scene where Viola Davis is sitting on a toilet in a garage in 108 degrees, and then a white woman comes out and tells her to hurry up was visually brutal. To me that’s worse than seeing a lynching. It just is.”

Link: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/director-says-thats-worse-than-seeing-a-lynching/

 

 

Really? Viola Davis pretending to take a crap is worse than a real life person being brutalized and strung up? An innocent person, innocent men and women who happened to be black, not “Midnight Luster.”

The Lynching of Laura Nelson

 

 

 

The Lynching of Rubin Stacy in Florida. This was “entertainment” for some bigots. Note the little girl and woman who don’t appear shocked or appalled.

 

 

 

 

Hmm. And yet he was given an award for a movie that . . . “embodies the spirit of constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

Yet dude couldn’t figure out the lynching of innocent African Americans was worse than a pretend maid taking a crap on screen. Guess there goes the “civil liberties” portion of the exam.

I’m surprised they didn’t sweep all the Oscar categories

 

 

For more of the cringe worthy gaffes behind the film and novel, see this post:

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

 

 

 

 

But I must point out that doing a critique of a novel is more than just throwing out terms like “This book is racist.” Because like Kathryn Stockett, Ms. Foyt doesn’t appear to know why her book is being viewed so differently than what she’d intended. Perhaps I can “help” in that regard.

Marketing mis-step #1:

OMG. There are no words.

 

 

 

 

OMG number 2

 

 

 

Look! A real live black person! I mean a COAL. And she’s being “USEFUL”

 

 

 

So who didn’t realize the make-up job on these promos were so bad that they bordered on this:

Protest against stereotyping African Americans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see the marketing ploy The Help used to sell kitchen ware and outfits from the film (but not maid outfits, thankfully) see this post

 

 

There are a number of excellent articles on where Foyt went wrong. I plan on linking and citing a number of them. And also showing how an offensive pattern continues in publishing and literature, which needs to be addressed. And yes, I plan on another indepth post on the book itself. That’s coming up shortly. In the meantime, here are a few links and excerpts that make valid points on why this book is so . . . messed up.

 

 

 

 

Racist Issues in Victoria Foyt’s Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden

” . . . I know the counter argument from Foyt has been because the Midnight Luster in the book is used to disguise and appease and is not used as a joke as in old time minstrel shows that it’s still okay to use.

I disagree.

Seeing a blue-eyed, blonde, Caucasian actress in blackface is just disrespectful. It brings up hurtful memories and stereotypes and shouldn’t have been used. I am actually stunned she kept the videos up even after the similar (and equally upsetting) Popchips ad with actor Ashton Kutcher in brownface pretending to be Indian.

I am saddened that in 2012, we have to explain why this type of racial mockery in blackface and brownface is inappropriate, hurtful, and should never be commercially exploited. Still, this Midnight Luster issue is just the beginning of the books’ problems. . .”

Link:

http://legendarywomen.org/content/racist-issues-victoria-foyts-save-pearls-revealing-eden

 

The problem with Awarding Victoria Foyt’s Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden

by Clutch Magazine
” . . . It is highly problematic that the term “pearl” is considered a slur for whites, “coal’ for blacks, and “amber” for those of Asian descent.  A slur is used by a dominant group not only to denote difference, but to strip the targeted group of humanity while affirming power. Giving every racial group a slur tells me Foyt has no idea exactly how slurs work.  If blacks were truly in a position of power, no slur would exist. It is further worth noting that a pearl is a gemstone, which is actually valued; whereas, coal is dirty and black. Of the two, which group is actually being marked with a slur?”

Link:

http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/07/the-problem-with-awarding-victoria-foyts-save-the-pearls/

 

 

Indigenous peoples in Victoria Foyt’s REVEALING EDEN

by Debbie Reese

“The Huaorani take Bramford, Eden, and her father to a village where (p. 54):

Native women and children in tattered rags stood by, staring blankly at the arrivals. They looked ill with patchy hair, and red, scaly rashes on their brown skin. Their stomachs were swollen, their eyes lifeless. Two drunken men sprawled in a heap of garbage. One of them raised his head, eyed the commotion, then spit and turned over.

Blank stares and lifeless eyes? This portrayal of the Huaorani isn’t consistent across the novel. Here, it sounds like she’s looking at a ‘save the children’ commercial. And drunken men?! Why is THAT there?”

Link: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2012/08/indigenous-peoples-in-victoria-foyts_5.html

 

 

 

 

 

NEXT UP in this post: Leave black men alone! Examining the fear and loathing The Help and Saving the Pearls have for the black male characters on their pages:

photo of Chris Crocker, from “Leave Britney Alone!” YouTube fame.

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