I had to re-title this post, based upon the blunders those behind The Help movie are making. See item 12’s *update*
1. Denigration of several African American male characters
2. Indefensible dialogue and scenes (naked pervert, Aibileen and the roach scene, etc.)
3. Error in the death of Medgar Evers by a primary character (Skeeter, Pg 277)
4. Elevation of the white males who practiced segregation while downgrading black males.
5. Aibileen’s indifference to Minny and her children’s abuse while worrying over Mae Mobley’s abuse
6. The bossy maid stereotype overshadowing a character who is a victim of domestic violence (Minny).
7. Stereotypical characters, both black and white.
8. Depiction of Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 as ruled by women, specifically a twenty-four year old socialite named Hilly
9. Over the top descriptions of black characters from their dark skin tones to their physical attributes.
10. Black characters and white characters differenced by their supposed southern “dialect”.
11. A difference is made in the portrayal of the littlest characters in the novel, that being Mae Mobley and Kindra.
12. The marketing mis-steps over promoting the movie. Insensitive statements, questionable tie-ins, to WTF? interview quotes.
Based on these, as well as other problems in the novel, blog posts on this site explore what went wrong. In addition, I need to add something else. It’s one thing when an author creates a bigoted character, and has that character act out in prejudice. It’s quite another when the author’s own bias, either based upon what they’d been taught or wrongly assumed about another culture seeps into their book.
The problem with The Help is that imo, both of these issues occurred. Stockett plays omnipresent narrator several times to either inform the reader about who’s good, or who’s not. And segregationist ideology on African Americans comes out of the mouths and inner thoughts of the black characters as amusing anecdotes.
Had an editor caught this, I wouldn’t have needed to start this blog. An editor SHOULD have caught this, and more.
Denigration of the African American male:
Black female domestics are almost idealized in The Help, while the African American male is far too often called “no-account”. The mates of the primary maids (Aibileen, Minny and Constantine) are portrayed as absentee fathers (Aibileen and Constantine’s estranged partners Clyde and Connor respectively) while Minny’s husband Leroy is a wife beater and abuser of his children and also a drunk. Minny also describes her father as “no-account” and a drunk. There is a brief mention of civil rights activist Medgar Evers murder, and lesser characters such as Treelore, Aibileen’s son, Robert, the maid Louvenia’s grandson who is brutally beaten, and Reverend Johnson.
Posts which go further into the portrayal of black males in the novel are:
Updated posts on where Stockett failed in her insulting depiction of black males:
Kathryn Stockett, “writing while black” has Minny state this:
“Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got kids to think about – Minny Jackson (Pg 311)
What “plenty of black men” in 1962 Mississippi were doing was trying not to get killed just because of the color of their skin.
“Plenty of black men” left the south for the north, in order to find employment, a more hospitable place for their families to stay and because the north was thought to have opportunities that weren’t available in the south.
“Plenty of black men” were being called “Uncle” and “Boy” yet they fought for the right to become soldiers and die for a country that didn’t see them as equals or even human.
Famous Quote by Medgar Evers:
“We fought during the war for America, Mississippi included. Now, after the Germans and Japanese hadn’t killed us, it looked as though the white Mississippians would.”
“Plenty of black men” were husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers working for little pay with no benefits and pensions. And “plenty of black men” went missing during segregation, not because they abandoned their families, but because they are presumed dead at the hands of those who followed segregation to the letter. Many cold cases are still unsolved. There’s an organization headed by famed journalist Jerry Mitchell (http://coldcases.org/) that’s dedicated to seeing many of their disappearances solved.
From the website:
“Today in the American South, scores of civil rights murders remain unsolved, uninvestigated, unprosecuted, and untold. Those two legacies of violence and silence still haunt the region and continue to damage race relations in the United States.”
Indefensible dialogue and scenes (naked pervert, Aibileen and the roach scene, etc.)
Aibileen comparing her skin color to a roach.
That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me. Aibileen’s battle of wills with a cockroach (Pg 189)
There was no excuse for Stockett even creating this scene in reference to Aibileen’s skin color or the editors leaving it in. Unfortunately, the novel has many such scenes and dialogue. I’m not sure if the author thought she was being funny and others agreed, but when these scenes are brought up as issues within the novel, even those who love the book are hard pressed to offer a convincing rationale. Quite simply, there’s nothing that can be offered in defense.
Indeed, Stockett inserts several references to how the white characters (and black) view African American skin color.
Stockett even has her main heroine, Skeeter making this insensitive observation:
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.” (Pg 62) – Skeeter
But Skeeter has quite a few other observations on how she views not only skin color (Skeeter seems to only see one shade when viewing African Americans) but when giving physical descriptions, especially of those who carry weight.
Here are a few more of Skeeter’s observations:
Hilly’s smile is a fat child’s at the Seale-Lily Ice Cream window. The button on her red coat bulges. (Pg 175)
Half her blouse is untucked, her fat stretching the buttons, and I can see (Hilly) has gained more weight. (Pg 420)
The book sends the message that thin is in, while any excess weight is unwelcome (save for the “friendly softness” Aibileen carries in the mid-section, whatever the term “friendly softness” means).
More examples of Skeeter’s overshare on skin color and additional truly bad dialogue can be found here:
Another indefensible scene is the “spoilt cootchie” scenario, where Minny and Aibileen talk about Aibileen’s power of prayer to cause the woman that Clyde (Aibileen’s husband) has run off with, well the woman comes down with a venereal disease. Aibileen and Minny cackle about it, with Aibileen wondering if other parishioners believe she has “the black magic.”
How oh how did an editor not catch this and it’s various stereotypical and highly offensive connotations?
This is yet another scene in the book where Hilly’s “predictions” about African Americans are fulfilled by the author.
Stockett has Hilly trying to push her sanitation initiative all over Jackson, with Hilly’s rationale being that blacks have different diseases than whites so separate toilets are needed. No where in the novel, not even with the naked pervert is a venereal disease broached with the white characters. Yet Stockett has Clyde, Aibileen’s estranged husband running off with a woman who apparently has one, and doesn’t get treated for at least three months according to the book (Pg 23-24).
Stockett names one character Yule Mae Crookle, and has the maid end up in jail after stealing a worthless ring from of all people, her employer Hilly. Yes its that Hilly, the very same woman who’s been running all over town gossiping about blacks having diseases, only this time she’s accusing black maids of stealing. And Stockett again creates a character who fulfills Hilly’s slander.
It appears that Stockett keeps the white characters chaste (please oh pul-leese note Stockett keeping Skeeter as pure as snow, a virgin who’s never had a boyfriend or a date at twenty-three. While the virginal part is plausible given the times, the no boyfriend or even a boy that’s a “friend” is stretching it, considering her family’s acres of cotton. Which would be bling $ to any man back then. Stockett even has Skeeter mention her trust fund in a section of the novel). Yet the author tries to live vicariously through the black characters. Yes, Stockett falls into the stereotypes must have some truth to them when writing about minorities. That somehow our lives are so erotic and exotic that subjects which cannot (or will not) be explored with white characters must certainly be applied to minorities.
Only the white trash Celia (possibly because she’s white trash) sleeps before marriage with Johnny Foote. Yet the main black characters of The Help pick males who either abandon them after a child is born (Connor leaves Constantine, Clyde leaves Aibileen) or is a babymaker and abuser (Leroy’s abuse of Minny, who’s carrying her sixth child as the novel ends)
Stockett makes reference to Aibileen’s two sisters who have eighteen children between the two of them. No where in the novel is there a white counterpart with a comparable brood.
Aibileen can admonish one of her now grown white charges not to drink coffee or he’ll turn out colored. Minny can make a far reaching assessment about many black males abandoning their children. Aibileen can make cavalier assessments on her best friend’s bruises and how unorganized Minny’s home appears.
Minny, an abused wife can pick up a knife (yes, a KNIFE. An instrument during segregation that continued to be linked with African Americans, as in our propensity towards violence using it as a weapon) to defend her employer against the naked pervert outside of Celia’s home. Yet Stockett writes the scene as part slapstick and partly in unveiled mock of Minny’s size, having the maid run out of breath because she’s apparently too large to pursue the man.
More info on the naked pervert scene can be found here:
In my opinion this novel isn’t a book that includes the beauty of both the white and black cultures while weaving in the flaws and traumatic historical time period. It’s a novel that reinforces the stereotypes of both cultures.
Error in the death of Medgar Evers
Unfortunately, it’s not just in the book were the error occurs:
They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. (Pg 277) – Skeeter
Even Kathryn Stockett repeats and embellishes that somehow, Medgar Evers was bludgeoned instead of shot. Stockett repeats the error in
two three audio interviews (and there may even be more out there):
“…that summer Medgar Evers, who was the field secretary for the NAACP was bludgeoned to death on his front steps. His children actually came outside and were covered in blood and he died in the hospital that night.” (5:51 minutes into the 29 minute interview)
“…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)
Yet another audio interview where Stockett again states Evers was “bludgeoned.” And no, these interviews weren’t done on the same day.
“. . .Shortly following Medgar Evers the field secretary for the NAACP was bludgeoned to death on his front steps,”
(4:21 minutes into a 18:31 interview)
I’m at a loss to explain how reviewers missed the Evers error in the novel. Or even, in their rush to jump on the “love” fest for the book, that they missed the audio interviews. There was no hard investigative research done to find the links. They could be googled (and still can be) at any time. They’re even available for download.
Elevation of the white males who practiced segregation while downgrading black males.
More info can be found in these posts:
Aibileen’s indifference to Minny and her children’s abuse while worrying over Mae Mobley’s abuse
The bossy maid stereotype overshadowing a character who is a victim of domestic violence (Minny)
Stereotypical characters, both black and white.
Depiction of Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 as ruled by women, specifically a twenty-four year old socialite named Hilly
Over the top, negative descriptions of black characters from their dark skin tones to their physical attributes.
I touched on this in Issue Two.
The women are tall, short, black like asphalt or caramel brown. If your skin is too white, I’m told, you’ll never get hired The blacker the better. – (Pg 257) Skeeter
More examples can be found here:
Black characters and white characters differenced by their supposed southern “dialect”
A difference is made in the portrayal of the littlest characters in the novel, that being Mae Mobley and Kindra.
Kindra, Minny’s youngest child is portrayed as the bratty, mouthy black kid with “attitude” though she’s only five when the novel begins. See how Stockett plays favorites here:
The marketing mis-steps over promoting the movie. Insensitive statements, questionable tie-ins, to WTF? interview quotes.
Kathryn Stockett reportedly used this quip “I just made this sh*t up!” at a recent event. Read the full story here
Screenwriter and Director Tate Taylor has been really putting his foot in his mouth. From requesting the menstrual cycles of his female stars so he could keep track of them (Ewww. Link to quote is here) to his “You’ll be craving fried chicken” statement about the film and now claiming that witnessing actress Viola Davis do a scene where she’s asked to hurry up in an outhouse is worse than seeing a lynching. Read all about it here
Another verbal gaffe is from Tate Taylor, where he states per a UK site:
“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.”
Read more about the quote here
**Updated** Here’s Tate Taylor’s latest foot in mouth quote. Dude is utterly, and totally out there. His disconnect isn’t funny. It’s truly sad:
Taylor: What I really, really loved about the Medgar Evers storyline and backdrop was that he was in their neighborhood. While they were doing this clandestine project, this Civil Rights leader who’s their neighbor gets murdered, and their characters are wondering, “What’s going to happen to us?”
“The Medgar Evers storyline . . . he was in their neighborhood” was more than a “storyline”. Evers was a Civil Rights Icon, and a REAL person who was assassinated. Stockett’s characters are FICTIONAL. This is more than a director/screenwriter getting a hard on because pretend characters are inserted into a real, traumatic historical event. Somebody educate this guy. PLEASSSEEEE
There’s also recent interviews where both Stockett and Tate Taylor appear to contradict how The Help came to be. If you click the link to the post below, I’ve compiled past and present interviews which call into question just when Taylor acquired the screen rights, and how much influence he may have had during Stockett’s crafting of the book:
Here’s a mis-step by one of the executive producers on Twitter:
Really? Well, we’ll see if that “joke” comes true. The blunders are adding up with this film.
**Update** mbarnathan deleted the tweet and issued an apology a day later**
From HSN selling items “inspired” by the movie
the spirit of “The Help,” the must-see new movie from
DreamWorks Pictures. Experience beauty, home decor,
designer fashions and more from top brands such as
Carol’s Daughter, Emeril and Lela Rose for HSN —
all in the essence of this inspiring story.
online August 1 | on air August 5-6
Umm-mmm. Nothing says lovin’ like a dish from the oven “inspired” by a book on black maids following the white savior trope.
Perhaps a roach broach? A replica of the one Aibileen waited on for company and noticed “He black. Blacker than me.” (Pg 189)
More posts on how those behind the book are f ‘ing up can be found here:
To be continued. . .