It’s sort of like watching a car accident happen. You don’t want to look, but you find yourself drawn to it. I’m talking about Kathryn Stockett reading the part of Minny in a pseudo “black” voice while on a book tour.
For your enjoyment or revulsion, depending which side of the fence you’re on with this novel, I have the link to a video of Stockett’s book reading with Octavia Spencer.
Stockett begins reading as Minny at about 7:51 minutes into the program. As she reads the “prayer/spoilt cootchie” scene, Clyde, Aibileen’s husband is re-named “Plunk”.
In an earlier interview, Stockett referred to Demetrie’s abusive husband Clyde by the nickname of Plunk. So one man seems to have influenced how Stockett crafted the behavior of some African American males in the book. Leroy, Minny’s husband is abusive. Clyde, Aibileen’s husband is the greasy “no account”.
And speaking of Spencer, I have to believe that at some point during all this she was asking herself what the hell was I thinking?
Or maybe not.
Much like Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers and Stepin Fetchit, Spencer morphs into the caricature Stockett created on paper.
To see how much Spencer alters her speech to become the southern domestic of Stockett’s wildest dreams, here are a few You Tube videos with Spencer being interviewed. You be the judge:
Another video showing Spencer’s real speaking voice:
There are some who’ll claim Spencer was just acting.
And yes, that’s certainly true.
But watching this reading (and the others) made me feel as though I’d clicked the remote and found a 2010 version of a female Amos and Andy, with Stockett’s bad dialogue sounding even more stereotypical.
I can’t hate on Spencer though. Because while I probably would have told Stockett where she could stick her book in no uncertain terms, Spencer has been championing the novel for over two years, so I presume she knows exactly what she’s doing (and that these videos may now live on in infamy).
It may be of some comfort to her, that by being loyal to the author Spencer gets the brass ring, as Stockett gushes about having “begged them to give Octavia that role (of Minny Jackson in the movie).”
It is what it is.
Stockett needed someone African American to help promote the novel, and Spencer at least got something out of it for her efforts.
I just threw up a little bit in my mouth after writing that.
I do wish there was video of the audience reactions while scenes were being read.
There was a bit of editing done. For instance, Spencer as Minny, while ranting about Shirley Boon doesn’t say:
“She reminds me of a big, WHITE ugly school teacher.” (Pg 216)
She says “Big, ugly school teacher.”
I can only imagine why.
If I had to guess, I’d say the venue probably called for a quick edit job.
And it’s downright scary how Stockett is sticking to the script of the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) Here’s the link to that post:
“. . .the Daughters claimed that their “memories” of faithful slaves, especially mammies, gave them “specialized racial knowledge” (64).
The Daughters constructed memories of benign servitude through dialect performances, “epistolary blackface” (59) in which white women wrote in the voices of mammies, and, in a most spectacular effort, a nearly successful push to establish a national monument to the mammy to stand “in the shadow of Lincoln’s memorial” in Washington, DC.”
– review of Micki McElya’s book Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America by Robin Bernstein of Harvard University
Recall that Stockett told anyone who’d listen how she wrote the book due to her “memories” of Demetrie, her grandparents maid.
And when asked how she researched in order to write Aibileen and Minny, she stated:
“The voices of Aibileen and Minny came to me fairly easily once I got going,” she says. “I’d listened to the cadences and dialect of black Southerners most of my life, and I just played them back in my head.”
And now she’s doing her own “dialect” performances, just like the UDC.
Only. . .
In another earlier interview Stockett makes this admission:
“The Stockett family went to Demetrie’s funeral, it was the first time Stockett had been to a black church. ‘I’d never had any interaction with black people except those who worked for our family. And I couldn’t believe how overt their emotions were. There were people speaking out during the sermon, joining in, agreeing with the eulogy, singing loud solos impromptu… but what really struck me as heartbreaking was how Demetrie’s husband was carrying on.’
Demetrie’s husband was called Plunk, and he was drunk and abusive, so much so that she slept with a pistol underneath her pillow. ‘As I understand it he beat the crap out of her, but at the funeral this man was wandering the aisles, screaming, fainting from heartbreak that Demetrie was dead, calling out her name and throwing himself at the coffin – people were dragging him away, soothing him. It horrified our family. I was 16. I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut.’
And also this in a more recent interview:
“I was taught that racial issues were considered tacky for a young lady to discuss,” she said. “I wasn’t even allowed to watch ‘The Jeffersons.’”
I really wish I was making this stuff up. Really.
To be continued. . .