A Maid Makes Her Case . . . Stockett’s lawsuit and her statement – Updated

Posted on February 18, 2011


According to USAToday, this is Kathryn Stockett’s statement:

“The character ‘Aibileen Clark’ in The Help is a fictional character and is not intended to depict Mrs. Cooper. I’ve met Mrs. Cooper only briefly. I used the name ‘Aibileen’ because it resonated with ‘Constantine,’ the beloved woman who took care of the book’s main character in her youth.

As readers of The Help know, my Aibileen is a true heroine: she is intelligent, an author, a devoted servant of the Lord and a good mother.”

Link: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/entertainment/post/2011/02/help-author-kathryn-stockett-fights-lawsuit/1

She met her “only briefly?” I don’t know of anyone I’d “only met briefly” that I’d let watch my child. Excuse me while I scoff at the whole “Aibileen resonated with Constantine”.  It’s hardly a common name, though her explanation may have held more weight if she hadn’t included a description that’s much too close to the plaintiff, Ablene Cooper. Because unless Demetrie had a gold tooth and a deceased son, Stockett needs to be more forthright. Aibileen is also called “Aibee” in the novel, something that Ablene Cooper states Robert Stockett’s children called her though it’s spelled “Abie”.

Here’s the excerpt from the novel:

I say, “Aibileen.”

She say, “Aib-ee.” (Pg 5,  Aibileen speaks first, then two year old Mae Mobley)

Also, the author has already admitted Demetrie never had children. So just what was the inspiration or that creative spark that took hold of Stockett in creating and naming the character?


Just found this info from the Atlanta Journal Constitution which casts more doubt on Stockett’s official statement (items in bold are my doing):

 “In past interviews with the AJC, Stockett has said she wrote “The Help” as part of a writing club. She used names of people she knew simply because they were handy, she said.

“When I was writing this book, I never thought anyone else would read it, so I didn’t get real creative with the names,” Stockett told us in 2009. “I just used people I knew. Some of them aren’t talking to me right now, but I feel like they’ll come around.”

She has repeatedly called the book, which has been adapted into a film, a work of fiction.

“I wrote it purely for me and finally had the guts to show it to my mother and my writing group, ” Stockett told us in the 2009 interview. “I was terrified when I realized it was going to be published.”

Link: http://blogs.ajc.com/the-buzz/2011/02/18/kathryn-stockett-author-of-the-help-sued/


Stockett’s admission in June 2o1o to a UK site about criticism coming her way makes more sense now. Also in another interview the author talked about if she’d known her book would be so wildly disseminated, she wouldn’t have written it in the type of language that she did.

Her quote about “I feel like they’ll come around” is pretty sad. This is looking more like an author writing a non-fiction book and trying to pass it off as fiction. In other words, this is messed up. It also answers the question regarding why Stockett created black characters that were caricatures. Because she had to. The ability to craft a fully fleshed out minority character just wasn’t in her when she wrote the novel. It may have come at some point in her writing career, but it now appears she did grab hold of the docile maid stereotype and the sassy maid caricature. That’s also the reason the children, especially the black children of Minny’s are stereotypical also. Kindra is the caricature of the “sassy” unruly black kid. So is Sugar. Something tells me this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I suspect many more people knew about all this, but I doubt if it will matter right now. I’ve stated before, it’ll take time before it finally sinks in how offensive some of Stockett’s depictions and scenes with her bogus black characters are. I feel for Stockett. In trying to grab the brass ring, the rush to get this book out shows just how much people working with her were willing to ignore, like her lack of research (the glaring error on Pg 277, where Skeeter says Medgar Evers was bludgeoned, as in blugeoned to death, and Stockett repeats it in two audio interviews. More information here) 

What I truly find incredulous is how she can claim that Aibileen is “A true heroine,  intelligent,  an author, a devoted servant of the lord.”

Later on in this post I’ll address the ammunition Stockett actually puts in her own novel that shows this isn’t the case.

And that’s a big part of what’s wrong with The Help. It purported to be one thing and turned out to be another.

Info on the lawsuit from abcnews.com:

“There is an old saying, ‘You can joke about your own crowd, but not about someone else’s.’ Whether you are writing for yourself or a poetic work of fiction, you take a risk; like if I tried to write a book with a Yiddish dialect, he said, noting that the book has generated mixed reaction.” quote by Syndicated columnist Clarence Page 

Also per abcnews.com:

“The lawsuit said the author’s conduct  ‘is not a mere insult, indignity, annoyance or trivial matter to Ablene. Kathryn Stockett’s conduct has made Ablene feel violated, outraged and revulsed,’ according to the Jackson Clarion Ledger.

Despite the fact that Kathryn Stockett had actual knowledge that using the name and likeness of Ablene in ‘The Help’ would be emotionally upsetting and highly offensive to Ablene, Kathryn Stockett negligently and-or intentionally and in reckless disregard for the rights and dignity of Ablene proceeded with her plans,’  it says.

Kathryn Stockett’s appropriation of Ablene’s name and likeness was done for Kathryn Stockett’s commercial advantage, namely to sell more copies of ‘The Help. . .

The author’s father, Robert Stockett Jr. of Jackson Miss., told ABCNews.com that he is “neutral” in the division between his son and daughter, but agreed that plenty of people are profiting, especially filmmakers who plan to release a movie version of the book this year.

The abc site also reported Stockett as saying: ” ‘Sure, I liked the book. It’s fiction. They didn’t give me the critics’ copy until it was too late,’ he said. “I would have got some factual things changed. But I’m low down the totem pole . . .”

The entire article can be viewed here

***Unfortunately with this new information, the case is appearing more like an internal  family issue as opposed to the true issue of whether Stockett mis-appropriated Ablene Cooper’s name and likeness. ***

Many thanks to a poster on another site who left this link about the lawsuit against Kathryn Stockett:

Here’s an excerpt from the early info on the case, which appeared on 2/17:

 “Jackson native Kathryn Stockett – author of The Help – is being sued by her family’s former babysitter, saying the author “hijacked” her name and likeness without permission.

 The babysitter’s name and plaintiff is Ablene Cooper. The character’s name in the book is Aibileen Clark. 

 According to the lawsuit, both names are pronounced: ABE-uh-lean. 

 The lawsuit filed in Hinds County Circuit Court – which seeks $75,000 in damages and no attorney fees – points out other similarities. In the book, Ablene is a middle-aged black woman with a gold tooth, whose son is deceased. She works for a white family in Jackson, and the children nickname her “Aibee.” 

 That also describes Cooper, who baby-sat Stockett’s daughter, according to the lawsuit, which represents one side of a legal argument. 

 Publisher Amy Einhorn responded Wednesday, ‘ This a beautifully written work of fiction, and we don’t think there is any basis to the legal claims. We cannot comment further regarding ongoing litigation.’ ”

Article by renowned journalist Jerry Mitchell

You can read the entire article and readers comments here:

Scene from the movie The Help, featuring Emma Stone as Skeeter and Viola Davis as Aibileen

The New York Times has more info on the suit here:
“Ablene Cooper, a 60-year-old woman who has long worked as a maid, has filed a lawsuit against Kathryn Stockett, the author of the best-selling novel, “The Help,” about black maids working for white families in Jackson in the 1960s.

In the complaint, Ms. Cooper argues that one of the book’s principal characters, Aibileen Clark, is an unauthorized appropriation of her name and image, which she finds emotionally distressing.

It is more complicated than that. For the past dozen years, Ms. Cooper has worked – and still works – for Ms. Stockett’s brother and sister-in-law.

“Ain’t too many Ablenes,” Ms. Cooper said at a law office after a day’s work at the Stocketts, for whom she has helped raise two children. Ms. Cooper also said she has her employers’ support in her legal quest.

“What she did, they said it was wrong,” Ms. Cooper said of the Stocketts, members of a prominent Jackson family. “They came to me and said, ‘Ms Abie, we love you, we support you,’ and they told me to do what I got to do.”




LATEST UPDATE, as of April 28th can be found here: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/aibileen-clark-posts-and-lawsuit-update/



This has the potential to get really ugly. 
Before too many people start jumping on the plaintiff, it’s important to take a look at the merits of the case. No, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t claim to be one.

It’s possible both Demetrie, the maid Stockett references in many of her  interviews AND Ablene Cooper were used to craft the character of Aibileen. Unfortunately, Demetrie passed away in the mid 80s, although her family could have given Stockett permission to publicly use her likeness.

I wonder after having read the novel if they’re having second thoughts.

If the suit does go to trial, it’ll be interesting to find out how Stockett will handle the whole question of “research”. Especially considering this quote from the author:

Interview with Jane Kleine of the Post and Courier


“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.”


Which could also mean I just used real life people who were around in a domestic capacity to craft many of my black characters. And the author has already admitted she used the real life maid Demetrie, in addition to actress Octavia Spencer when crafting the blindly loyal Aibileen and grumpy loud mouth Minny. So the suit may have some merit, especially since the description of Aibileen in the book sounds close to the woman who used to babysit Stockett’s daughter. 

Interview by the Publisher – Penguin Group


Minny was the easiest to write because she’s based on my friend Octavia. I didn’t know Octavia very well at the time I was writing, but I’d watched her mannerisms and listened to her stories at parties. She’s an actress in Los Angeles, and you can just imagine the look on her face when some skinny white girl came up and said to her, “I’ve written a book and you’re one of the main characters.” She kind of chuckled and said, “Well, good for you.” 


Viola Davis as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny in the film The Help

Octavia Spencer ended up getting the part of Minny in the movie. While Spencer is a talented actress, Stockett mentions how she “begged” the producers to give the actress the role in another interview.

“Octavia is feisty,” Stockett says of her friend. “I begged them to give that role to Octavia and … it’s amazing.”


And here’s an excerpt from Barnes and Noble, where Stockett was answering reader questions and admitted the whole “cat-bite” scene really happened to her grandfather. So there’s no telling what else in the novel comes from someone else’s real life tale.

I’ve also included the greeting Stockett gave on the B&N site, saying how she’s always thinking about what others are saying:

“. . . I usually have my mind on a story– either mine or someone else’s– where the tomatoes are riper, the itches are itchier, the sun burns hotter than in regular life. ”    

Link: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/New-Reads/HELLO-FROM-KATHRYN-STOCKETT-AUTHOR-OF-THE-HELP/td-p/335699

“Grandaddy told me the story of Cat-bite, who is in the book.  He was driving along and saw a young black girl being attacked by a cat- just a regular old house feline- that had rabies and wouldn’t turn this poor little girl loose.  Grandaddy saved her and took her to the hospital for the rabies shots- in the stomach, for 21 days.  It was many years later that she tracked Grandaddy down and thanked him again, for what he’d done.

Grandaddy also gave me a great sense of what people felt and thought during the early 1960’s.  There was a feeling that Mississippi was the world.  You were more interested in the local farm report than what the President was doing in Washington.  The most important events to you were happening right there in your neighborhood.  I like that idea and tried to employ that state of mind in The Help.”

After I read Stockett saying her grandfather told her the story of the cat bite, I’m sure he’s the inspiration for Carlton Phelan Sr, and that her grandmother is Hilly Holbrook. Here’s another very early interview the author did, after being asked how readers in the black community felt about her novel. I put in bold what she stated about getting in trouble for some of her comments because it was an odd thing to state:

 “. . .Has it been well received by the black community?  I can’t say for sure.  But I’ve gotten emails from all over the world, from Southern African Americans to white South Africans, telling me they connect with the book and relate to the message– we are all just people, not that much separates us.  

Of course, there have been some naysayers, black and white, but in most cases, they refuse to read it.  I don’t mind the critics– there are plenty of books out there I didn’t care for.  But if they don’t read it, I don’t know how to respond to them yet.  If you won’t eat my cooking, how can you say it tastes bad?

I bet I’m going to get in trouble for some of this, so I’ll stop now.”


While I couldn’t post the whole article on the lawsuit, what’s curious is how the suit mentions the plantiff stated she didn’t want her name or likeness used in the novel. So I wonder if the woman or her family were approached after the fact, when word came out that many in the African American community were not pleased with the depiction of the black characters. If the book still went to print even though the plantiff had expressed her wish not to be included in the novel in any shape or form, then there just might be something to the lawsuit.
 Personally, I hope they don’t settle out of court. I hope it goes to trial, where the “beauty” of the novel can be explored fully. Like why the character of Aibileen could ever be considered positive, when intra-racism is at work.
Stockett has Aibileen fawning over her white charges while making offensive observations about her own community and even her own skin color (her “Don’t drink coffee or you’ll turn colored” line isn’t funny. It’s offensive and Stockett should have known better). There’s an uncomfortable “Uncle Tom” quality about the character in many scenes. Despite Aibileen’s piousness reasoning  to abstain from seeking companionship after many years alone,  she doesn’t correct Minny, someone seventeen years younger who laughs about Aibileen’s supposed ability to call down a venereal disease on  a lesser character. This is a scene on page 23 (Cocoa is the woman who ran off with Aibileen’s husband Clyde). An interesting side note is “Clyde” is also the name of the real life maid Demetrie’s husband.
 Stockett even has Aibileen making this fairly stupid and offensive statement to Minny while they converse about Cocoa’s affliction (remember now, they’re walking to church when the statement is made):
“You saying people think I got the black magic?” (Pg 24)
If the whole “spoilt cootchie” conversation wasn’t offensive enough, Stockett adds in the stereotype of blacks still believing in “black magic” though they profess to be Christians. Why the statement was left in the book is something to ask Ms. Einhorn, since she’s not only the publisher but also one of the editors.
Posts that explore the character of Aibileen in depth:
But wait, there’s more. Stockett adds a number of conflicting twists concerning many characters. The white males who practice segregation aren’t really bigots, they just have to appear that way to appease their friends. The black characters aren’t really being oppressed, they just appear that way when Hilly, the main and apparently only villain in Jackson is in a scene.

What Stockett omitted is just as important as the information she ultimately used for the novel . . .

Take a look at the scan below from a 1963 article in the Clarion-Ledger. While the paper has made great strides in recent years, back during segregation it was a sounding board for misinformation and bigoted ideology on African Americans and the fight for civil rights, especially regarding school integration and equality.

Women of Mississippi spread demeaning myths, scan from Clarion-Ledger 1963

The Clarion-Ledger is the same paper Stockett used for her research. But in most of the papers I read, there’s no “affection” for African Americans. And the Citizen’s Council of Jackson (formerly the White Citizen’s Council) plays a big part in guiding many of the white residents of the city.

The Citizens Council and the Sovereinty Commission

So while Stockett masks the truth regarding how some in power around Jackson society operated, she none-the-less is being accused of using a real life individual to craft the character of Aibileen, which the plaintiff in the case doesn’t believe is a positive portrayal.
Stockett has a section where Skeeter leaves out her mother’s part in Constantine’s dismissal because the scenario wasn’t flattering.  Oddly enough, it’s the character of Aibileen who consols Skeeter and tells her she wouldn’t have thought highly of her had she included the Charlotte/Constantine/Lulabelle drama in their novel.
 I’ll have to research a bit more, but I recall a woman winning a similar lawsuit against a former friend/co-worker? Who used her likeness in a novel, and the woman recognized the author was referring to her.

Stockett on CBS. Picture of the real life maid Demetrie is in the background


Stockett reveals much in her early interviews. I’ve stated on this blog that Demetrie’s husband Clyde/Plunk must have been the real life inspiration for a few of the black males in the book, especially the “no-account” club which includes Clyde, Leroy, Connor and Minny’s father.  And I’ve listed a link to a book reading where the author uses the name “Plunk” when she’s reading about Aibileen’s estranged husband Clyde.
Interview Excerpt:

“Demetrie was stout and dark skinned and, by then, married to a mean, abusive drinker named Plunk.  She wouldn’t answer me when I asked questions about him.  But besides the subject of Plunk, she’d talk to us all day.”


 In the back of the novel and in one other interview I noted that Plunk is called Clyde.
More info can be found in this post:
And in this interview, Stockett expresses her shock at how some  African Americans portray grief:

“. . . 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.’ “

Read the entire interview here:


 Stockett’s novel  re-cycles old myths about African Americans under the guise of the depictions being a “homage” of sorts. But a closer look at the book and its double meanings reveals quite the opposite of the “beauty” the publisher claims. The publisher is also the individual Stockett makes mention of in thanks, because of  tirelessly editing her pages.

Stockett's black characters are like the caricatures and unflattering cartoons of African Americans from years ago

This lawsuit is certainly sad. The case may test an author’s free speech rights, versus an individual’s right not to have their likeness or a depiction used without their permission.
 In addition, Stockett’s black characters are caricatures from another era, the idealized versions of how blacks were supposed to behave, because above all else, we were to provide humor.
A movie version of Stockett’s novel cannot save the flawed book. But the words “Based on the novel” will surely be shown at the beginning of the film, because by now Dreamworks and Disney have to know about the problems and distortions in The Help. It too often seems that when movie producers tag a film with “Based on” it’s supposed to cover any discrepancies the original source material may have had.
While they’re free to pick and choose the things they want to show the audience, as opposed to what was really in the novel,  African Americans are stuck with characters who mangle words and fall under the large, stout domestic from the segregated past.
I don’t expect to see Aibileen comparing her skin color to a roach in the movie, as offensive a line I’ve ever read in any novel (“He black. Blacker than me” is Aibileen’s quote from the book).
But there’s the very real problem of having these characters almost ignorant about the turmoil in Jackson during the 1960s. I’m currently researching the same newspaper Stockett states she used in her own “research” on the time period, and I can’t understand how she’d leave out the Citizen’s Council or portray the city as being as quaint as Mayberry. Not with letters to the editor like these:

Tasteless joke printed by the Clarion Ledger, 1963


Bad Joke number 2 in the Clarion Ledger, June 1963

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