Kathryn Stockett played the “Affection” Card

Posted on February 28, 2011

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“If the only thing good about us is how lovingly we treat white people and how loyal we are to them, then I don’t see that as a positive portrayal.”     

Nurturing Nanny

 Spot. On.

Again, I have to thank a poster from Amazon.com for another great comment. That’s exactly how I feel.

So excuse me if I don’t care to thank Kathryn Stockett.  Especially since the whole “Thank you Kathryn Stockett for writing this book because at least we’re talking about it” is condescending to say the least.  

Newsflash people. 

African Americans have been talking about it for years. Only some people didn’t want to listen. But we survived, even though many suffered being raped, assaulted, mocked, imitated, negatively portrayed in the media, studies that deemed us as inferior to whites, we survived cringing in school while teachers read “classic” novels with the word “nigger” featured prominently, animated classics (Like from Disney, the company distributing the film version of The Help) that had offensive cartoon portrayals and song lyrics to boot, lynchings, murders, cold cases still unsolved, denial of medical services because of our skin color, long  working hours, poor pay, the list goes on. . .

My family and their time of living under segregation didn’t need validation. And Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help sure as hell is no “homage” to black domestics. It’s simply how her family viewed them. And apparently didn’t pay them well. For as Stockett is quoted as saying “. . . Demetrie lived in a shack.”

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/12/AR2010081206721_2.html?sid=ST2010081302928

Bet Stockett feels like she’s trapped between a rock and a hard place right about now. The rock is the anger, the “throw this piece of crap book across the room in frustration” of readers like myself.

The hard place is all the readers Stockett appeased by creating a nostaglia for all things Southern, even the days when blacks knew their place.

Stockett clearly didn’t want to hurt the feelings of those still around who practiced segregation. And she didn’t want to alienate potential book buyers who grew up with “maids” while never knowing the oppressive weight of Jim Crow laws carried upon their shoulders. Add to that hard place Stockett’s friends and relatives who don’t think she should have told the story. And a new generation of readers who just can’t fathom Americans could treat other Americans with such hostility and prejudice. Believe it.

Stockett bet the one thing she knew was a sure thing. The insidious “affection” card. An Antebellum skeleton that continues to rise from the dead. Yes, just like far too many people throw the cliche known as the “race” card out when conversation on black/white relations gets hot and heavy (some mistakenly believe this to be a trump card on all matters of racial injustice or as an effective means to silence debate).

African Americans now can counter with “Here it comes, the “affection card”.

The Affection Card

The “affection” card is played whenever someone wants to state that most blacks were quite happy and well treated under segregation. “Oh no, they weren’t mistreated by my family. See, we loved them just like they were part of the  family.      

 

The "Mammy" Affection Card. Image from http://www.ferris.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 And now it can be pulled out and thrown when readers of the novel want to stress how wonderful the book is, and how Stockett made Aibileen and Minny the heroines of the book. How delightful a pair these two made, How resilient and loving Aibileen was, how “wet yourself funny” Minny was, how much good sense Constantine made. They’re just the most entertaining characters in the book! Perhaps these lovable ladies can one day be immortalized. I wonder what marketing toys will come out as a result of the movie. Perhaps even a children’s book spinoff? Much like . . . 

Beloved Belindy image from the Ferris University Museum http://www.ferris.edu/

 http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/mammies/more/bbook.htm

 Beloved Belindy was the mammy of  Raggedy Ann and the Raggedy Andy
and of all the other dolls in the nursery. She was the nicest, fattest, soft rag doll
you would ever care to cuddle. And the smile painted on her broad face was as cheery as could be. One just has to be happy, when one wears a happy smile, or else the smile will soon go away. But when a smile is painted on, it is almost certain never come off.”

 

The best thing the movie producers did was hire Viola Davis. I’ve been a big fan of this actress. I just hate the fact that this may be the role that defines her. Because she deserves better. Octavia Spencer deserves better, and so does Cicely Tyson. They all do.

  
 
 
 

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

 

I’m not too fond of Stockett’s Scarlett O’Hara like “I can’t think about that now, I’ll think about it later” decision to strip the book of how tough it was to be black in Jackson, Mississippi. And this coming from a woman who graduated with a degree in English and Creative Writing.

I’m pretty sure Stockett realized that most of Mississippi acted as if segregation still existed even after Federal Law struck down “separate but equal.” Hell,  the author admits her own grandparents still practiced their own brand of racial divide by not allowing her or her siblings to sit at the same table with their maid Demetrie when the woman ate.

And I have a hard time believing Stockett didn’t know about the controversy William Styron went through over The Confessions of Nat Turner, or the debate Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life prompted, or even the protests Edna Ferber’s Showboat still triggers.

Especially not after watching Stockett in the “spoilt cootchie” video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnItIYbzlLA&feature=related

Stockett discusses Skeeter's "bravery" and voices Minny talking "spoilt cootchies"

 

At about 8:49 minutes in,  Stockett, reading as Minny is so giddy over her own offensive dialogue that she’s laughing when she’s saying this line. “Week after Plunk (Clyde in the book) left you I heard that Cocoa -Stockett laughs here, separating the name in two - “wake up to her cootchie spoiled like a rotten oyster.”  She stresses the word “rotten”. Then she goes on to explain:

“I really enjoyed writing about the friendship between Aibileen and Minny. It reminded me very much of some friendships that I have in my life.”

Really? Then why aren’t there any scenes of Skeeter and the gals discussing “cootchies spoilt like rotten oysters?”

Why doesn’t Skeeter compare her good friend Hilly’s face to a canine salivating over a plate of dog biscuits?

Why doesn’t the naked pervert have a clever name like Mr. Jack Off? Because if Yule May can earn a punch line of a last name like “Crookle” (since she steals and goes to prison in the novel) why wasn’t he given a name appropriate to his deed in the book?

And why doesn’t Skeeter see a termite or a worm and say “He white. White as me.”

More on Stockett voicing Minny can be found here: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/stockett-voices-minny/

Even now, the “affection’ card is being pulled out. Some internet posters are wondering where Ablene Cooper got the nerve to file a lawsuit. They’re saying  she should be glad Stockett brought the maids stories to a wider audience. That she’s being “ungrateful.” Responses like “my wife loved the book” or “my wife and I loved the book”, “You don’t understand how it was back then”, “I have a black friend and they said they loved the novel” yada yada yada . . .  but when the cringe worthy, highly offensive parts are brought up, people can’t readily explain what Stockett was aiming for. Guess the general idea of having blacks forced to do what they’re told is the most appealing thing about Stockett’s novel.

I almost gagged reading this stuff. Because it’s just a taste of how someone else’s opinion during segregation meant more than the actual people who experienced it. Some of the responses sound much too close to the pro-segregation letters in the archived, online versions of the Clarion-Ledger.

What some readers fail to understand (and even Stockett missed) is this, separate but equal didn’t just dissipate in 1964 after the Civil Rights Act was passed. IT STILL CONTINUED.

Only some people found ingenious ways to implement it.  

Stockett played fast and loose with the facts. And now that she’s being challenged, the plaintiff Ablene Cooper shouldn’t have to stand alone. I hope Cooper channels the strength and conviction of Fannie Lou Hamer to continue on with her lawsuit.

Fannie Lou Hamer. The woman President LBJ was so agitated by that he interrupted her speech during the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Her stirring words should have been broadcast to the nation, as some stations finally did hours later. Hamer was a lioness for Civil Rights and a daughter of Mississippi.

A lioness for Civil Rights, Fannie Lou Hamer

 

I hope Cooper recalls Civil Rights icon Medgar Evers, who deserved better than Stockett’s gaffe on Pg 277 of the novel that was somehow missed by the publisher, where Skeeter states Evers was “bludgeoned” and Stockett does two (known) audio interviews where she REPEATS that he was bludgeoned!

Evers was shot in the back, and Stockett makes mention of his shooting on Pages 193 and 194 in the novel.

“KKK shot him. Front a his house. A hour ago.” Minny speaking to Aibileen Page 194

Yet Stockett repeats  that Medgar Evers was bludgeoned in two audio interviews listed here and here  

 

Excerpt:

http://covertocover.podbean.com/2009/04/26/kathryn-stockett-the-help/

 “…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)

Excerpt:

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

“…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 no news agency picked it up, and no major reviewer even mentioned the error in the book. The publisher even kept quiet, but what’s worse is that neither reviewer talking to Stockett corrected her. Probably because they didn’t even realize her error.

I wonder how long before someone finally told her the mistake she’d made?

Funny how nobody’s calling Stockett out on it, or her publisher. Probably because too many were quick to proclaim the novel “pitch” perfect and just want all this to just go away.

Only because Ablene Cooper isn’t acting like the fictional Aibileen Clark of the novel. She’s not being docile or thanking “Missus Stockett” with enough “Yes ma’am’s” so she’s being blasted. Personally I don’t really care who’s behind the lawsuit. I’m just glad that Cooper was able to object to how her name and perhaps her likeness were used in Stockett’s novel. Now that’s progress.

Please continue with this lawsuit Ms. Cooper.

 There’s no way to sue the people who put on the Broadway play based on the  The Scottsboro Boys  trial simply as a misguided, rousing minstrel act.

The Scottsboro Boys Musical

 

The REAL Scottsboro Boys

 

As I write this, Stockett and co are probably trying to think up ways to prolong her time in the spotlight with Skeeter.

I’m pretty sure a broadway play is either in the works, or a stuffed “Mammy” doll with a computer chip of Minny exclaiming “I got me a knife!” when you squeeze its belly, or even Aibileen saying “Yes ma’am” no matter how many times its stepped on.

The ingrained mindset to see black women as steadfast ”mammies” or caretakers to Southern whites is one that was and is prevalent in fiction, to this very day. While being interviewed by Nate Berkus for Oprah Radio (August 10, 2009) and also on the Penguin publishing site taking questions about the novel, Kathryn Stockett recalled her time in New York with a group of co-workers who also once resided in the south. They discussed the things they had in common, like how much they missed the black women who were their help. It would be easy to dismiss their nostalgia as women bemoaning the fact that they no longer have a domestic to attend to their needs.

It’s actually more than that. It’s much like the chapters of the United Daughters of the Southern Confederacy, who truly believed their hearts were in the right place to seek contributions and work toward a nation monument for Mammies.

More on the 1923 effort to erect a National Mammy Monument in the nation’s capital can be found here:

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

Just like Stockett stripped away the southern accent of her white characters, and the near white black characters (Yule May Crookle, Lulabelle, and Gretchen) please show her words under “too little, too late” were empty. Ms. Cooper, let her see the drivel  she put on the pages of her novel is neither a “Homage” nor particularly “Beautifully” written.

Stay tuned.

To be continued . . .

 

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