Why THIS discussion on TWITTER, JULY 16TH? Why now?Because its the best way to initiate a discussion on the record.
Because major reviewers overlooked and in some cases blithely dismissed questions and criticism of the novel, in particular Kathryn Stockett’s “authentic” black characters, in order to celebrate the novel.
Because the spin on the movie is that it’s not the book. Yet it is BASED ON THE “SENSATIONAL” BEST SELLING NOVEL. And if the novel hadn’t been so popular, even with its skewed and at times offensive depiction of African Americans, there probably would be no movie.
Because the movie had to leave out dialogue and invent new scenes, contrary to the claim that Stockett had captured Aibileen and Minny in “pitch perfect” voices.
Because its important to understand what you’re laughing at in the book or on screen. Is it rooted in negative ideology about an oppressed culture, namely the black culture? If it is, then why are you laughing?
Because far too many book clubs responded to the novel by speaking about their black domestics and in many cases SPEAKING FOR THEM
Because whether you love or loathe the novel, let your voice be heard! Twitter, JULY 16th, #100voicesrespondtothehelp
It’s important to note that ignoring the criticism and concerns of African Americans is nothing new. Back in 2o1o I wrote a post that included information on Fannie Hurst’s popular 1933 novel on race called Imitation of Life:
Take a look at what some newspaper reviews said about the novel
“The black, bulging Delilah abounds in the warm vigor which is Fannie Hurst at her best. I can think of no character of (Hurst’s) since Lummox who is as actual a creation as the mammy whose face and skill were the foundation of Bea’s fortune. (NY Herald Tribune)
“One of the most magnificently drawn characters in all the great store of literature depicting Negro life.” (Cinncinnati Enquirer)
“Most of us have at some time known a servant who partook in some measure of the nature of Delilah.” (Christian Science Monitor)
In the novel Delilah is described as “the enormously buxom figure of a woman with a round black face that shone above anAlpsof bosom…the chocolate and cream effulgence that was Delilah. The heavy cheeks, shellacked eyes, bright, round and crammed with vitality, huge upholstery of lips that caught you like a pair of divans into the luxury of laughter.”
Any of this sound familiar?
How about when African American critic Sterling Brown wouldn’t join the lovefest for the book:
“It requires no searching analysis to see in Imitation of Life the old stereotype of of the contented Mammy, and the tragic mulatto . . Delilah is straight out of Southern fiction. . .Her idiom is good only in spots; I have heard dialect all my life, but I have yet to hear such a line as “She am an angel.” Sterling Brown’s review from the magazine Opportunity.
All this was going on in 1933, and now here we are in 2010 with African Americans still being portrayed as docile servants who know their place.
Here’s Delilah’s dialogue in 1934 movie when Bea, the woman Delilah and her daughter Peola (gotta love that name. Sorta like Cleontine,Pascagoula, Jameso, Treelore and Plaintain Fedelia from The Help) live with. Bea offers to give Delilah 20% of the pancake business that was Delilah’s famly recipe:
Bea: “You’ll have your own car. You own house.”
Delilah: My own house? You gonna send me away, Miss Bea? I can’t live with you? Oh honey chile, please don’t send me away. How I gonna take care of you and Miss Jessie if I ain’t here? I’se your cook. And I want to stay your cook. I gives it to you (her family’s pancake recipe), honey, I makes you a present of it.”
In The Help, Aibileen expresses almost the same sentiment:
“But . . .you ain’t got any other maids to talk to, Miss Skeeter.”
I clench my hands. I close my eyes. “I don’t have anyone I can ask Aibileen,” I say, my voice rising. I’ve spent the last four hours pouring over this very fact. “I mean, who is there? Pascagoula? If I talk to her, Mama will find out. I’m not the one who knows the other maids.”
Aibileen’s eyes drop from mine so fast I want to cry. Damn it, Skeeter. Any barrier that had eroded between us these past few months, I’ve just built back up in a matter of seconds. “I”m sorry,” I say quickly. “I”m sorry I raised my voice.”
“No, no it’s alright. That was my job to get the others.” (Pg 160, Skeeter and Aibileen)
As the scene goes on, Aibileen begins to beg:
Aibileen finally meets my look. “I didn’t want to tell you,” she says and her forehead wrinkles. “Until we heard from the lady . . .” She takes off her glasses. I see the deep worry in her face. She tries to hide it with a trembling smile.
“I’m on ask them again,” she says, leaning forward.
“Alright,” I sigh.
She swallows hard. Nods rapdily to make me understand how much she means it. “Please, don’t give up on me. Let me stay on the project with you.”
I close my eyes. I need a break from seeing her worried face. How could I have raised my voice to her? “Aibileen, it’s alright. We’re . . . together on this.” (Aibileen begs, Skeeter relents on Pg 161)
One more example of Aibileen’s “devotion” to Skeeter:
That night I lay in bed thinking. I am so happy for Miss Skeeter. She starting her whole life over. Tears run down my temples into my ears, thinking about her walking down them big city avenues I seen on tee-vee with her long hair behind her. Part a me wishes I could have a start too. The cleaning article, that’s new. But I’m not young My life’s about done. (Aibileen cries tears of joy over Skeeter Pg 437, yet there’s no scene where she cries over her recently deceased, only child Treelore)
On a personal note about the creation and selling of The Help:
Don’t co-opt my history, re-make it into your own image and tell me we need to CONDONE it.
Don’t demean the black male and tell me we should LAUGH at it.
Don’t use the civil rights movement as a plot device and put your own premise AHEAD of it
Don’t create stereotypical, self loathing characters and tell us to ADMIRE them
Don’t elevate white males, those who practiced segregation and call them “honest” and “good” and think we can’t SPOT it
And never underestimate the intelligence and fortitude of “black as me, black as asphalt” descendants of SLAVES.
July 16th isn’t a call to power, or a plea. It’s about DIVERSE voices, different ethnicities, races, opinions, but most of all, it’s about PERSEVERANCE when others shut out dissention and critique over the novel.