Sex and the Single Mammy

Posted on August 8, 2011


Octavia Spencer’s got a new video (bless her little heart) trying to hook up her film The Help.

Men Should see the film per Octavia Spencer. She looks gorgeous by the way

I haven’t seen it yet, but here’s a blurb per

“In this original video, produced with our network cousins over at Huffington Post Culture and the newly launched Huffington Post BlackVoices, Paul Needham talks to the actress Octavia Spencer about her friendship with Kathryn Stockett, the author of the book on which the film is based, her special connection with her character Minny, and her hope that men will see the movie too.”


(dang, is there no objective movie review site out there? Is there no one willing to have the balls to ask the relevant questions on the movie? Like where are all the black men that were in the book?)


As far as males in the film, here’s April Scissors review on how white males fared:

“Admittedly, as the movie focuses on sisterhood and friendship between Black and white women, the presence of men would seem rather unnecessary. However,  the passivity and near absence of white men in this movie diminishes the influence, impact, and existence of white male power and domination during that time, especially as we know that power in our collective psyches. While the assassination of Medgar Evers occurs during the story, there is a distinct separation between the white nationalist group who committed the murder and the innocuous husbands of the women in the Junior League. Naturally not every white man living in Mississippi between 1954 and 1968 was in the Ku Klux Klan or a white supremacist, but these indifferent, acquiescent men paint a grossly different picture than what was shown in the nightly news footage we’ve all seen where countless, nameless white men (women and children) venomously screamed and terrorized the lives of anyone working toward social progress, integration, and human rights. Hilly Holbrook, the hateful antagonist in The Help mentions Ross Barnett, then governor of Mississippi, as someone worth listening to because he’s “the Governor.” Ross Barnett was one of the most hateful politicians of that time who strongly supported segregation and ordered the Freedom Riders arrested and sent to the Parchman State Prison Farm to work on a chain gang, alongside hardened criminals. It’s unclear whether the screenwriters referenced Barnett to be tongue-in-cheek or to revise one of the most tumultuous times in Mississippi history for mass audiences, but whatever their motivation, it treads on dangerous territory.”

For April Scissor’s full review of the film, please click here


Stuart Whitworth is played by Chris Lowell:

Stuart and Skeeter have a lovers quarrel. "Things are fine around here, why do you want to go around starting trouble?" Okay, he's cute,that I cannot deny



So what about the black males?


Skeeter, and perhaps Pascagoula and Jameso watching historic events unfold


I see Jameso above, but he didn’t have any lines in the book. Maybe they rectified that in the movie.

Here’s Reverend Johnson, the same one who made Skeeter an honorary black woman  in the novel (though I don’t think even he has the power to do that)

Sermon where God made Aibileen do it (help Skeeter that is)

But I didn’t see Connor or Minny’s father in the cast listing. Leroy’s rage against Minny is shown offstage, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of a woman being constantly abused yet able to function as if it never happened. In addition, Minny is used to provide humor in the book, so much so that she behaves contrary to all known medical data on women trapped in domestic violence.
It seems the film wasn’t able to rectify this either, because many of the reviews still talk about how funny the character is, instead of the abuse she suffers.


Why is Connor important? Because Connor was labeled an absentee father, bedding and leaving his lover Constantine to raise their daughter alone. And also, like Aibileen claimed in the novel Connor was as “black as me.”

To know how bi-racial, but ebony complexioned Constantine and Connor produced a child who came out “pale as snow with hair the color of hay, not curly. . . straight it was” (Aibileen, Pg 357) is one of the mysteries of life. I’d hoped the movie could address this. Or perhaps not.

The Lulabelle “tragic mulatto” storyline was a bust imo. Some readers thought Carlton Phelan Sr. was perhaps Lulabelle’s real father.

But I didn’t think Stockett would go there. And she didn’t.

There’s no Lulabelle Bates in the cast listing. But there is a Rachel Jefferson. And Constantine’s last name in the movie is Jefferson, not Bates. So this is Rachel/Lulabelle:

Actress La Chanze plays Rachel Jefferson, Constantine's daughter in the movie of The Help

After Connor leaves her and Constantine sends Lulabelle to an orphanage in Chicago (Stockett uses an excuse full of holes that Lulabelle was so light that she was mistaken for a white girl and it posed a hardship in Mississippi)

Really? Well, here’s Fredi Washington. She’s beautiful and could pass for white. And she was in the 1934 movie Imitation of Life.

I mean, it wasn’t like African Americans who were close to white in complexion, features and hair were uncommon. Ever since slavery, when the master of the plantation had his pick of the women he owned, African Americans were born favoring their father’s side of the family.

Fredi Washington, African American actress


Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington in the film "Imitation of Life"


For more on the tragic mulatto trope in American Literature, click here: 

Constantine lives alone in the novel. Constantine lives alone in the movie.

Cicely Tyson as Constantine in film version of The Help, coddling a young Skeeter


Aibileen lives alone in the novel. Aibileen lives alone in the movie.


Aibileen writing out her thoughts. And living the life of an asexual hermit


“I like them smoky-liquor drinking sounds when it get dark. Makes me feel like my whole house full a people. I can almost see em, swaying here in my kitchen, dancing to the blues. When I turn off the ceiling light, I pretend we at The Raven. They’s little tables with red-covered lights. It’s May or June and warm. My man Clyde flash me his white toothed smile and say Honey, you want you a drink?

And I say, Black Mary straight up and then I get to laughing at myself, setting in my kitchen having this daydream, cause the raciest thing I ever take is purple Nehi.

Memphis Minny got to singing on the radio how lean meat won’t fry which is about how the love don’t last. Time to time, I think I might find myself another man, one from my church. Problem is, much as I love the Lord, church going man never do all that much for me. Kind a man I like ain’t the kind that stays around when he done spending all you money. I made that mistake twenty years ago. When my husband Clyde left me for that no-good hussy up on Farish Street, one they call Cocoa, I figure I better close the door on that kind of business.

A cat get to screeching outside and bring me back to my cold kitchen. I turn the radio off and the light back on, fish my prayer book out my purse.” (Aibileen, Pg 23) 

None of this explains why Aibileen is alone. But it reads as if it were inserted to do just that. One man breaks her heart and she swears off all men. And the whole Aibileen is a devoted servant of the lord is bull, especially when reading the first paragraph, and also when Minny says this:

Aibileen has white lady clothes out the wazoo. White ladies love giving her their old stuff. As usual, she looks plump and respectable, but for all her prim and proper, Aibileen can still tell a dirty joke that’ll make you tinkle in your pants. (Minny observing Aibileen in church, Pg 126)


I really wish Aibileen had been able to show that other side, the one with some edge. Or rather, I wish Stockett hadn’t stuck to the Saintly, sexually chaste Mammy character trope with Aibileen.


In most stories that center on women -if all the women are white – there’s love enough to go around. I’ll use The Hours as an example:

“Each story begins with the husband/lover of each woman leading the camera to the woman. All three women are found in bed and this begins a match cut process that will repeat itself throughout the film as the director and editor work to connect and unify the three separate stories. Woolf writes: “Mrs. Dallaway said she would buy the flowers herself” just as Laura Brown reads that sentence and Clarissa speaks that sentence.”  Excerpt from a review of  The Hours  by aimless-46 of imdb 

The Hours poster, three women with three storylines and all with significant others

Virginia Woolf: “I am saying, Vanessa, that even crazy people like to be asked.” (Haha, I love that line)
I bring up this film because it’s an example of how the story of three women can be done successfully. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Another ensemble example: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

“Director Joe Wright plus his screenwriters ( Oscar winner Emma Thompson contributed to the final screenplay) have chosen to emphasise Elizabeth Bennet / Mr Darcy plus Jane Bennet/ Mr Bingley story lines & reduce Mr Wickman, Charlotte & Mr Collins to supporting characters.” see the full review by Peter of the United Kingdom, titled Spirited Modern Interpretation of Austen’s Classic Love Story  here


Minny is an abused woman who’s with her violent husband and five children (with a sixth on the way) in the novel. By the end of the book, she finally leaves him to run towards the waiting arms of Celia and Johnny Foote. I doubt if Leroy will try anything with Johnny Foote. Not with all that Confederate decor he’s got. Johnny knows people. And besides that, he loves Minny’s cooking just like he adored Cora Blue’s, his former cook.

Johnny Foote is played by Mike Vogel (Now HE IS FINE):

Mike Vogel portrays Johnny Foote in the movie

In the movie . . . well, let me just paste a review of something good that happens with Minny:

“The audience at the screening clapped and chuckled at Minny’s excitement over the paltry change she is given for divulging a painful part of her life. Minny is so thrilled that she leaves her famous fried chicken on the stove to burn as she runs screaming through the house. As I listened to the laughter of the people around me, I wondered if they really believed The Help is Minny’s story or that Aibileen is really “the writer in the family.”

See the full review by Nicole D. Sconiers here

And Blogger Carolyn Edgar expresses her opinion on the males in the film:

“There’s no room to deconstruct the film’s somewhat disturbing treatment of motherhood, or talk about how the men in the movie were either emasculated or ineffectual, or how there was no such thing as a solid black family, or how domestic violence apparently is only a black problem. These elements are in the book, too, but are balanced out by other parts of Stockett’s narrative in a way absent from the film.”

See Carolyn Edgar’s full review here

All right, let me cut to the chase here. Why do these women:

Viola Davis on Essence Mag cover


Octavia Spencer in real life


Actress Cicely Tyson


Have to look like this:


Black folk craning their necks (Yule May) when they speak


Law, they done gone an took away all Cicely Tyson's teeth for the movie


Aibileen, made up to look dowdy


Aibileen sports a do-rag


Which is basically this:

The Asexual, Solitary Mammy

“This was the mammy caricature, and, like all caricatures, it contained little truth surrounded by a larger life. The caricature portrayed an obese, coarse, maternal figure. She had great love for her white “family,” but often treated her own family with disdain. Although she had children, sometimes many, she was completely desexualized. She “belonged” to the white family, though it was rarely stated. Unlike Sambo, she was a faithful worker. She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world. Obviously, the mammy caricature was more myth than accurate portrayal . . . ”

” . . . Aunt Chloe was nurturing and protective of “her” white family, but less caring toward her own children. She is the prototypical fictional mammy: self-sacrificing, white-identified, fat, asexual, good-humored, a loyal cook, housekeeper and quasi-family member. ”

Quote and image from The Ferris State University Museum of Jim Crow Memorabilia



Why did the African American maids in Stockett’s novel have to conform, almost to the letter to her “vision” and default to several versions of Aunt Jemima?

Yet these actresses didn’t match their novel counterpart:


To say I have fizzy hair is an understatement. It is kinky, more pubic than cranial, and whitish blond, breaking off easily, like hay. My skin is fair and while some call this creamy, it can look downright deathly when I’m serious., which is all the time. Also, there’s a slight bump of cartilage along the top of my nose. But my eyes are cornflower blue, like Mother’s. I’m told that’s my best feature.  (Skeeter, describing herself Pg 56)

Skeeter, played by Emma Stone in the movie version of The Help

Miss Hilly got a round face and dark brown hair in the beehive. Her skin be olive color, with freckles and moles. She wear a lot a red plaid. And she getting heavy in the bottom. (Aibileen describing Hilly, Pg 5)  

Hilly, what part of "Maybe we should just build you a bathroom outside" do you not understand? And who's that extra over doing it with the evil eye on the right?

Here’s something about Miss Leefolt: she not just frowning all the time, she skinny. Her legs is so spindly, she look like she done growed em last week. Twenty-three years old and she lanky as a fourteen-year-old boy. Even her hair is thin, brown, see-through. She try to tease it up, but it only make it look thinner. Her face be the same shape as that red devil on the Redhot candy box, pointy chin and all. Fact, her whole body be so full a sharp knobs and corners, it’s no wonder she can’t soothe that baby.  (Aibileen describing  Elizabeth Leefolt, Pg 3)

Elizabeth Leefolt acts clueless, but she doesn't have a red devil shaped face

I talk about the lack of appreciation for the beauty of the black culture in The Help in this post. Now I want to explore why these maids were deliberately de-sexed in the novel, and on screen.

Shrieks and squeals from Skeeters pals


Happiness is wearing designer dresses inspired by the Mad Men craze


Making a difference in the black and white characters via clothes and makeup

Now here’s how the film handles Skeeter’s greeting by the “blacker the better” maids:

All the "blacker the better" maids in one room, as the film attempts to duplicate Stockett's words with heavy handed film shots.


Skeeter looks scared


Skeeter is surprised AND sacred, and looks about ready to run like a jack rabbit. " Her eyes seem to say "Send for help"



 This post is still in development . . .

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