“I just made this sh*t up!” Kathryn Stockett’s incredibly demeaning response

Posted on August 28, 2011

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I’d read where this quote had been used before by the author, some months prior, in May of 2011.

“Here’s what we learned from Kathryn Stockett…
on writing: One of the first things Kathryn said from the lectern, as she began her talk, was that she wanted to address the writers in the room. And several times, throughout the 90 minutes she talked and answered questions, she made specific references to the task of writing. “Reading a lot makes for a good writer,” she said. “You learn the turn of a phrase and, if you read it enough, you can rip it off.” She good-naturedly continued to downplay her success, assuring us that everyone can learn the craft as she has. “There are those who are truly gifted—Hemingway, Steinbeck—but really, I’m just makin’ shit up.”

Link: http://whatwomenwritetx.blogspot.com/2011/05/lessons-on-writing-from-kathryn.html

Here’s another perspective from someone else who attended the book signing:

“And she was irreverent, poking fun at her home state of Mississippi, her characters, and herself as a writer. (“Me?” she said at one point. “I’m no expert. I’m just makin’ shit up.”) She talked about her childhood dreams to become a writer, about the love she had for Demetrie, her grandmother’s black maid, and her time in New York during the September 11, 2001, attacks. “

 Link: http://whatwomenwritetx.blogspot.com/2011/05/evening-with-kathryn-stockett.html

When Stockett again used the line a few weeks ago, actor and writer Shydel James noted it in his blog:

The National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Philadelphia convened on August 6, 2011. During a post-screening of the film The Help, a Q&A moderated by MSNBC’s Tamron Hall was held. Mr. James posted (items in bold are my doing):

A woman in the audience took Stockett to task on the inclusion of sensitive historical moments in the book and her decision to weave them into the fabric of her fictitious story. (Stockett peppers the novel with real life news stories of the time: the murder of Medgar Evers, JFK’s assassination, for example.) But Spencer jumped in, reminding the woman (and everyone else in the audience) that The Help is not a non-fiction book and that it’s Stockett’s job as a fiction author to entertain, not give history lessons with her novel. “It’s your job as parents to teach your children about our history,” Spencer said. And before switching gears, Stockett quickly interjected, “I just made this shit up!” The entire crowd erupted in applause.”

http://www.theurbaneurbanite.com/2011/08/i-just-made-shit-up-kathryn-stockett.html

 

 

 

It was probably funnier the first time Stockett used it.

And it appears to be the go to comment whenever the questioning gets tough. I’m updating this post to add, that in light of interviews with Stockett and Taylor, it appears Octavia Spencer had an “agreement” early on, and her participation included running a planned defense whenever Stockett got any heat from some readers, particularly African American. See more on this “agreement” revealed by Kathryn Stockett from a 2009 audio interview in this post

 

I have the utmost respect for the woman who attempted to seek an answer from Stockett before getting shot down by Octavia Spencer, who I believe was also avoiding the issue with “It’s your job as parents to teach your children about history.”

Most parents know that. Just like many know there are parents not living up to their responsibility to do so. Tell us something we don’t know, like someone must have done a piss poor job of educating Kathryn Stockett on history, if we are to use Spencer’s reasoning.

Perhaps then Stockett’s gaffe on Medgar Evers means of death would not have occurred, and this would not be in the novel as an embarrassing reminder (items in bold are my doing):

They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. (Skeeter, Pg 277)

Medgar Evers error on Pg 277 of the hard cover edition

Click image for larger view:

Error on Evers in the Paperback version of The Help

In this case taking the approach to make “shit up” won’t cut it, because actual history can’t be altered, especially since the book was marketed as historical fiction. While there were other attempts made on Evers life, being “bludgeoned” wasn’t one of them.

So in a room that contained journalists, not a one even realized the issue wasn’t Stockett placing real events in a fictitious novel. That’s regularly done these days. Especially after Forrest Gump was such a big hit.

The problem is she rode a wave of good will and credibility because it was assumed SHE HAD DONE the needed research on the black culture and captured the feel of the time period.

At least that was the hype her PR department primed the public for on the novel.

In an early indication that something was wrong, Stockett was caught off guard in a number of interviews, especially when asked about Medgar Evers. Because in three known audio interviews she actually claimed Evers had indeed been ”bludgeoned” to death instead of being shot.

 

Not one major newspaper in the U.S. has picked up on this, which tells me there’s a double standard at work.

 

Because if Stockett had been a man, she would have been called out on the error. To their credit, an LA paper and UK site did mention the blunder recently, referring back to this site.

In one audio interview Stockett even embellishes Evers death to claim:

“…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 with Steve Bertrand of Barnes and Noble’s Meet the Writers

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

 

For additional excerpts and audio links to the three (known) verbal blunders, see this post

 

 

So see, contrary also to this writer for The Root’s contention, admitting to just making shit up really wasn’t a wise thing to do.

“The book’s author and the screenwriter of The Help freely, wisely confessed the obvious to a crowd full of journalists last week: that is, that they were “making sh– up. . . ”

Link: http://www.theroot.com/views/help-see-it-you-judge?wpisrc=root_lightbox

 

 

And really, since African Americans still don’t get the respect for our history and our worth in this country, why would anyone think someone saying claiming they’d “made shit up” was special enough to provoke applause?

 

OUR FOREFATHERS AND MOTHERS SUFFERED, FOUGHT AND DIED FOR US TO BE TREATED AS EQUALS.

 

Symbol of Jim Crow, the cork faced minstrel

The Lynching of Laura Nelson

Photo by famous civil rights photographer, the late Charles Moore

Photo by Charles Moore. Two African American women being attacked. Note the bat in the man’s hand while another man pummels a woman with his fists.

Proudly opposing civil rights – A “sisterhood” founded in around segregation

Anti-Civil-Rights

Ole Miss sign, you can’t “miss” it

The kick seen ’round the world. Alex Wilson is attacked by mob and the world finally sees what African Americans subjected to.

Marching for Civil Rights. See all the BLACK MEN?

Civil Rights Roundtable 1963

We cannot simply give up their legacy, which is ours now by being ignorant of our past or much too willing to kiss ass.

Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but that’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think about. – Minny, Pg 311 of The Help

 

Funny how by just “making shit up” Stockett hit a bullseye on many of the insults used to block equality and integration. A major slur was how black men weren’t men at all. That African Americans were immoral and carried venereal diseases (even our childen). That we were prone to stealing.

 

And Stockett creates characters that embody this ugliness. Like Cocoa, the woman who runs off with Clyde (Aibileen’s husband). The Cocoa Cootchie Clyde affair is nasty to say the least.

 

As Minny states on page 24:

“Week after Clyde left you, Cocoa wake up to her cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster. Didn’t get better for three months. Bertrina, she know your prayer works.”

My mouth drop open. Why she never tell me this before? “You saying people think I got the black magic?”

“I knew it worry you if I told you. They just think you got a better connection than most. We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear.”

Stockett crams enough highly insulting “made up shit” in this short scene from the novel (which I don’t think made it into the film) that the NAACP should have been on it two years ago in protest, instead of grinning at the movie premiere. First, there’s the notion of blacks carrying venereal disease (and Aibileen’s in on this lovers trio, since she was sharing Clyde with Cocoa. So who’s Stockett trying to imply as the carrier? My guess is Clyde. And why is it none of the Southern belles (Skeeter, Hilly or Elizabeth) ever mention their vaginas or sex life over bridge?

Here again, an author falls into the trap of believing that writing a black character means we’re more prone to do or say things whites wouldn’t dare. Now that’s truly some made up, obnoxious, ignorant shit.

And Stockett has Aibileen, who’s supposed to be a devout Christian wondering if people think she has the ability to call down a venereal disease on Cocoa by prayer and black magic. If readers can’t understand why this whole scene is offensive, then all I can do is smh.

 

A few women of Mississippi speak. Note Mrs. E A Copland believing that little black kids are afflicted with diseases and immorality

Also note that wherever Stockett went there were interviewers acting as if the author had the inside track on black people.

Even Tate Taylor revealed how Stockett had to school her book editors on Jim Crow laws:

“I didn’t think we should talk about the Jim Crow Laws because I felt like people know what that is and she told me when she wrote the novel, her editors in New York – highly educated people – had no clue about Jim Crow Laws. I go, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I know, I swear! You think people know. They don’t. So she goes, ‘I’m telling you put it in,’ and I did. I thought, being a Southerner, it was too much. ‘Oh really? Of course there’s Jim Crow Laws.’ That was the one thing.”

http://movies.about.com/od/thehelp/a/tate-taylor-interview.htm

 

 

So now it becomes clearer how the Medgar Evers error remained in the novel. It’s reportedly also in the paperback copy.

Yet not one of those journalists who read the novel (I’m assuming they did. They’re trained journalists after all. It would help in formulating meaningful questions) like:

“With three black females characters, how is it that two of them are living alone, and the third has an abusive husband, yet all the white socialites are married (all except Skeeter) to fine, upstanding citizens who practice segregation?”

“Why was the White Citizens Council practically ignored in the movie, much like in the book?

“And since when did being a bigot become fashionable?”

Oh well, I guess this happens when you “just make shit up” and not only have your characters pooping it out and eating it, but expecting moviegoers to buy into it. And then premiere a film in front of a group who offer no counter balance (I’m still checking on that. I refuse to believe no one backed up the woman or had further questions or concerns. At least, that is my hope).

Not a one realized Aibileen, Constantine, and Minny are all large, dark and speak with a thick dialect. Black people aren’t clones and its rare that you’ll catch a group of us being all the same skin tone. Yet that’s what it appears the casting director did, according to Stockett’s made up shit.

In the novel, the author claimed the maids were all dark because white employers wanted them to be “The blacker the better.”

All the “blacker the better” maids in one room, as the film attempts to duplicate Stockett’s words with heavy handed film shots

Thereby ignoring the fact that if one was considered “colored” that no matter how light, they were steered toward domestic service.

Lillian Rodgers Parks, a very fair complexioned African American, worked as a maid and a seamstress for the White House. Her thirty year history was chronicled in the best selling novel and subsequent mini-series Backstairs At The White House. This points out yet again, that with Stockett just “making shit up” it resulted in dark complexioned actresses being type cast as maids, when domestics came in a variety of skin tones, that’s how diverse African Americans are.

Lillian Rodgers Parks, seamstress and maid for the white house.

This is Lillian Rodgers Parks, a light complexioned African American. She was a maid and seamstress at The White House from 1929 until 1960

In recent interviews defending the movie, Octavia Spencer tries to cover this by claiming Yule May speaks different from the other maids because not all maids had a thick dialect, which was the argument those like me, had with the novel.

In the book Yule May only spoke different because she was part of the closer to white “uppity” acting trio in the novel, black characters with white characteristics (in the novel she had “Good hair, smooth, no naps” according to Aibileen’s fawning admiration while staring at the back of the woman’s head during church services).

Excerpt from the novel:

Yule May easy to recognize from the back cause she got such good hair, smooth, no nap to it. I hear she educated, went through most a college. Course we got plenty a smart people in our church with they college degrees. Doctors, lawyers, Mr. Cross who own The Southern Times, the colored newspaper that come out ever week. But Yule May, she probably the most educated maid we got in our parish. Seeing her makes me think again about the wrong I need to right. (Pg 208)

In the novel Yule May, Lulabelle and Gretchen were the opposite of Aibileen, Minny and Constantine. They were all younger, two of them were “trim” (Gretchen and Yule May, it’s not known if Lulabelle was “trim” but since Stockett made a point of labeling anyone who was large as “waddling” then Lulabelle was probably not as large as the darker maids).

Lulabelle was also able to pass for white.

Stockett gifted these three with articulate speech, even further dividing how different they were from the darker characters. But it also harkens back to other novels like Showboat, where Queenie and Joe were darker and had thick accents, while Julie, who was passing for white spoke similar to the other characters in the book and in the movie, who were white.

This happened time and time again in early literature, in books like Imitation of Life where Delilah, the heavy set dark maid spoke with a thick southern accent, but her white looking daughter Peola didn’t.

When the movie was redone in 1959, Delilah’s name was changed to Annie, and while her accent wasn’t as thick, her daughter still spoke similar to the white characters. By this time Peola’s name was changed to Sarah Jane and played by the half white, half Mexican American actress Susan Kohner.

The novel Pinky, based on the book Quality by Cid Ricketts Sumner repeated this, having Ethel Waters character with a thicker dialect while Pinky, portrayed by white actress Jeanne Crain had none.

 

As I stated, Quality became the film Pinky. Here’s what the original book looked like. However the African American male pictured on the cover wasn’t in the movie:

Quality by Cid Ricketts Sumner, which later became the movie “Pinky”

back copy of the book Quality

  Here are two movie posters for the film:

Pinky

  

Pinky Promo poster, staring Ethel Waters and Jean Craine

 

You see, while Stockett claims she just “made this shit up!” I beg to differ. Because much of what she put in the novel, which eventually made its way to the film, is based on segregationist ideology. And was also present in previous novels.

 

The black male as a brute

 

 

 

Intra-racism with Black Brute Stereotype

 

 

 

The asexual, solitary and devoted Mammy, protype for Aibilene from The Help

 

 

 

African American females are alone in the movie (yes, even Minny, because Leroy is simply the abusive black brute stereotype. And at the end of the film, like the book, Minny leaves her violence prone husband) because the African American female was routinely separated from the male in literature and film. But the loyal female domestic, most often known as a Mammy, is lauded while the black male is demeaned. This is another holdover “insult” on the black culture from segregation.

The characters of Leroy, Clyde, Connor and Minny’s father fall under the stereotype of African American males being negatively labeled while the white males are presented as upstanding citizens, even though they kept the wheels of segregation turning.

 

Here are the ten plus issues I’ve listed that are wrong with The Help some of which the movie retained:

1. Denigration of several African American male characters

2. Indefensible dialogue and scenes (naked pervert, Aibileen and the roach scene, etc.)

3. Error in the death of Medgar Evers by a primary character (Skeeter, Pg 277)

4. Elevation of the white males who practiced segregation while downgrading black males.

5. Aibileen’s indifference to Minny and her children’s abuse while worrying over Mae Mobley’s abuse

6. The bossy maid stereotype overshadowing a character who is a victim of domestic violence (Minny).

7. Stereotypical characters, both black and white.

8. Depiction of Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 as ruled by women, specifically a twenty-four year old socialite named Hilly

9. Over the top descriptions of black characters from their dark skin tones to their physical attributes.

10. Black characters and white characters differenced by their supposed southern “dialect”.

11. A difference is made in the portrayal of the littlest characters in the novel, that being Mae Mobley and Kindra.

12. The marketing mis-steps over promoting the movie. Insensitive statements, questionable tie-ins, to WTF? interview quotes.

For information, links and further explanation on these points, please see this post

 

 

 

 

To be continued . . .

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