“The Help can kiss my ass and go to hell”

Posted on September 23, 2011

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Wooohooo! I so wish I’d written that first.

The exact quote is “I love Viola Davis but The Help can kiss my ass and go to hell”

The author isn’t identified in the review I read of the movie, but damn if that sentiment isn’t on point.

The review I found it in is a must read, as it gives a  riveting and thorough analysis of the film. It’s too bad comments were closed, because I wanted to tell the author, a Mr. Max Gordon how much I really enjoyed reading it.

Here’s what I’d wanted to post:

Mr. Gordon,

All I can do is echo the sentiments of others. Bravo for this piece. You were completely spot on with your critique.
I want to quote you (I hope you allow quotes or short excerpts from this piece), to hug you, to THANK YOU.

I also need to give a big thanks and shout out to newlywed K. Scott Ford for the link to Mr.  Gordon’s review. I’ve posted a few excerpts from the article, but you really must read the full, brilliant piece. Here’s his take on the movie version of Aibileen Clark:

“We never see an Aibileen who is frustrated with a white child, or wants to strangle it because the kid may turn out to be just like one of the women she works for. Aibileen is always kind, always patient. The script makes her low energy the result of grief, but that’s too easy. Aibileen, (with the exception of a few lines), has almost no growl, not even in private when white people aren’t looking. Which means her devotion is total – she is Mammy.” 

Quote from movie review by writer/activist Max Gordon. Read the complete review here

Aibileen and Mae Mobley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The character of Aibileen is much like the character of Delilah and Annie from Imitation of Life. Long suffering, patient, sweetly content and contrite. Women of saintly proportions, with a bit of the “strong” black woman myth thrown in. These characters quickly bond and then tag along after the main protag, worry and fretting over them, comforting and nurturing much like Ethel Waters emotionally muted performance in Pinky.

Pinky Promo poster, starring Ethel Waters and Jean Crain. The nurturing domestic was a popular character during segregation

Taking a deeper look, you can see the asexual Mammy stereotype. The Aibileen’s, Delilah’s,  and other black female caretakers are presented as matronly, only allowed to have one child who departs  through either death or maturity, which leaves their mothers to face a solitary existence, and to spend the remainder of their companion devoid lives doting on white children as if a woman can simply substitute one child for another.

Again, this isn’t in line with the mourning white characters go through in movies and books. While an entire film can revolve around the loss of a non-minority child and the immediate family’s struggle to cope, the tradition in movies with black side characters is to portray the male as an absentee parent, while the black female somehow rises above it all to bring sunshine and advice to the lives of the white family she cares for.

That these black caricatures are almost primary written by white authors should be noted. However, there are authors who have the talent to craft believable black characters. Richard Price, author of Clockers and writer of the critically acclaimed cable TV series The Wire is one notable exception.

The behavior of the “Mammy” characters also fall in line with the affection myth, an antebellum theory on the deep connection akin to love between an African American and her/his employer. When I get a chance I’ll post some actual accounts which extol the virtue and loyalty of these black caretakers, while simulltaneously insulting them.

 

 

 

This is what Mr. Gordon has to say about the character of Minny in the film:

“With the same TV emphasis as J.J.’s “Dyn-​o-​mite” on Good Times, and Arnold’s, “What you talkin’ bout, Willis?” on Diff’rent Strokes, Minny all but looks out into the audience and replies: “Minny Don’t Burn No Chicken.”

The Upper West Side audience I sat in began clapping and cheering, and I sank lower in my seat, thinking of the franchise potential of the phrase, and wondering who would be savvy enough to exploit it first – KFC or Popeye’s.”

Quote from movie review by writer/activist Max Gordon. Read the full article here

I was cringing just reading that dialogue. The book didn’t really play up Minny’s “fascination” with chicken, however the movie seems bound and determined to link blacks and chicken together, much like during segregation.  

Click image for a larger view:

1950s bigoted advertising, for of all things, blacks and fried chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another quote referencing fried chicken and again voiced by Minny in the film:

“Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life”

and

“I loves me some fried chicken” (I was told this quote is in the film, I’m still seeking a definite link)

If I had to guess, director and screenwriter Tate Taylor, with possibly Octavia Spencer’s blessing crafted the lines with her in mind (I’m pretty sure if she had objections, and with Taylor being her good friend, her concerns would have resulted in some editing). However, keeping in mind that Spencer’s first profession is comedy, then perhaps she believed being funny outweighed all else. Besides, Spencer had no objections to Minny’s depiction in the novel, or the other maids. For as she was quoted saying:

“Spencer, an actress from Montgomery, Ala., and now in Los Angeles, says she has read the book three times and listened to it twice.

‘I love this book. If I weren’t friends with Kathryn, I would still love this book.’ “

Link: http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/may/22/voices_past_remembered_new_book83144

Tate Taylor's Chicken Party, starring Octavia Spencer and Alison Janey

Besides that, since Taylor and Spencer worked on the short film Chicken Party, it may have been a way to insert a mini homage to their film.

I think it was overkill to have Minny so enarmored with cooking and eating fried chicken, and it’s already backfired, based on the stinging rebukes I’ve read. Spencer may well have misgivings when enough people congratulate her on the character while mimicking her signature lines ad naseum, much like what Butterfly McQueen went through.

 McQueen once remarked how people would never let her forget the line she’d uttered from Gone With The Wind: “I don’t know nothing ’bout birthin’ no babies.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s when the full gravity of the caricature Spencer’s put on screen will possibly, and I stress possibly hit her.  However, just like Stockett’s ambition drove her to not only form a “pact” of sorts with her childhood friends, Spencer was also party to joining in and living up to her end of the bargain as per Stockett’s admission. In this audio interview from back in early December 2009, with Diana Dapito for Audible.com, Stockett admits the film role of Minny will go to Octavia Spencer.  Note the statements I’ve put in bold  (no transcript available):

 Dapito: And is there a movie version coming out of The Help? Did I hear that right?

Stockett: The movie rights have been sold to a fellow Mississippian Tate Taylor (inaudible) Green and I’m just so lucky that the book is in the hands of people, not only Mississippians but friends of mine from Jackson. They’re two filmmakers based in Los Angeles.

Dapito: Oh I can’t wait. Do you think they will cast Octavia and some of the other narrators?

Stockett: I think Octavia will be the part of Minny because ah . . (pause and laughter) you know,  that was just the agreement. It wasn’t that hard of, it you know, there was no pulling hair on that one. She’s such a natural.”

 

Link: An Interview with Kathryn Stockett, Author of ‘The Help’  Narrated by Diana Dapito

 

There’s also this admission in the same interview regarding the audio version of the novel. Again, note the items I’ve put in bold:

Dapito: And yes, so a lot of us have read the book and I have to know did you have a role in picking the narrators or have anything to do with the production? Because its just wonderful.”

Stockett: Um I was lucky enough to get to listen to the try-outs and they were all so amazing. . . I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to pick. There were too many good voices out there. Um, except I opened my mouth on one and that was before the book was  even recorded. I wanted Octavia Spencer to play the part of Minny because she’s so incredible, she projects so well, her voice . . . She’s an actress in Los Angeles and really, she was, in her mannerisms and gestures, she was my inspiration for Minny.

And you know, I think that publishers at the recording studios  are wary when  the author recommends a friend and they go ‘yeah , yeah another next door neighbor.  And they said ‘Okay fine but she has to audition’ and they were blown away. . .”

Link: An Interview with Kathryn Stockett, Author of ‘The Help’  Narrated by Diana Dapito

 
 

There’s no transcript for the audio interviews (but they’re still available for downloading and listening to), however in these print and online articles Stockett essentially says the same thing:

“One of my best friend’s growing up, Tate Taylor, wrote the screenplay, he and I had an agreement pretty early on that he was going to be the one to make the movie.”

Read the entire interview here:

 http://www.bookrabbit.com/blog/interview-with-kathryn-stockett-and-win-a-copy-of-the-help/

Minny, played by Octavia Spencer in tears

 

 

“It’s amazing,” she says, with special compliments to Octavia Spencer, the actress who voices the sections by Minny, a stubborn maid whose mouth gets her in trouble.

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

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/may/22/voices

 

Looking back on what Spencer had to do (or chose to) in order to secure the role of Minny, it seems to have included accompanying Stockett on her book tour, where Spencer read the African American parts and Stockett voiced the white southerners. But according to this writer’s article and interview with Stockett, Spencer served an additional purpose:

 . . .It was only much later, when she (Stockett) decided to try publishing what had become a full-blown novel, that she started to get “very nervous that I had crossed a line that should never be crossed in America.”

To help cover her tracks over that line, Stockett recruited an actress friend, Octavia Spencer, to participate in her first book tour. “I would read the white parts and she would read the black parts and we had a lot of fun,” Stockett says, adding that Spencer’s free spirit was the inspiration for Minnie, one of her two black heroines. “She got it. She grew up in Alabama and she understood that world probably better than we do.”

Interview with John Barber for Saturday’s Globe and Mail

Link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/kathryn-stocketts-southern discomfort/article2012818/singlepage/#articlecontent

Stockett did voice Minny in one particularly cringe worthy reading, back in 2010. It’s the “spoilt cootchie” scene on Page 23-24. You can read more on Stockett and Spencer’s book roadshow here

Stockett voices Minny talking "spoilt cootchies" at the Tower Theatre during her book tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, it reads as if those involved in this pact simply planned their work and worked their plan.

And most would say that if a profit is made, then the “plan” was successful.

Currently, The Help stands at 159 million worldwide (domestic and foreign gross) and climbing.

And the book was a bona fide hit with 5 million sold and it’s still selling, even with the controversy over the depictions of the black characters.

But sometimes the cost to get from A to Z (such as in a ticket to Hollywood)  as well as the people who may have been innocently drawn into such a plan (like the real life maid to Stockett’s brother Abilene Cooper) can trigger guilt, or a loose tongue, which could explain some of Stockett’s statements:

“I’m still waiting for the jack-in-the-box to pop,” she says, “for somebody to corner me and say everything I say in my own head – that I had no right to do this.”

Interview with John Barber for Saturday’s Globe and Mail

Link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/kathryn-stocketts-southern discomfort/article2012818/singlepage/#articlecontent

 

Here’s a Barnes and Noble interview from 2009,  before the novel was barely even released (items in bold are my doing):

“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.”

Link: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/New-Reads/The-Help-Questions-for-Kathryn-Stockett/m-p/493176

 

 

 

And also this quote, which Cooper’s lawyer used in her failed lawsuit, which is currently being appealed. It’s an interview the Atlanta Journal Constitution recalled Stockett saying (again, bold items are my doing):

“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.”

 

Interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution

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

 

There’s also this admission from Stockett, during which she took questions from posters on Barnes and Noble:

“. . .It’s because 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

 

 

But what may be an even bigger surprise is what the author’s father revealed in an interview with ABC:

Excerpt:
“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.

`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 . . .’ “

Link: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/lawsuit-black-maid-ablene-cooper-sues-author-kathryn/story?id=12968562&page=1

 

 

Getting back to reviewing the character of Minny, Max Gordon also makes an articulate and siccint point about Minny’s highly modern dialogue and “attitude.” Here’s how the movie has Minny addressing Hilly over the pie incident:

Minny Jackson: Eat my shit.
Hilly Holbrook: Excuse me!
Minny Jackson: I said eat… my… shit.
Hilly Holbrook: Have you lost your mind?
Minny Jackson: No, ma’am but you is about to. ‘Cause you just did.

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1454029/quotes?qt=qt1555071

 

Who's afraid of the big bad "woof"

“The issue isn’t that Minny is sassy — so is Sophia; the problem is that her sassiness has no context, no basis in reality, so it isn’t empowering, just a meaningless stunt by moviemakers. In a South where Emmett Till was murdered for flirting with a white woman, blacks feared violent reprisals for the smallest “infractions”: not moving aside when a white person passed, forgetting to add a “yes, sir” in answer to a request, direct eye-​contact. The problem of Minny’s behavior as a character is not just that she’s lazily conceived; it’s revisionist, and disturbing, and creates a fantasy South where black women say and do whatever they want to white women with no fear of retaliation . . .

When the book is published in the film, and Hilly is publicly humiliated and ridiculed, if this is the Mississippi of history books and family lore, we know the hysteria to come: someone is going to pay for Minny’s action and, if it is not Minny, it will be one of her children or someone randomly chosen — a woman defiled in the street, a cross burned on a lawn, a church bombed. Minny’s behavior is more than irresponsible — as a woman with children and a relationship to her community, it makes her psychotic not to consider the consequences of her behavior in the South, or anywhere. Because the movie presents her action as little more than a practical joke, and audiences laugh with her, we have no sense of the danger she faces and are invited to share in this delusion.”

Quote from movie review by writer/activist Max Gordon. Read the full article here

Yes, Mr. Gordon summed the character up it up quite nicely.

 

 

And here’s an excerpt from Stockett’s audio interview where she talks about how Minny came to be:

Stockett: I started writing Aibileen first, and it was just a short story. And then after oh I guess 50 or 60 pages Aibileen had some things to say that weren’t quite in character. You know (laughs) some (inaudible) you know some pithy things to say, and that’s how Minny was born.

Inteviewer: Yeah, Minny has some great lines.

Stockett: If you’ve read the book you’ll know that Minny absolutely cannot keep her mouth shut.

 

Link: An Interview with Kathryn Stockett, Author of ‘The Help’  Narrated by Diana Dapito

 

 

 

If Minny had truly resided in segregated Jackson, Mississippi during the turbulent sixties, then someone would have attempted to shut her big mouth for her. Please understand that I know full well Kathryn Stockett had every right to create her novel and populate it with characters of her chosing. But dissenting voices who speak out about the caricatured depictions also have a right to offer critique, especially those who witnessed segregation first hand and know that even in the North, which many believed was so progressive, there still would have been hell to pay.

The character of Minny is one part old style maid from movies created during segregation, and one part “let’s give her some crazy shit to say and do, and that way black people can feel good about the character.”

It failed, at least for me in the novel. And it appears the movie also missed the mark.

Laughing with a character is completely different than laughing at them.

The best ground breaking comedians knew this, and that’s why they’re names are still mentioned to this day.

To me, Minny’s signature lines in the book and the movie are right on par with Mammy and Prissy’s from Gone With The Wind.

The difference is GWTW played in theaters in 1939. The Help was released in 2011, so there was a blue print on stereotypical movie lines to avoid.

Only I guess no one bothered to bone up on it, what with the maid who’s supposed to be the most dignified (Aibileen) saddled with her very own stomach churning  line “You is kind, you is smart, you is impo’ tent.”

This isn’t progress, but a sorry step back in time. Predictibly enough, the studio is attempting to capitalize on all the controversy with new marketing that proudly proclaims:

Join the conversation

Just scanning the internet for any “conversations”  if one can find a site or two where meaningful dialogue is taking place, like a spirited give and take with both pro and con commenting, then you’ve possibly found an alternate universe.

Because far too many commentors don’t want to hear anything negative about the book or the movie.

Yes, it’s funny how some people just love the fictional characters of the novel, the loyal, asexual Aibileen, the comedic abused wife Minny, but get downright plantation overseer on dissenters, especially those who identify themselves as African American. There have been times when I’ve had a heated debate and could imagine the poster ordering a whip so that I should be chained to a tree for a lashing, simply for disagreeing with them, and no, this isn’t exaggeration. I wish it was.

But thankfully, there were and are commentors who didn’t fall for the BS in Stockett’s novel or the screenplay. It’s been refreshing to converse with individuals who not only know the struggles African Americans went through, but who made a point to purchase and read literature from black authors like Isabel Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns) Octavia Butler (Kindred)  Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, among others,  to get an even better understanding. And there are white authors like Danielle McGuire who highlighted the systematic sexual abuse black females went through during segregation, in her stirring non-fiction novel At The Dark End of The Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance

So, going back to the title of this thread, yes indeed, The Help can kiss my ass also and go to hell  just as that anonymous poster stated.

Certain things that occurred, even though they were perfectly legal seem mighty shady, and the foot in mouth disease from many of the principals closely associated with The Help just don’t  make me think there was any great social consciousness driving them to produce the book or the movie.  

At some point I truly hope Stockett’s brother opens up about what he knows about all this. Because while I don’t think Stockett did anything racist by wanting a writing career and using a deceased a maid and a living one to bring her characters to life, there seems to be a ring of truth in this statement by real life maid Aiblene Cooper:

“Carroll was crying and she says, “Miss Abilene, I’ve got something to tell you.”

She says, “Kathryn’s wrote a book and you are the main character. Rob told her not to use your name.” ’ Then a copy of the book arrived for Abilene from the author with a note saying that while a main character is an ‘African-American child carer named Aibileen’, she bore no resemblance to the real Abilene. “

Read the full interview with Abilene Cooper here 

This post is still in development and yes, I will get to the typos :) . . .

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