Please join the “Do Right by Abilene Cooper” Movement

Posted on October 14, 2011

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There’s an old saying in the black community about making things right, if you truly want to make amends. It’s even referenced in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, where Celie tells Mister “Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!”
 

Celie's dramatic, life changing moment from the movie "The Color Purple"

 
 
 
 
 
 
Here’s the dialogue from that riveting scene:
 
 
Celie: [lunging towards Albert with a knife] I curse you. Until you do right by me everything you think about is gonna crumble!
Sofia: Don’t do it Mrs. Celie. Don’t trade places with what I been through.
Shug: Come on, Celie, let’s go to the car.
Sofia: He ain’t worth it, he ain’t worth it.
Albert: Who you think you is? You can curse nobody. Look at you. You’re black, you’re poor, you’re ugly, you’re a woman, you’re nothing at all!
Celie: Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!
 
 
 
 

There are a couple of individuals who’ve created facebook pages in support of Abilene Cooper, the woman Kathryn Stockett is ignoring.

Abilene Cooper by Ayo Ogolo has a facebook page here

 

Another site is titled In Support of the Real “Ablene” Cooper From “The Help” and you can find it here

 
Please show your support. These pages are dedicated to seeing Cooper receive compensation of some sort, and you can lend your voice by clicking the “like” button on these facebook sites.

I’m also going to link to this post on my own facebook page. And I’ve got a poll at the bottom of this post for you to vote on.

In any event,  I’m really hoping Stockett reaches out and does right by Abilene Cooper. But so far it hasn’t happened (though something could be going on behind the scenes, I don’t know).

I’m both skeptical and hopeful, after reading this searing article and interview with the author, by a Mr. Wyatt Williams:

 

Kathryn Stockett: Life in the belle jar 

 

“It’s an awful, awful feeling to think that you’ve made money — and you can print this if you want — to think that you’re benefitting from somebody else’s loss. It’s a terrible, guilty feeling. I give a lot of money away.”  

                                                                        - Quote by Kathryn Stockett

“I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand.”

                                                                 – Quote by Kathryn Stockett

 

Read the entire interview here:

http://clatl.com/gyrobase/kathryn-stockett-life-in-the-belle-jar/Content?oid=3795185&showFullText=true

 

 

 

If this reflective thinking is really how the author feels, then in all honesty she may want to contemplate doing right by Abilene “Aibee” Cooper. 

Because this woman:

Photo of Demetrie, Stockett's grandparents real life maid.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Is not the film and novel version of this woman, in my opinion:
 

Viola Davis saying the line that was never uttered in the book "You are a Godless woman"

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The domestic whose life partially fills the backstory in addition to the character’s physical description is Abilene Cooper, a living breathing maid who’s had part of her life co-opped and put on the world stage, without her say so. And Stockett, as well as others have been profiting from it royally. But I had to come back to this post to add this:
Now that Cooper has the world stage, and after reading how miserable Stockett appears to be at times, money isn’t the salvo needed here.
 
It’s acknowledgement that Cooper’s concerns MATTER. Which in an odd sort of way are the same things African Americans have been complaining about all along, even before Stockett came out with her novel. There are some subjects the U.S. wants to sweep under the rug or “prettify”. Segregation and the Civil Rights movement are two of them. My advice to Cooper would be to land an agent and a ghost writer to tell her own tale. To take back her life, and the power all those making a dollar on her have zapped. I’m pretty sure, just like Stockett, Cooper is emotionally spent. But just like I wasn’t for “reparations” when that compensation was proposed for African Americans,any movement on Cooper’s behalf must include more than money, but attibution  of her contribution,  since she was vital to Stockett’s dream of becoming a writer (funny how it mirrors Skeeter’s grand quest to work in publishing).
 

Ablene Cooper's photo from the UK Daily Mail. This is the "real deal" Abilene

 
 
The article by Wyatt Williams was published shortly before  Cooper’s case was dismissed (the statue of limitations had run out). So its important to understand the case wasn’t thrown out of court on merit, but Cooper failed to file her lawsuit in a timely fashion. You can view the view of the court proceedings here:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is more than just a physical resemblance folks. And its highly ironic that Viola Davis was sought after by those in charge of the film, because in skin complexion as well as how Davis is made up in the movie, well, she’s a downright doppleganger for Cooper.  If you’re still not convinced, here’s the description of Aibileen Clark from the novel:
 
 
 
. . . Aibileen smiles at me from the sink, her gold tooth shining. She’s a little plump in the middle, but it is a friendly softness. And she’s much shorter than me, because who isn’t? Her skin is dark brown and shiny against her starchy white uniform. Her eyebrows are gray even though her hair is black. (Skeeter’s observation of Aibileen’s appearance Pg 78)
 
 

Now here’s a quote about the real life maid of Stockett’s brother, Abilene Cooper, by the UK’s daily mail (I must give props to the Daily Mail, because many of the US mags just brushed this story off. If you ever wonder why there’s still problems with race in such a progressive nation like the U.S.A, then Cooper’s treatment after filing her lawsuit is a perfect example):

 

‘‘ ‘When I started to read the book, I said, ‘‘This is the closest thing to my life I ever seen. It’s gotta be me.’’‘Kathryn spelt my name wrong, but they pronounce it exactly the same way in the book and the film.

 
I introduced myself to Kathryn when I first met her at her brother’s house that way: ‘‘Aib-e-leen.”
 
Kathryn has Aibileen teaching the white folks’ baby girl to call her ‘‘Aib-ee”.  That’s what I taught Kathryn’s niece and nephew to call me because they couldn’t manage Abilene.  ‘I just cried and cried after I read the first few pages. In the book, Aibileen has taken her job five months after her son is killed in an accident. My son, Willie, had leukemia and died when he was 18, in July 1998, three months before I went to work for the Stocketts. ‘I felt the emotions in my heart all over again. Kathryn copied parts of my life and used them without even asking me.’

In the book, Aibileen is a deeply religious woman who sports a gold tooth and a gold cross, as does the real-life Abilene.

Both women cope with the stifling heat of the Mississippi summer by wearing wigs when their own hair goes limp in the humid air.

Both devote a lifetime to bringing up the babies of ‘white folks’: the fictional Aibileen has raised 17 children while Abilene estimates her total to be 18 or 19 . . .”

Read more:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2033369/Her-family-hired-maid-12-years-stole-life-Disney-movie.html

 
 
 
 
And there’s something else. Kathryn Stockett has freely admitted observing individuals who later turned up in her novel.
 
One notable example is actress/comedian Octavia Spencer. Stockett revealed in several prior interviews while promoting the novel, that she didn’t know Spencer well at the time, but would watch her mannerisms:
 
 

Actress Octavia Spencer plays Minny in the film version of the novel The Help

   
“. . . But there’s also a character named Minny. . .who was loosely inspired by the mannerisms and gestures of a friend of mine named Octavia Spencer. Octavia is an amazing actress in L. A. One of the most intelligent and versatile actresses out there today. And (laughs) I am so lucky that Octavia has agreed to go on the book tour with me. So, in the book event she’s actually going to be reading the parts of Aibileen and Minny and, and also take on a few of the white women’s voices which will be very funny to listen to and I will read the white roles and hopefully it will be a lot of fun. . . My greatest relief in this process is that Octavia Spencer, who is such an amazing actress and a comedian really, like wet yourself funny is coming on tour with me. So,while people will be listening to me read these rather dramatic white voices, they’ll get to listen to Octavia. It’ll be so fun to hear her just roll.”
 
 
 The entire podcast can be heard and downloaded here: http://covertocover.podbean.com/2009/04/26/kathryn-stockett-the-help/
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Yet another interview where the author admits watching Spencer. Note that the character was created BEFORE Stockett really knew Spencer well:

“Minny was the easiest to write because she’s based on my friend Octavia. I didn’t know Octavia very well at the time I was writing, but I’d watched her mannerisms and listened to her stories at parties. She’s an actress in Los Angeles, and you can just imagine the look on her face when some skinny white girl came up and said to her, “I’ve written a book and you’re one of the main characters.” She kind of chuckled and said, ‘Well, good for you.’ “ 

http://us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/help.html

 
 
 
Unlike Cooper, Spencer gave her blessing for the character “inspired” by her. The actress even popped up around the web to address early criticism of the novel. In this audio interview from back in December 2009, with Diana Dapito for Audible.com, Stockett admits the film role of Minny will go to Octavia Spencer in some sort of prior agreement.  Note the statements I’ve put in bold  (no transcript available but audio still available for free downloading): 
 
 
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

 
 
 
 

The "real deal" Aibileen, a distraught Abilene Cooper after her lawsuit is tossed out

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Now read what Abilene Cooper has to say about meeting Stockett (items in bold are my doing):
 

‘‘Abilene says: ‘I met Kathryn on two occasions. The first time she came to stay the night. She said, “I’m Rob’s baby sister,’’ and I said, “I’m Abilene.” ‘The second time she was married and she came with her husband and daughter. I never told her about myself. She was quiet, standoffish, but she’d watch me. I’d be dishwashing or it would be playtime with the children and she’d be just staring at me.’ “

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2033369/Her-family-hired-maid-12-years-stole-life-Disney-movie.html#ixzz1alqbzhho

 
 
 
 
Stockett also admitted to using her grandfather’s tale  of “Catbite” in the book, and I also believe he’s the inspiration for Carlton Phelan, Skeeter’s father.
 
Stockett’s maintained that Demetrie McLorn, her grandparents real life maid was the inspiration for Aibileen Clark. However Demetrie McLorn isn’t a dark complexioned African American. And she’s much heavier than the description of Aibileen Clark in the novel. I do think Demetrie was the inspiration for Constantine Banks in the book (renamed Constantine Jefferson in the film version) and that Demetrie was partially the inspiration for the personality of the character of Abileen Clark in the book.
 
Stockett hasn’t admitted to also using Clyde AKA Plunk as the inspiration for Leroy, Minny’s abusive husband. But here’s what the author stated in her novel:
 

“Demetrie was stout and dark skinned and, by then, married to a mean, abusive drinker named Plunk.  She wouldn’t answer me when I asked questions about him.  But besides the subject of Plunk, she’d talk to us all day.”

http://www.kathrynstockett.com/book/qa/

 

 

Plunk is referred to as Clyde, which is his real name in the hard copy version of the novel under the section Too Little, Too Late. Clyde AKA Plunk  would be my guess as the inspiration for Leroy, Minny’s husband. He must have left quite an impression on Stockett, especially when she recalls attending Demetrie’s funeral:

 

“. . . it was the first time Stockett had been to a black church. ‘I’d never had any interaction with black people except those who worked for our family. And I couldn’t believe how overt their emotions were. There were people speaking out during the sermon, joining in, agreeing with the eulogy, singing loud solos impromptu… but what really struck me as heartbreaking was how Demetrie’s husband was carrying on.’

Demetrie’s husband was called Plunk, and he was drunk and abusive, so much so that she slept with a pistol underneath her pillow. ‘As I understand it he beat the crap out of her, but at the funeral this man was wandering the aisles, screaming, fainting from heartbreak that Demetrie was dead, calling out her name and throwing himself at the coffin – people were dragging him away, soothing him. It horrified our family. I was 16. I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut.’ “

Read the entire interview here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5844739/The-maids-tale-Kathryn-Stockett-examines-slavery-and-racism-in-Americas-Deep-South.html

 
 
 
 
And there’s also video of Stockett using the name “Plunk” for Clyde, the name she gave Aibileen Clark’s wayward giggolo of a hubby called Clyde in the novel, as Stockett voices Minny in the “spoilt cootchie” scene on Page 23-24 of the book:
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

 
 
 
 
 
Stockett’s own brother and sister-in-law must have known something was amiss, because look at what else Cooper has to say in the UK article:
 

‘‘Abilene says she first learned of the book when she arrived at work to find her employer in tears. ‘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 more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2033369/Her-family-hired-maid-12-years-stole-life-Disney-movie.html#ixzz1alqCCu8i

 
 
Yet this was Stockett’s response:
 
“Despite going to the trouble of sending the maid the book and the note, the author is airily dismissive of Abilene’s claim. ‘If I add it up, the number of seconds where we’ve seen each other would be maybe ten or 15,’ she says. ‘I met her twice.’
 
 
 
 
 
As always, I’d like to know what readers think.
Please vote in this poll and leave a comment on your opinion, whether pro or con.
 
And remember, many people have lined their pockets with Stockett’s tale, which has turned into a part fiction/part non-fiction novel it seems. Demetrie McLorn is deceased. Octavia Spencer is getting paid for her role in the film and for her support early on for Stockett’s character of Minny. Abilene Cooper has received a boatload of scorn, and you know what? that is SO WRONG. Viola Davis is receiving accolades and could possibly walk away with an Oscar for portraying a real life maid  whose voice is being surpressed just because she didn’t go along with the program. Somebody needs to do right by this woman.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
To be continued. . .
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