Dear UK and Ireland: Ten + things from the novel The Help movie tried to fix

Posted on October 20, 2011

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The Help is opening in the UK and Ireland next week on October 26th, so I thought I’d make a special appeal to overseas moviegoers (and readers of the novel) to keep in mind a number of things:

UK and Ireland movie Poster. Why are Hilly and Skeeter even on a poster about The Help? Because the movie isn't really about black domestics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 1. The Medgar Evers Error

The publisher has quietly corrected the paperback and electronic version, but the error remains in the first edition of the hard bound copy where Skeeter states Medgar Evers was “bludgeoned” and not shot.

Medgar Evers error on Pg 277 of the hard cover edition

 

 

Since both the publisher and film makers were courting the good will of Medgar Evers widow, this is highly embarrassing. Stockett further compounds the sizeable gaffe by stating in three audio interviews that Evers was indeed “bludgeoned” even adding that Evers’ children witnessed it.

No such problem in the movie, as Skeeter witnesses a news report on Evers assassination.

Skeeter, watching civil rights history but neither thrilled or disappointed

 

 

More on the Medgar Evers error in the book can be found here

 

 

 

2.  Minny smacking her daughter in defense of Celia Foote’s honor

In the novel, right after the Junior League Benefit (I believe it’s called the Young Mothers Association in the movie) Minny’s teen daughter Sugar gossips and laughs about Celia Foote’s drunkenness. Minny, an abused woman then turns around and abuses her own daughter, smacking the girl and setting her straight apparently, on she who makes all things possible for their family to survive, that being Celia Foote.

 From the novel:

I looked up from my sink and saw Sugar headed straight for me with her hand on her hip. “Yeah Mama, she upchuck all over the floor. And everybody at the whole party see!” Then Sugar turned  around laughing with all the others. She didn’t see the whap coming at her. Soapsuds flew through the air.

“You shut your mouth Sugar.” I yanked her to the corner. “Don’t you never let me hear you talking bad about the lady who put food in your mouth, clothes on your back! You hear me!”

Sugar, she nodded and I went back to my dishes, but  I heard her muttering “You do it, all the time.”

I whipped around and put my finger in her face. “I got a right to. I earn it every day working for that crazy fool.” (Page 334)

There’s no Minny smacking her child in the movie. But you will find her true love revealed. Fried Chicken.

As the movie resurrects a known stereotype about African Americans, as Minny simply salivates over cooking and eating it, with lines like “Frying chicken tend to make you feel better about life” and “I love me some friend chicken.”

It's Chicken Time! The stereotype of blacks loving chicken is resurrected in The Help

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children weren't immune to mockery. This GE ad uses the stereotype of blacks and fried chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s the director and screenwriter for The Help’s award winning short film:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on those behind the movie’s insensitive blunders can be found here

 https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/director-says-thats-worse-than-seeing-a-lynching/

 

And here:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/i-just-made-this-shit-up-per-stockett/

And here:

 https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/the-help-got-over/

 

 

 

3. Aibileen’s self loathing

While Viola Davis has managed to imbue Aibileen with a quiet resolve and inner strength on screen, the Aibileen of the novel has such low self esteem it’s a wonder she was able to think up the cringe worthy daily affirmation of “You is kind, you is smart, you is im-po-tent” to have Mae Mobley recite.

Young Actress playing Mae Mobley learning her "You is" isms, a contrived and condescending piece of dialogue meant to "inspire"

In the book, Aibileen comes across as positively loathing the brown skin she was born in, repeating this phrase “Black as me.”

Not only does she do a color swatch test with a roach  (among the black characters, this scene vies for the most offensive in the book with the asinine, spoilt cootchie  dialogue between Minny and Aibileen, as well as Minny smacking her daughter and her subsequent Mammyish reasoning for doing it)

But Saint Aibileen also feels the need to compare her shade of brown with Connor, Constantine’s absentee lover .  Couple the character’s inferiority complex with her fawning over Yule May’s “good hair” and her undying devotion to most of the white characters in the novel, and its no wonder Abilene Cooper filed a lawsuit. Because as originally written, Aibileen Clark is one part Mammy and a whole lotta Uncle Tom.

 

 

 

4. Aibileen’s contrived tagline

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

 

While the movie has given her a bit more fire in the final confrontation with Hilly (“You are a Godless woman” was never spoken in the book). Viola Davis was still stuck with the cringe worthy but oh so important come Oscar time, thick of dialect line “You is kind, you is smart, you is im-po-tent.” Which begs the question, if Aibileen couldn’t impart proper grammar usage on her young charge, then why is “You are a  Godless women” not “You is a godless woman?” Hmmm?

 

 

 

 

 

5. Aibileen ignoring Minny’s youngest daughter in order to dote on Mae Mobley.

Kindra was a smart mouthed, all attitude and essentially a mini-me version of Minny.  Though she was only three years older than Mae Mobley when the novel began (Kindra was five, Mae Mobley was two) and she was the youngest daughter of Aibileen’s best friend, the child was ignored by Aibileen and the object of scorn and a whole lotta hollering at by her mother, Minny. Never mind that the kid witnessed or overheard her dad’s rages against her mother, and how he violently beat Minny. Aibileen has no scene in book where she attempts to sit Kindra on her knee and impart any self esteem or gives Kindra a loving embrace.

The character isn’t listed in the cast http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1454029/fullcredits#cast  , so it looks like Kindra wasn’t in the movie.

More on how Kathryn Stockett made a difference in the littlest characters in her novel:

Caricature of a Child: Comparing Mae Mobley to Kindra

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/comparing-mae-mobley-to-kindra

 

 

 

6. Demeaning of the African American male in the novel, while attempting to rehabilitate the southern white male.

The movie simply dropped and limited many of the offensive black males who were in the lives of the primary maids. Minny had two in her life, her “no good drunk daddy” as well as the abusive Leroy. Thankfully Leroy’s screen time is short, with him shouting off screen. But by lessening Minny’s storyline of abuse, this frees her to truly be the “Sassy” maid stereotype.

Reverend Green’s part was beefed up, so that his sermon inspires Aibileen to offer assistance to Skeeter. And Treelore is mentioned when Aibileen recalls his untimely death (while the book has Treelore dying in a work accident, reportedly the movie states he was murdered). However Aibileen’s ex Clyde is not mentioned, so the reason why she’s alone is never explored. Which brings up the question of whether movie goers even know that Aibileen was married.

Why is this important?

Because with more than enough stereotypes about the black culture that were wrongly inserted in the book, Aibileen now joins Constantine as a single parent at a time when African Americans were actively joined in wedlock. Even the woman Stockett swears is the inspiration for the character of Aibileen remained married to her husband until the day she died. Why Stockett decided in order to show how “different” the black and white cultures are, to then portray African Americans as more promiscious, falls back on segregationist ideology. Of her white characters, only Celia Foote has sex before marriage, yet she does marry. All the other employers, including Hilly and Elizabeth are lawfully wed. Skeeter is single, yet she’s virginal and pure as snow (unfortunately, Stockett wrote her novel as if this thought is unheard of in the black community), swept off her feet by none other than what the PR on the movie calls a“good ole boy” (eyeroll). While Johnny Foote is deemed a “Dreamboat.”

Good Ole Boy. You've got to be kidding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Gentleman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you were ever on the fence as to whether the people behind the film have any idea how bone headed and insenstive this type of marketing is, then would you believe there’s more, like a poorly thought out collaboration with HSN, selling cookware and other items (like a knock off of the floral dress Hilly wore). Since The Help featured black women slaving away in the kitchens of their white employers, did the people in the marketing departments even realize how tasteless this was?

Liz Jones, an Australian film critic said it best:

“It’s like being asked to a screening of Schindler’s List, and then “getting the look” of all the lovely uniforms. Such is modern-day marketing.”

Link to the full review:

http://www.perthnow.com.au/crushing-women/story-fn6o0xxk-1226129928849

And I have to ask, how many films on say, Nazi’s were made crowing about how the concentration camp guard was a “dreamboat” or “a gentleman?”

THEY JUST DON’T GET IT, and probably never will.

Segregation was so bad, it was as if African Americans were living in a war zone. We could be verbally and physically attacked simply for no reason other than we were of a darker hue. Yet the author of The Help and those promoting this rosy view of Jim Crow would rather people yuck it up, and swallow the age old Antebellum myth of the “affection” between blacks and their oppressors. If you know nothing about segregation, then know this:

It wasn’t slavery, but it was damn near close.

Enough that a people rose up almost as one, willing to risk life and limb to change things even though many would not live to see the promised land. That’s how important the goal of freedom was. It was dubbed a “freedom” movement for a reason.

And yet, even though the white males in The Help willingly practice segregation, somehow they’re also soap opera handsome, really swell guys who make women swoon. Because unlike the black males in her book, the ones Stockett negatively labeled, Carlton Phelan (renamed Robert in the movie), Stuart Whitworth and even Senator Stoolie Whitworth, Stuart’s father are given an out, a gift courtesy of an omni-present narrator, Kathryn Stockett herself. Much like the movie tries to portray Stuart and Johnny as males you’d love to bring home to mother (as long as your mom isn’t black, that is) the book has Stockett intruding to “tell” the reader that the white males are either “a good man” “an honest man” and only practicing segregation because its simply the will of constiuents and cause you know, he’s only telling them what they want to hear but in his heart he’s really liberal.

Can you tell that I think this blatant attempt at rehab is bullshit of the highest order?

In the novel, Stockett never once demeans her white male characters with labels like “no-count” “no-good” “a fool” “Crisco” aka “The greasiest no-count you ever known” which is a label Aibileen trains her son to call his father.

More on how Stockett plays favorites not just with the males in her novel, but the children in the book can be found in these posts:

Why the Help is Useless to African Americans:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-help-useless-to-african-americans/

 

 

7. Charlotte Phelan was a silly, bigoted wimp in the novel. The film also attempts to rehab her character, miscasting Allison Janney (love the actress, but she was wrong for the role. Charlotte Phelan was a former beauty queen, petite and pretty, more in line with what passed for the accepted standard of an attractive, all American woman in the 60s). Charlotte’s no longer silly in the movie, but intimidating. She gets to have a newly inserted face-off with Hilly Holbrook, and gets to say chic lit lines like this in the movie:

Charlotte Phelan played by Allison Janney nags her daughter Eugenia aka Skeeter

 

 Charlotte Phelan: Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?

 

Charlotte Phelan: Get your raggedy ass off my porch.
Links for Quotes:

 

 

 

 

8. Hilly Holbrook was more sinister in the novel. The movie camps up the character, as well as her minions so that moviegoers don’t have to feel truly bad about the times. After all, with Hilly being so over the top, how could someone like that ever exist? And here’s where the movie as well as the book both failed. While The Help wasn’t expected to be a history book, pretending as if following segregation was simply a bunch of grown up mean girls acting bitchy to their domestics is the greatest slight of all. More on Hilly can be found here

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/why-the-help-gets-on-my-last-nerve/its-all-hillys-fault/

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Hilly "boo hiss" Holbrook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. The character of Yule May Crookle and color coding the maids

The film changed Yule May’s last name from “Crookle” to Davis.  A wise move, since naming a character who turns out to be a thief “Crookle” was a piss poor inside joke that telegraphed the character’s eventual fate. The movie switches around a few things though. In the film, the maids agree to help Skeeter after Medgar Evers is murdered. In the book, the maids agree to help after Hilly accuses Yule May of stealing a worthless ring and has her imprisoned (Yule May admits her crime in a lengthy confession letter to Skeeter, in a very poorly thought out scene in the book. Why would Yule May admit anything to Skeeter, a young woman she’s never even met? In addition, Skeeter’s best friend is Hilly, so why would Yule May think Skeeter would believe her thievery was justified? Because to top it all off, Yule May’s rationale for stealing from Hilly is because she wants to send both sons to a private school, but is $75 dollars short. I don’t know if Kathryn Stockett realized Tougaloo college was a private institution).

Feel free to groan and roll your eyes over this WTF? premise. And remember, Yule May has two years of college herself. Had she never heard of sending the boys to a community college first? Or the eventual resolution, which was to go to her church instead of getting mad because Hilly, who’s a bigot and proud of it won’t lend her the money.

The film was also wise to drop Aibileen’s salivating over Yule May’s hair (“Yule May easy to spot from the back. She got good hair, smooth, no naps” Aibileen, Pg  ). And while the skin tone of Yule May isn’t made clear in novel, my guess is she was intended to be light complexioned. Because Stockett again telegraphs her moves, this time in threes. Constantine, Aibileen and Minny are the Mammyish triad who are all described as dark, heavy set and saddled with thick dialects.

However Lulabelle, who’s able to pass for white in the novel, and Gretchen (light enough to wear pink lipstick) and Yule May (remember, she’s got good hair or as Aibileen muses “smooth, no naps.”) are gifted with articulate speech.

Stockett even pulls a far fetched rationale out of her ass, supposing that most of the maids had to be “the blacker the better” or they wouldn’t get hired. Since this scene comes along mid-way in book, its as if someone realized too late in the process that most of the primary maids (Aibileen, Constantine and Minny) looked and sounded like Aunt Jemima.

So what the film did unfortunately, was to give life to Stockett’s made up premise of maids having to be “dark” and this is the result:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which leads to the question: Why are most, if not all the maids in the movie stuck with Stockett’s skewed vision, while many of the white characters are young and made up mighty purdy?

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on Yule May click here 

 

 

 

10. Lulabelle going from light to dark ties with Minny becoming even more stereotypical in the movie.

In the book Lulabelle somehow skips a generation and is able to pass for white. You see, Constantine’s daddy was white. Only Constantine came out dark, or calico, depending on how you read Stockett’s wacky description of her coloring. Constantine gets with Connor, who’s also dark complexioned, and yet lo and behold they have a daughter who comes out so pale that she’s able to pass for white. While this may have been possible had Stockett revealed if Connor also had a white father, the film wisely avoids this biologic mess and casts a lovely brown skinned actress to play Lulabelle. And also wisely renames the character to Rachel.

The novel has a highly non-amusing scene meant to be slap-stick. Minny brandishes a knife, while chasing a naked pervert who likes to stroke himself as he calls her a “fat, black nigger.” The film didn’t go this route, simply merging Minny’s clumsy attempt at assaulting the pervert with the character meeting Johnny Foote for the first time.

So instead of Minny getting laughs because she’s too heavy to chase down a butt naked white guy, Octavia Spencer gets chuckles for picking up a stick to ward off Johnny, and runs off while he chases after her. In each case though, Minny’s weight and her reaction are what elicit laughter.

Minny also gets stereotypical quips like “Frying chicken tend to make you feel better about life. I loves me some fried chicken.” and the ability to speak of herself in the third person, but thankfully, not to look directly into the camera with “Minny don’t burn no fried chicken.”

While having the maid state these obviously caricatured and tired lines helped to show off her “sassiness” I guess the film risked even more outcry by inserting Minny chasing the naked pervert scene. Can’t have a film without a black person showing how funny and “sassy” they are, don’t cha know.  However, since Stockett and Tate Taylor, the writer of the screenplay and director of the movie are fond of invoking the names of their former maids and also the one black friend they both seem to share, (that being Octavia Spencer in order to show that “See, we can write black characters! Why we even know two black people!”) after reading some of their published interviews and quotes, it appears Stockett and Taylor could benefit immensely with adding more diversity in their circle of friends and associates. Just saying.

More on how Stockett color coded her maids can be found here:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/colorstruck-in-the-help/

 

 

(Okay, I couldn’t stop at just ten)

11. Abileen. Cooper.  The UK’s Daily Mail did right by Abilene Cooper by at least hearing her out. I can’t say the same for the U.S. media. I mean, maybe some news outlets in America did try to contact her, but many of the articles I’ve read were written from the stand point of covering the court case and nothing more. I didn’t even see any African American news sites going deeper into her story (I don’t doubt that I missed some sites that may have done a story on Cooper. I hope a commentor will leave me a link in that case).

I ask you to Remember Abilene Cooper. Because Viola Davis is playing this woman on screen, without Cooper’s permission.

More on Cooper’s sad saga can be found here

 

 

12. Skeeter as the Shirley Temple AKA The Little Colonel of the Civil Rights Movement.

Shirley Temple brings smiles to the Civil War

UK and Ireland, this could happen to you. Imagine a writer inserting a spunky, frizzy haired American heroine into your country’s history and insinuating that you needed a bit of prodding and backbone to tell your own story.

Skeeter says goodbye to her new friends

 

 

And now, for your viewing pleasure, and since this old clip from MAD TV says it so well, my gift to you:
 
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