Refuting Tate Taylor or “Damn! My comment on The Help was removed”

Posted on October 22, 2011


Apparently my comment violated the community standards on the Guardian UK’s website, so it’s been deleted. Ah well, guess I didn’t read the terms of service closely enough. Sorry about that.

However, one of the perks of having my own blog is that I can post what I said in its entirety. But before I do that, I really have to thank everyone for either searching out this blog on the web or those who reference this site in their comments. Your support is very much appreciated. Thanks for helping to get the word out or wanting to know more about the controversy surrounding this novel.

Worldwide hits. Please keep em coming



Now, here’s what I’d posted on the Guardian’s site:

First, let me thank Mr. Brooks for this article.
Second, I need to disclose that I created a site in 2010 to counter the misinformation about African Americans in the novel and the movie.

I’d like to address Tate Taylor’s assertion that “All of the criticism we’ve been facing is based on the fact that I’m not an African-American director and that Kathryn is not an African-American writer,” Taylor says. “It suggests that race relations in my country are still very black and white. But outside of a small academic elite, it doesn’t matter.”

When Minny utters the lines “Frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life” and “Minny don’t burn no chicken” UK moviegoers need to realize that during segregation, African Americans were paired with this bird in unflattering and mocking ads, much like blacks were paired with watermelon. There was a sad, disturbing history of using us for mirth in ads during segregation, at the expense of showing how “funny” we were simply for being “different”.

This is but one example of why the film, like the book has its critics.

And like Tyler Perry, who has had his share of critics and happens to be an African American director, there is division over the merits of Stockett’s novel and movie in the black community.

For example, in the novel Aibileen voices inner dialogue which has her self loathing over her dark skin, as well as telling a well known joke. The character has reared one of her seventeen white charges with the warning that he not drink coffee, lest he turn colored.

I remember this, and others. And I can recall what my southern born parents, who worked as domestics for a time would tell me, in order to instill the desire to gain a college degree. NEVER FORGET WHERE YOU CAME FROM, AND WHAT WE WENT THROUGH.

So to say that I was shocked to read some of the things coming out of the black characters mouths as amusing anecdotes, when they weren’t back then is an understatement.

And to Mr. Taylor, I say, IT DOES MATTER.

From the film leaving out several black male characters who were demeaned in the book with labels of “no-count” and one mockingly nicknamed “Crisco” as Aibileen trained her son to call his father that. To Minny’s assessment that many black males leave their families like trash in a dump, when far too often black males were either run out of town, assaulted or lynched just for being black.

To the color coding of the maids themselves, those willing to follow Skeeter were segregated into the pliable, dark, heavy set and thick of dialect, pitted against those closer to white, gifted with articulate speech and “trim” figures. Gretchen, Yule May (the one Aibileen fawns over because she’s got good hair, smooth, no naps in the book) to Lulabelle, whose crime it was to talk back to Charlotte Phelan, (Lulabelle was renamed Rachel in the movie) and was able to pass for white.

The movie wisely dropped the “Tragic Mulatto” storyline as well as several others, like Aibileen’s continued self loathing over her black skin and doting on Mae Mobley while never once hugging or coddling Minny’s youngest, Kindra.

I could not identify with Constantine, Abileen or Minny. The book skimmed over their plight as domestics imo, though the novel is titled “The Help” in favor of Skeeter’s publishing ambitions and quest for love with Stuart.

I did recognize that they represented several beloved American literary and film tropes often used to represent minorities, and not just African Americans. Aibileen is the docile, blindly loyal maid. Minny is the grumbling, “Sassy” maid who is enlisted to provide comedy. Constantine is a hybrid of the two, the earth mother full of sage advice.

Stockett not being a black author wasn’t a consideration for me. It’s because in my opinion, the maid trio she created aren’t admirable characters or ones I’d consider “heroines”.

Talented Viola Davis elevated the character in the movie, though she’s still stuck with lines like “You is smart, you is kind . . .”

Some have argued this is a worthwhile subject, whether it’s flawed or not, and that at least the plight of black domestics was touched upon.

Yet here is where history again repeats, for several other creations having race as a backdrop were given this same “out”

The article mentioned “Imitation of Life” but there’s also “Showboat” which has faced similar criticism, especially the stage version. And I must mention “Amos and Andy”, even more beloved than The Help because at times Aibileen and Minny behave like a female version of this show.

Yes, a tale on domestics in the south is a worthy one. And the film wasn’t expected to be a history lesson, though the novel was promoted as historical fiction as well as women’s fiction.

Whether there’s truth or merit to the criticism, is the key.

That was my much too long, (but deleted by the host site) response to Taylor’s comments



So, in this post I’d like to take a look at Tate Taylor’s assertions. First, that “All of the criticism we’ve been facing is based on the fact that I’m not an African-American director and that Kathryn is not an African-American writer,” Taylor says. “It suggests that race relations in my country are still very black and white. But outside of a small academic elite, it doesn’t matter.”

Using the word “All” may be stretching it a bit. Rotten Tomatoes has a pretty fair representation of both pro and con on the movie. You can access the site here:

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Review of The Help

















Kathyrn Stockett was the darling of the literary world, facing hardly any criticism for nearly two years. If anything, the issues surrounding the novel were ignored until enough voices joined in. Stockett herself had this to say in March 2011, as if she were anticipating something:

Interview with John Barber for Saturday’s Globe and Mail

“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.”

In fact, some have done that, accusing the author of the very contemporary sin of cultural appropriation. But when it comes, Stockett says, the criticism is sometimes a relief. “I do wish that people talked about the subject of race, especially in the South,” she says. “It’s just a really hard and uncomfortable topic.”

But perhaps the person who’s opinion has been cruelly dismissed is real life maid Abilene Cooper, a woman who read far too late about her likeness and pieces of her life in the novel:

Ablene Cooper’s photo from the UK Daily Mail. This is the “real deal” Abilene


“The lawsuit said the author’s conduct  ‘is not a mere insult, indignity, annoyance or trivial matter to Ablene. Kathryn Stockett’s conduct has made Ablene feel violated, outraged and revulsed,’ according to the Jackson Clarion Ledger.

Despite the fact that Kathryn Stockett had actual knowledge that using the name and likeness of Ablene in ‘The Help’ would be emotionally upsetting and highly offensive to Ablene, Kathryn Stockett negligently and-or intentionally and in reckless disregard for the rights and dignity of Ablene proceeded with her plans,’  it says.

Kathryn Stockett’s appropriation of Ablene’s name and likeness was done for Kathryn Stockett’s commercial advantage, namely to sell more copies of ‘The Help. . .

The author’s father, Robert Stockett Jr. of Jackson Miss., told 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.

The abc site also reported Stockett as saying: ” ‘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 . . .”

Read what Abilene Cooper has to say in her own words here

There’s something still gnawing at Stockett, and whether it concerns Abilene Cooper, or simply everything Stockett has gone through with her sudden stardom is anyone’s guess. Because in one of her most recent interviews with Wyatt Williams of CL, the writer sounds seriously depressed, admitting that she’s recently divorced and has a few misgivings:

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:

In truth, I’ve seen a few comments that address Stockett and Taylor’s race. But in the context of these two not being able to relate or adequately convey what African American domestics went through during segregation. And both Stockett and Taylor have made some major gaffes in their interviews, with Stockett claiming in three audio interviews that Medgar Evers had been “bludgeoned.” This mistake was also in the hard copy of the book. Pg 277 of the hard copy, first edition):

Medgar Evers error on Pg 277 of the hard cover edition



Skeeter states: Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers.

An editor didn’t catch it, least of all Stocket herself.

You can read more on Stockett’s error, as well as links to the audio interviews here

And there’s the statement Stockett made when addressing a group of journalists in Philadelphia. “I just made this shit up!” More on this flippant response to a woman’s question can be found here

Tate Taylor’s recent statement is in line with his voicing the thought that seeing Viola Davis do a scene where she’s told to hurry up in the outhouse is “…worse that seeing a lynching. It just is.” More on this statement can be found here

And there’s something else that no one, except on this site has been willing to address. Stockett has been truthful in admitting she spent time at her grandparents, and that they still practiced segregation long after it was outlawed. Stockett was born in 1969. The Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1964. Yet here’s what she says about her grandmother’s treatment of Demetrie:

“But my older brother and sister and I weren’t allowed to bother Demetrie during her lunch break.  Grandmother would say, ‘Leave her alone now, let her eat, this is her time,’ and I would stand in the doorway itching to get back with her.  Grandmother wanted Demetrie to rest so she could finish her work, not to mention white people didn’t sit at the table while a colored person was eating.”




Stockett revealed even more on her grandmother’s view of race in this 2009 interview with Jessamy Calkin of the UK Telegraph:

“Stockett is telling me about her grandparents, who played a big part in her life when she was a child. Her grandmother Caroline grew up in Shanghai in a family of missionaries (‘Grandmother went over there with her family to save the souls of the heathens’), returning to Mississippi when war broke out. ‘She came back to settle down and start a family with a very strict idea of how things should be between people of colour, coming from Shanghai, where there was no middle class. And of course that is exactly how Mississippi did things, so she fitted right in.’ ”




Unfortunately, as I read The Help, I noted Stockett wasn’t able to filter out the negative myths about African Americans which made their way into her novel.

Her “humor” included demeaning scenes in which both Aibileen and Minny were used to show how “different” blacks were than whites. And while some readers appeared simply enchanted with how Stockett had captured the voices of the black maids  in Amos n’ Andy-ish thick dialect, its what the author has the maids stating that may be at the heart of why Stockett’s received much criticism. Here are a few examples (items in bold are my doing):

How his foot fell asleep and he say it tickle. I told him that was just his foot snoring. And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years  old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Pg 91) Aibileen

Plenty of black males 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 aboutMinny Jackson (Pg 311)

“We was all surprised Constantine would go and… get herself in a family way. Some folks at church wasn’t so kind about it, especially when the baby come out white. Even though the father was black as me.” Aibileen to Skeeter (Pg 358)

“Cat got on the porch this morning, bout gave me a cadillac arrest thinking it was Mister Johnny.” Minny (Pg 48)

“Say maybe she getting mal-nutritious.” Aibileen to Minny, (Pg 14)

“I got me a knife!” Minny (Pg 307)

She roll her eyes and stick her tongue out like I handed her a plate a dog biscuits. “I knew you was getting senile,” she say.  Aibileen, noting Minny’s expression before she answers. (Pg 430)

My mouth drop open. Why she never tell me this before? “You saying people think I got the black magic?” (Aibileen speaking to Minny as they walk to church, Pg 24)



Comments that are just plain stupid by the black characters:

“I was in attic, looking down at the farm,” I tell her. “I could see the tops of the trees.”

“You gone be a brain surgeon! Top a the house mean the head.” (Pg 63) – Constantine’s reply to Skeeter

Minny’s husband comments on her pregnancy (this zinger comes after having five other children) “You don’t get tired. Not till the tenth month.” Leroy (Pg 406 )

“You gone accuse me of a philosophizing.”

“Go ahead,” I say. “I ain’t afraid of no philosophy.” (Pg 311, Minny and Aibileen discuss Celia not seeing the “lines” between black and white)

Aibileen can say “philosophy” “congealed salad” “parliamentary” “conjugation””motorized rotunda” and “domesticized feline” yet can’t stop using “pneumonia” for “ammonia”. Yeah righhhhtttt.



Now, a closer  look at some of my key points, and whether there’s any truth or merit:

When Minny utters the lines “Frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life” and “Minny don’t burn no chicken” UK moviegoers need to realize that during segregation, African Americans were paired with this bird in unflattering and mocking ads, much like blacks were paired with watermelon. There was a sad, disturbing history of using us for mirth in ads during segregation, at the expense of showing how “funny” we were simply for being “different”.

Here’s Minny’s inner dialogue about chicken in the novel:

Frying chicken always makes me feel a little better about life. I almost forget I’m working for a drunk. (Pg 224)

Ads featuring African Americans and chicken:

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

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

Birth of a Nation, where a black legislator is eating a piece of fried chicken


Quite frankly, that’s pretty damn insulting of him to speak as if what those in higher education have to say is of no importance. Perhaps if more educators had been consulted, then the liberties taken in both the film and the book, which constitute a number of sloppy errors could have been limited.

On the contrary, real history can be used to show just how wrong Stockett got it. But what’s also important is that over  time, the lack of research Stockett did on the black community will come to light. While the author talks about researching “social norms” during this period, it’s clear she concentrated solely on her own community, yet still erred in that regard.

For example,  at twenty-four years of age Hilly Holbrook is somehow an influential socialite. The movie tries to correct this, creating the Young Mothers Association.

But in the novel Stockett claims Hilly presided over the Junior League, when rising to that position would have taken time and political/social connections. Both of which Hilly was still in the process of establishing.

Older women had the power back then. Hilly would have been viewed as a young upstart, and put in her place. Social standing depended on a number of factors. Family lineage, wealth, influence and the power wielded. While some of these things could be passed down, the influence and power still had to be earned. In the novel, Mrs. Walters was treated as if she followed Hilly’s lead, and not the other way around.

Another problem Stockett faces is how the book can be used to show the true intent or nature of her characters. While the Aibileen Clark of the film has been altered to lessen her self loathing nature, its still there in black and white in the novel.

Aibileen and Mae Mobley

Aibileen’s low self esteem and Uncle Tomish inner thoughts will forever dog this character. In Stockett’s zeal to “inhabit” a black maid, she wrongly assumed the way blacks dealt with oppression was to either lash out at their own community (Minny, in her tired and oh so corny jokes about members of her church and her own kids) or to turn their contempt inward, which is what Aibileen does.

Another problem is how the author separated her maids via skin tone:


Patterns in the novel

The maids with more white characteristcs (Yule May, Gretchen and Lulabelle) have a bit more backbone and act on their anger, to which Stockett then decides to put them in their place. Thus Yule May winds up in jail, Gretchen loses out on the proceeds from the maid’s novel, and Lulabelle suffers the cruelest cut of all, after causing her mom (Constantine) to lose her job at the Phelan household, and the woman apparently dies of a broken heart within a week of leaving and moving to Chicago with Lulabelle (renamed Rachel in the movie)

Sorry Ms. Stockett, but inner courage is more that longingly staring at white people and wishing you had their complexion, which is what the author infers with Aibileen detesting her brown complexion. Aibileen repeats this refrain “Black as me.”

Stockett has the woman fawning over the white characters she’s raised “I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup a coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine.” (Pg 91) and the maid Yule May’s hair of all things.

Yule May easy to recognize from the back cause she got such good hair, smooth, no nap to it.  (Pg 208)

For more on how Stockett color codes her maids, see this post:

Aibileen’s folksy sayings and demeanor resemble Uncle Remus from Disney’s Song of The Song

Publisher info categorizing The Help

Publication Data sent to Library of Congress

Note on another page where Stockett has Minny reflects on Evers getting shot:
 Click for larger image:

Discrepancy Stockett’s publisher failed to catch. But why didn’t Stockett catch it?

Error on Evers in the Paperback version of The Help

Meredith’s attempts to attend the school began in 1961. The real student run newspaper, The Rebel Underground printed some unflattering slurs against him in Feb of 1962. And its important to remember that Skeeter didn’t graduate until that May of 1962. Also, Stockett has her as the editor of the fictional Rebel Rouser, so as the editor of the student paper, the news about Meredith’s continued efforts to integrate her school would be of prime interest and concern for a journalism major:

Feb 1962 Rebel Underground student paper insults James Meredith

Rebel Underground Feb 1962

Aibileen’s less than admirable reasoning after Medgar Evers death

Children protesing in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama are led to jail

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