U just might be a Mammy if . . .

Posted on December 21, 2011

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“For all it’s good intentions, and after all is said and done, The Help is being held up as a movie that addresses a shameful time period in American history, while ironically promoting the very stereotypes and misconceptions of the black culture that many African Americans still challenge to this day”

That’s my quote. One I’d written on another site.

While I can slide into the black person who tries to calmly and siccintly explain why The Help, you know, basically sucks, I’m kinda of tired of doing it.  I’m tired of the bullshit reverse psychology with this thing, that has some people acting like those who say they don’t care for The Help are upsetting the balance of race relations, because you know, everything’s so great now for people of color. For the record this tired excuse is also coming from some black folks too.

You love The Help? Then bend over, because you just got screwed.

Here’s a few things I’ve pulled from the web. One poster loved the movie and Viola so, because the black people had no sex on screen, which in this posters mind makes it a “family” film.

Newsflash:

Mammies don’t have sex on screen. They can have a singular kid, usually a female child, but no sex. And by the end of the movie as well as the book, all three maids in The Help are without a significant other. In other words, they’re separated from the black male.

That fact alone makes this less of a family film but more along the lines of perpetuating the offensive myth of Black males are BAD. White males are Good. Think I’m kidding? Then take a look at how the film was being marketed overseas with that “handsome good ol boy” Stuart Whitworth. And note that not one black person in this film is being marketed as “attractive” “pretty” or “good.”

Click image for larger view:

“A Handsome Good Ole Boy” You’ve got to be kidding

 

 

 

 

 

Real life “Good Ole Boys” protesting the integration of Ole Miss:

 

 

 

 

 

Salt and Pepper’s here. The comedic duo of Celia and Minny, making segregation fun for all

Listen, even “Mammies” need love too, or a love interest. The least Tate Taylor could have done was make Aibileen or Constantine a widow.

Instead, as one reviewer notes:

“And we never find out who impregnated Aibileen years before and gave her a son. Was Aibileen’s an immaculate conception? Was she once married but now a widow or divorced? Was she abandoned by her son’s father? He’s never mentioned, to my recollection.”

http://phillisremastered.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/chocolate-breast-milk-a-review-of-the-help/

Ditto that thought for Constantine too.

It’s 2011. Black actresses should have better roles than I’ll suck it up and take one for the team.

Because in my mind,  that’s what happened. All these beautiful, talented black women thought Stockett’s throw back Mammy roles would be their big break (as in Lawd, we done crossed over to the Holy Land in film) and also they’d be taking one for the “team.”

That they’d have the chance to elevate the roles from the seriously offensive BS in the novel. Even though so many white readers swear they never saw anything wrong with Stockett’s depictions:

“I didn’t see anything wrong with the writing in The Help. I mean, sure many of the black men were called lazy, no-ccount, drunk and fools. And sure sometimes what the maids talked about was backwards. But I found it cute and quaint. Minny was so funny! And Aibileen was just lovely. I never even thought about how either of them interacted with members of their own community or how much Minny hollered at her kids.  I’ve been around black people and that’s how they act. And I thought Stockett’s descriptions of black people were okay. I mean, she wasn’t trying to be racist. Give her a break. I liked the book and didn’t see anything wrong with it.”

Sigh. The paragraph above is a combination of the many excuses I’ve read regarding giving the book a pass. Now the movie is getting one also, claiming its now all about the “performances”.

So forget that the roles were stereotypes. The actresses play them so well that you “forget” they’re really stereotypes.

Sort of like this:

Mammy from Gone With The Wind mouthing off. Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for the role

 

 

 

 

Over done angry black woman pose of a full stare down

 

 

 

 

 

Annie from Imitation of Life, 1959 version. Juanita Moore was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar. She played the loyal, self suffering maid to Lana Turner’s divaesque lead character.

Aibileen (Viola Davis) with Mae Mobley in the film The Help

Delilah from Imitation of Life, played by Louise Beavers grinning in the kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aibileen and Minny having a ball in the kitchen, as the whitewashing of segregation via films returns

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the problem? Children. Kitchen. Church.

 

 

 

Lets get some shots of those black people singing in church, a routine example of black “Voice”

 

 

This is the narrow universe in which Hollywood imprisoned African Americans back in the day, that Stockett simply resurrected. From what I can tell Stockett got her initial “inspiration” for Aibileen and Minny from Delilah from Imitation of Life (author Fannie Hurst’s blockbuster) and Mammy, from Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell, an even bigger blockbuster and Pulitzer Prize winning novel).

Then she went about finding black women who could be utilized for descriptive purposes. Or as Tate Taylor reveals in this interview (items in bold are my doing):

TT: . . .  And then Katy said, “I want to come meet everybody!” And so she came to New Orleans in 2003 and she met Octavia. And Octavia was being Octavia and she goes, “You know that book I’m writing? Do you think Octavia would mind if I modeled a character after her?” And I go, “Just do it, just don’t tell her about it.”

KS: No, not modeled – we have to kind of step carefully on that one.

TT: Oh, true.

Link: http://screencrave.com/2011-08-11/interview-writerdirector-tate-taylor-and-author-kathryn-stockett-on-the-help/

 

 

 

Understand that Stockett admitted real life maid Demetrie McLorn was the inspiration for Constantine. The author maintains that real life maid Abilene Cooper is not the inspiration for Aibileen Clark, played by Viola Davis.

Abilene Cooper insists that Stockett watched her as she took care of the children of Robert Stockett Jr, and that pieces of her life were taken to color the character.

See more of Abilene Cooper’s allegations in this post

 

 

 

If the The Help doesn’t win Best Picture, I’d be seriously shocked. Because there’s still the ingrained notion that somehow, someway it’s just wonderful to see black women on screen just loving them some white chilluns. It’s as American as apple pie.

“Oh, but you can certainly expect Viola Davis and/or Octavia Spencer to win Oscars for their performances in this film. I think the sad reality of that is that they won’t so much win for the quality of their performances as much as they’re going to win for what it is, precisely, that they’re performing.” – Mr. Robert Jones Jr.

Quoted from a comment on The Root

 

 

Mr. Jones, thank you. THANK YOU. Because you summed up my ultimate beef with the book, which translated over to the film.

What I hope after all is said and done, is that both Davis and Spencer land roles, or either finally get roles written for them which make the most of all their formidable acting skills. Because claiming that The Help does just that is pure BS. The Help simply puts talented black women into roles far too many white people think “that’s how black people were back then.”

And if I haven’t stated it in this post, then let me say that as a child of two former domestics who made good, my point isn’t that blacks shouldn’t play domestics. My contention is that Stockett created Mammies. Not admirable, or resilient maids.

So allow me to play a little game called . . .

 

You just might be a Mammy if:

You pick up a script and see nothing about your husband or your boyfriend or any significant other, and you’ve had child. Because as I stated earlier in this post. black people not having sex on screen isn’t something for rejoicing. Hollywood made sure of that during segregation. Separation of the black female from the black male is the problem, and also one of the messages of both the book version of The Help and the movie. If you walk on set and don’t see any reminders that you had a man, and that for twenty years your character has abstained from a relationship of any kind, Law, you might be a Mammy.

 

 

The face of mammy two shoes from Tom and Jerry is finally revealed!

 

 

 

 

You just might Be a Mammy If:

One shade fits all. Because in the novel, just like the film Stockett’s premise that “The blacker the better, or I’m told they won’t get hired” is inaccurate and insulting.  But I have to keep in mind that the author claims to think this woman, Mrs. Demetrie McLorn:

 

 

Photo of Demetrie, Stockett’s grandparents maid, holding either Stockett or one of her siblings.

 

 

 

 

Is somehow close in complexion to these two women:

 

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

 

 

 

 

THE LOOK OF EMPOWERMENT. Viola as Aibileen showing just what Kathryn Stockett thought it will take to make a black woman break down during segregation. Being separated from Miss Skeeter and Mae Mobley

 

 

 

 

I had the opportunity to converse on twitter with an executive producer of The Help. Very nice guy, by the way. When I asked why all the maids were similar in skin tone, his response sounded as if he had to ask someone else first and then repeat what they’d said. Let me see if I can recall the context of his response correctly. “Because Hollywood usually casts light complexioned African Americans in starring roles. And that’s not what they wanted to do with this film.” Only, he did admit it was the first he’d heard of my concern regarding most of the maids being played by brown complexioned actresses. My contention was and still is that if you were African American, no matter how light, you were guided into domestic positions.

This happened whether the African American had a college degree, or was a legendary jazz singer, like Billie Holiday:

 

 

Billie Holiday as a maid in the Orson Welles backed film, New Orleans

 

 

 

I don’t remember if I then asked about whether they’d consulted with someone well versed in black history as a technical advisor on set. But I did as, and he stated they did have one.

That “technical advisor” never came forward to challenge assertions by black scholars and professors, like Melissa Harris Perry and Martha Southgate. It could have been an informative, interesting exchange, I think. But just like the book barely faced any critical analysis, Tate Taylor said this about inaccuracies in the film:

“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. The Help has been playing to all four quadrants. All races, ages, sexes have gone to see it. The most profitable theatre of its run has been in Jackson, Mississippi, with a completely mixed audience. And afterwards people stop in the parking lot and talk about the issues.”

AND

 

” . . .Civil rights is just the backdrop. I’m not qualified to make a film about civil rights. People say to me: ‘Why wasn’t there a lynching? Why aren’t there houses burning down?’ But that’s not what this story is. For me, the most horrific moment in the film is the scene where the maid is sitting with her panties round her ankles in a three-by-three plywood bathroom, like a cat in a litter-box, while an impatient white woman is tapping her foot outside. If people need to see blood and gore and can’t see how horrific that is – well, I don’t have answer to that.”

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/oct/20/the-help-domestic-servants-on-film

 

 

 

What The Help put on film will haunt regular black people for years. I know they thought they were doing a good thing, but damn, at some point if you can’t tell lines like “Frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life” is not only stupid as hell, but falls back on the old joke of pairing blacks with chicken, then WTF?

 

 

Mammy dolls. Image from Ferris State Museum of Jim Crow memorablia

 

 

 

You just might be a Mammy if:

In 2011, your on-screen role requires extra weight, yet your co-stars don’t have any such stipulation. The default image of black domestics on screen has been of the heavy set, darker in complexion variety for years. This depiction can still be found in your local supermarket, because Aunt Jemima has been around since the late 1800s.

 

 

The “Happy” darkie myth of Aunt Jemima

 

 

 

Everybody’s favorite “Aunt”, Aunt Jemima, still “large and in charge” even today

 

 

 

Using actual African Americans to mock themselves in ads

 

 

 

Playing Aunt Jemima in the 1960s

 

 

 

Smiling Aunt Jemima clone

 

 

 

Aunt Jemima, as well as other stereotypes of black women were created during segregation. What’s The Help’s excuse?

Minny the Mammy, at the door with an apology and a shit pie for Hilly

You can read more on how The Help caricatured African Americans here:
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