So, about The Help and this “Agreement” among friends

Posted on January 16, 2012

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Call me intrigued.

I can’t help but wonder about this “agreement” between early supporters/friends of The Help.

Here, in Kathryn Stockett’s own words are mentions of the agreement that of late has paid off for the participants:

“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/

 

The touch Skeeter dared not do

 

 

And there’s this from the author regarding Octavia Spencer’s part:

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

 

 

 

Okay, nothing wrong with that. And really nothing to dwell on. But there’s also a couple of interesting admissions from director/screenwriter Tate Taylor:

Tate Taylor: The gift of the whole thing was that I got the rights from Kathryn before she had a publisher, and she didn’t even know the book would get published and if it did get published, if it would do anything, so the real gift and the miracle of this movie is that I got to go off and adapt my friend’s screenplay unencumbered, by myself, and just write it from the heart and write it as a Mississippian and write it as a guy that had the pleasure of having an African-American woman in his life, Carol Lee, the woman who co-raised me with my mother. So I just got to tell the truth and write from the heart. Once the script was done and the book came out, that script kind of served as the calling card.

Link: Exclusive Interview: Filmmaker Tate Taylor on The Help – ComingSoon.net http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=84880#ixzz1j5esR8MC

 

 

 

But if he got the rights BEFORE Stockett had a publisher, how would he know which way the book would be edited? Stockett signed with Amy Einhorn and her novel helped launch the imprint. Stockett also stated in another interview that Einhorn worked on page after page with her, to come up with the finished novel. Yet somehow Taylor was able to guess which way they’d go with the characters (like who’d be kept and who’s part would be beefed up, etc.)

There’s another editor mentioned in the back of the book, as well as a couple of copy editors who worked on the research.

Whether the original manuscript looks anything like the finished product is the question. It’s the rare first time novelist whose book doesn’t need changes or professional editing.

Yet Tate Taylor, in not only the interview above, but in a second audio interview again states:

“The greatest gift that could have ever happened was I got the rights when Kathryn had nothing. She had been turned down by her 60th person. So when I got the rights I thought I was adapting my friend’s un-publishable manuscript. So I went out and wrote it free of Hollywood or anybody saying this has to be in there, and this has to be in there and I just wrote it as a tribute of my friend’s book and making her happy and to Carol Lee and Demetrie and the women that I all knew. So no offense to the readers I just didn’t worry about it. Cause if I kept true to the book and told the truth that hopefully it would work out.” 

Link: Atlanta Moms on the Move http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shc0mdT-0Cc

 

 

Link: Atlanta Moms on the Move http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shc0mdT-0Cc

 

 

 

While Taylor talks about getting the rights very early on, enabling him to work on the screenplay after reading the manuscript before Stockett found an agent and a publisher, older interviews don’t have Stockett admitting that as fact.  Stockett’s name was not known until after her book was published, got some buzz and started climbing up the best seller lists. Here’s what the author said when asked about the screen rights (items in bold are my doing).

 

Your friend had very little directing experience. What convinced you to give him the film rights?

I had so many people telling me, look, you cannot option this to Tate. He doesn’t have enough film experience. Tate was asking me for the rights and I’m pushing back because of all these voices… I said no and everything went silent between me and Tate for two weeks. Tate called me and it was a last ditch effort. I told him who else was asking for the rights, other filmmakers who had a lot of punch behind their names. Tate said, ‘Look, this is how many books this person has optioned and they’re sitting on the shelves and don’t get made into movies…It will either not get made, or be really bad because they’re not from Mississippi.’ I realized oh my gosh, Tate’s got to make this movie.

Link: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/08/10/author-kathryn-stockett-on-the-real-story-behind-the-help/

 

 

Here’s another published interview with Katie Couric that’s more specific (items in bold are my doing):

 

Katie Couric: You and Tate Taylor, the director of the film, grew up together in Jackson. Would you have trusted any other director to turn your book into a movie?

Kathryn Stockett: Tate and I went to kindergarten together! In junior high, we were sneaking out in our parents’ cars and drinking. So when I got a publisher for The Help, Tate called me and said, “Can I have the film rights?” At first I said no. Every adviser in my life was saying, “Don’t do it. He’s untested.” But I’m so glad I did.

Link: http://lifestyle.msn.com/your-life/bigger-picture/article.aspx?cp-documentid=29865448

 

 

 

But here’s a more recent interview where Taylor contradicts Stockett:

 

“We have different versions of the story of how it came to happen (laughter). Tate said…the thing that really kind of broke me, and it wasn’t like a huge argument that we had about whether he would make the movie. . . .

Tate Taylor: If you think about it, you gave me the rights in June of 2008 and three years later (that was before the book was out) it was written, the book came out, and the movie’s finished. That’s quick. Maybe I was trying to scare you a little bit. But I’ve just been out here and you hear of these great projects…I think The Secret History,  that’s one they put expensive writers on and then people don’t like it and then they bring on another expensive writer and all these people get involved and gets whittled and ugh. I didn’t want that to happen.

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

 

 

Taylor’s PR interview confirms that Stockett’s novel has been rejected and that the author was so despondent, she gave it to him to read. In the same interview Taylor states he saw the potential visualized who could play what part:

KS: Mmmmm, I don’t. I read! So no. But while I was writing the manuscript and Tate was reading it he kept saying, “Oh good, in this scene we’ll do this…” And I kept going, “Tate it’s not a movie – it’s a book!” I didn’t even have an agent and Tate said, “well listen when you shoot this scene…” We’re just very different writers. But it was really exciting to hand this project over to Tate because I knew he’d get it. We grew up in the same circumstances. It’s amazing how parallel our lives were. Both of our mom’s were divorced.

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

 

 

There’s an old saying in black community Yaw know what time it is.

Wake up people. And forget the PR spin.

 

Remember, Stockett told Katie Couric, as well as a few other early interviewers that Taylor aquired the rights AFTER she landed a publisher. More recent interviews state otherwise. So did Taylor “help” tidy up the book to make it more presentable to an agent? It would be understandable for a friend to point out to another friend what might be wrong. Also keep in mind that Taylor claims to be the one who gave Stockett the go ahead to use Octavia Spencer as the prototype for Minny, the sassy, loud mouthed maid.

” . . . 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.” -quote by Kathryn Stockett

Link: http://www.kathrynstockett.com/stockett-qanda.htm

 

 

Here’s the interview where Stockett decides Spencer is her Minny, with Tate Taylor’s blessing:

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/

 

 

 
I doubt if the exact details of the “agreement” will ever fully be revealed. But there are enough published reports to piece together a few scenarios.  Spencer read the being worked on or finished novel  (Spencer has stated in published interviews that she and Taylor were roommates during this period) and agreed to go on a book tour with Stockett. The author also spoke up on Spencer’s behalf, so that she was picked to do the audio version of Minny:

“ . . . It’s amazing,” she [Stockett] 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.”

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.”

Read the entire interview here:

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

 

 

It would be only natural that Stockett want Octavia Spencer to voice the part of Minny, since early on the author admitted Spencer was the inspiration for the character. Spencer also popped up on the internet early on to defend the novel and was also quoted in various articles praising the book:

Click image to enlarge

Octavia Spencer speaks up for The Help

 

 

There’s also glowing praise Stockett gives Spencer when the actress calls her agent and agrees to go on tour with her. Stockett voiced the white characters and Spencer voiced the black characters.

When criticism from the African American community reached reviewers who’d originally declared that the novel was told in “pitch perfect voices” (a phrase the publisher used to promote the book) more articles and interviewers asked the author about it. However by the time Stockett was on a press tour overseas, “dialect-gate” couldn’t derail the popularity of the book. Yet the author made this curious statement:

” . . . once I found it was going to be published I kind of braced myself for a lot of criticism, I’m still kind of bracing myself waiting for it, I’m sure it’s coming at some point, but it hasn’t come yet.”

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

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

 

Abilene Cooper’s allegations surfaced shortly after. And I’d assume like others, that this is what the statement was in reference to. But what if it wasn’t? What if there was something else? After real life maid Mrs. Cooper  (who works for Stockett’s brother) went public with a lawsuit claiming the character of Aibileen Clark was really patterned after her, here’s what Stockett said:

What’s the status of the lawsuit that was filed against you earlier this year, by a woman who babysat for members of your family and says that you based a major character in the novel on her, against her wishes?

You know, it hasn’t been resolved yet. The only word I know to use is puzzling and confusing. I’ve met this person, I think twice, maybe three times, for ten seconds…I’m confused about where all this is coming from…I don’t know this person.”

In court, Cooper’s lawyer mentioned a note with a copy of the book that Stockett gave to Cooper. The note reportedly thanked Cooper for her years of service watching Robert Stockett’s two young children (reportedly a girl and a boy, much like Elizabeth Leefolt’s kids in the novel)

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

And here’s what Cooper states shortly before her lawsuit was thrown out of court (due to the statute of limitations):

. . . Abilene says: ‘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. . .

So how could Kathryn Stockett have known about Abilene’s story? The 42-year-old author has said she started to write The Help in New York, but Abilene does not claim she told the author her life story.

The fact that she was working for Stockett’s brother Robert and his wife Carroll may be how the writer learnt the details. 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.’

. . . 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.

Stockett contended in her note that she modelled Aibileen on a long-dead black maid called Demetrie who worked for the author’s family in Jackson: ‘The Help is purely fiction and the character was loosely inspired by my own relationship with Demetrie’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2033369/Her-family-hired-maid-12-years-stole-life-Disney-movie.html#ixzz1jewPbFMs

 

 

While Spencer went along with the agreement, Cooper’s reaction was the opposite, even though she represented the profession Stockett claimed to be paying homage to with her book (items in bold are my doing).

Q. What was the genesis of the novel?

A. “Growing up in Mississippi, almost every family I knew had a black woman working in their house–cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the white children. That was life in Mississippi. I was young and assumed that’s how most of America lived.

When I moved to New York, though, I realized my “normal” wasn’t quite the same as the rest of America’s. I knew a lot of Southerners in the city, and every now and then we’d talk about what we missed from the South. Inevitably, somebody would start talking about the maid they grew up with, some little thing that made us all remember–Alice’s good hamburgers or riding in the back seat to take Willy May home. Everybody had a story to tell.

Twenty years later, with a million things to do in New York City, there we were still talking about the women who’d raised us in our mama’s kitchens. It was probably on one of those late nights, homesick, when I realized I wanted to write about those relationships from my childhood.”
Link: http://www.kathrynstockett.com/stockett-qanda.htm

 

 

That southern “group” consisted of Stockett, Tate Taylor, perhaps Brunson Green and a few more individuals. I highly doubt if Octavia Spencer was anywhere around when they wistfully recalled having of black maids. But, I could be wrong.

In any event Spencer says she was approached after the novel was published (or perhaps she inadvertently contributed to it, since Taylor seems to indicate that the book and screenplay were being worked on at the same time).

Unfortunately, the novel suffered from having “too many cooks.” Sloppy editing left in this line from Skeeter “They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front lawn like Medgar Evers.” (Pg 277)

And Stockett repeats the error in three known audio interviews. You can read about the Medgar Evers error in the novel  here

Click image for larger view

Error on Evers in the Paperback version of The Help

 

 

It doesn’t help that the principals involved with the novel and the movie still read as disconnected. I’ve yet to read where anyone involved with Schindler’s List dropped WTF, insensitive quotes as many times as the individuals associated with The Help. (Interview was done on January 12, 2012):

Taylor: What I really, really loved about the Medgar Evers storyline and backdrop was that he was in their neighborhood. While they were doing this clandestine project, this Civil Rights leader who’s their neighbor gets murdered, and their characters are wondering, “What’s going to happen to us?”

I don’t think I even have to explain how bad Taylor sounds in this quote.

And here’s Stockett and producer Chris Columbus in the same interview, note what they state about the poop pie. It’s all so funny to them, when real African Americans were murdered, assaulted and raped for far less:

Octavia: Oh my god! [Laughs] People always ask me if we were laughing hysterically through that scene, but I always say no, because it was never a funny thing for Minny. She always knew the danger. We never played the comedy of it; the comedy is knowing when it’s revealed.

Stockett: Tate was such a prankster! He still is. The horrible things he did to the people he even loved, or in high school, to me—he told me at one point I had to stop telling people what he used to do. [Laughs] For me, it was, “What was the worst thing you could do to Hilly Holbrook?” And it was her having the image in her own mind that she had eaten Negro shit. It’s kind of corny, the whole concept, but what saved that scene was Sissy Spacek.

Chris Columbus: “Run, Hilly Minny, run!” was a completely improvised line. People were falling down behind the monitor because we had no idea how Sissy was going to react. But the way that scene is shot, it’s a textbook scene of how to direct a comedic moment.

Octavia: And I did the “eat my shit” line about five or six times. That was the fun part!

Stockett: It’s fucking hysterical!

Link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/12/the-help-an-oral-history-with-viola-davis-octavia-spencer.html

 

 

They’re all clueless. Even Spencer, though she attempts to clean it up while Columbus and Stockett have no clue how their behavior could be viewed. But what’s also interesting is Stockett referencing Tate Taylor regarding the “terrible awful.”

So, to review:

Stockett, while earnestly stating Medgar Evers was “bludgeoned” in three audio interviews, appeared to forget what she’d written in her own novel.  Especially since the PR on the book played up that she was from Jackson, Mississippi.

She also appears to “forget” that she’d already admitted using real people to fashion many of her characters. In another very early interview, the author references her grandfather and the Catbite scene in the book. Tate Taylor admits that Celia Foote was based on the author’s mother (and his) Stockett did admit Mrs. Demetrie McLorn was the inspiration for Aibileen and the voice for the other maid voices (perhaps also Constantine). Clyde is the name of Demetrie McLorn’s abusive husband. It’s also the name Stockett used for Aibileen’s “no-ccount” husband. Yet Viola Davis’s character (who’s made up to look like Cooper) somehow isn’t based on Cooper, but Demetrie McLorn. Here’s a pic of the real Mrs. Demetrie McLorn:

Photo of Demetrie, Stockett's grandparents maid.

 

Demetrie McLorn is nothing like the description of Aibileen Clark in the novel. Or the Aibileen in the movie. But Abilene Cooper is.

And now both Stockett and Taylor have published interviews which appear to confirm that the novel and screenplay were being worked on at virtually the same time, and Tate Taylor had the rights before the novel even found an agent. So just how much input did Taylor have?

To be continued . . . .

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