MAMMY. MUST. DIE.

Posted on November 22, 2012

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I’m speaking figuratively of course, not literally.

I’m also not solely focused on the character named Mammy from Gone With The Wind, who has been used as a prototype for other black domestic characters in past films, and still influences some writers, even today.

 

Mammy and Minny, together at last. This image is from racismstillexisttumblr.com

 

 

Back when Hattie McDaniel worked in Hollywood, acting choices were limited. She wasn’t just a black woman playing a maid in a highly oppressive, segregated society. McDaniel was a black woman living in a time period that devalued, terrorized and mocked African Americans. So much so, that some popular roles called for us to laugh at offensive parodies of our culture.

Louise Beavers played the polar opposite of Hattie’s character. Where Hattie was loud and brash, Louise was humble, kind, and long suffering, especially in her performance of Delilah, in the movie version of Fannie Hurst’s 1933 best seller Imitation of Life.

 

 

Delilah (played by Louise Beavers) begging to stay in Imitation of Life, the 1934 film version

 

 

Louise Beavers in Imitation of Life, touted at the time, as “the greatest screen role ever played by a colored actress”

 

 

Of the roles created for male actors, three were highly popular back in the day.  Stepin Fetchit and Amos ‘N Andy were passed off as “authentic” and highly entertaining. Many black thespians took the grin and bear it approach. I say this, realizing that African American entertainers still face some of the same issues Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, Clarence Muse, Paul Robeson, Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, among others endured. The difference is, they had no choice. If they wanted to work in Hollywood, a stereotype was what they were relegated to.

Like a bad dream, these stereotypes were not only resurrected in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help novel and film, but embraced. The sassy Mammy caricature for a new generation emerged in The Help, in the character of Minny Jackson:

 

 

Over done angry black woman pose of a full stare down

 

 

And while the character of Minny implied she’d never play Mammy to Celia Foote’s Scarlet, in the end she did:

 

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

 

 

The docile Mammy stereotype for a new generation was a big part of The Help, in the form of the asexual, shyly sweet Aibileen Clark:

 

Aibileen writing out her thoughts and living the life of an asexual hermit. Why Aibileen remained celebate and sought no companionship for over twenty years is never explored in the film or novel. But it’s part of the “Mammy myth” with this type of character. Sex is never spoken of, though a docile Mammy is granted one child.

 

 

Like the vision many southern writers have of the blindly loyal Mammy,  a character with no real backstory, extended family or need for companionship, she’s simply content to lavish love and advice on the children in her care. The “docile” maid/Mammy usually gets the shaft in the end, while the bossy one reaps the spoils.

 

 

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

 

 

 

The Bossy Mammy has won an acclaim and the Academy Award twice now. So, in the battle of the stereotypes, it’s brassy, loud Mammy two, doormat  Mammy zero.

Some moviegoers have only seen the film and may not know what solidified the Mammyness of these characters in the novel The Help, traits which still colored the characters in the film.

Both characters default into the heavy set, matronly, and unfortunately, one color fits all (as in making most, if not all the ebonic speaking maids dark, implying only dark skinned African Americans worked in a domestic capacity). As noted in the scene below,  all the “Blacker the better” maids (a quote from the novel, as stated by Skeeter) are congregated in one room.

 

 

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

 

 

 

The use and abuse of Malapropisms

Both Minny and Aibileen mangle English so badly in the novel, you’d think it was their second language. Two characters who read as if they were Hooked on phonetics, they soon became a female version of Amos ‘N’ Andy for me (Kingfish was the character most prone to using malapropisms in Amos ‘N Andy). It’s important to keep in mind that like The Help, Amos ‘N Andy was penned by white writers who’d once voiced the parts on radio and performed in blackface, and who publically claimed:

 

 

The Pittsburgh Press Jul 28,1929 article on Amos ‘n Andy

 

 

 

The creators of the radio show portraying Amos and Andy in blackface

 

 

 

Amos and Andy with Kingfish (center male with arms outstretched). African American actors were hired to play the characters in the TV series.

 

 

 

Examples from The Help (novel):

“Cat got on the porch this morning, bout gave me a cadillac arrest thinking it was Mister Johnny.” (Pg 48) – Mammy I mean Minny uses the word cadillac instead of cardiac, so cue reader laughter.

 

And Miss Leefolt come home with her hair all teased up. She got a permanent and she smell like pneumonia (Pg 94 ) – Aibileen

 

“Just pour some pneumonia in that garbage”…I jot it down, amending it to ammonia (Pg 84) – Skeeter correcting what Aibileen has told her  – Aibileen using pnuemonia instead of ammonia. She also says “Mal-nutricious” for Mal-nourished, though it should be noted that Aibileen’s merely repeating something Hilly’s stated, and doesn’t seem to know the difference.

 

And here’s a quote from Viola Davis in defense of the film version:

“We weren’t just shucking-and-jiving, Ebonics-speaking mammies,” says Davis. “I think that people actually emerged behind the uniforms, and I think that’s something that people haven’t recognized. These were our mothers and grandmothers, and these stories are just as emotionally viable as others.”

Link: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-en-viola-davis-20111110,0,2609985.story

 

 

Aibileen and Minny having a ball in the kitchen, as the whitewashing of segregation via films returns. Mammies are usually limited to three main areas by some writers: Children.Kitchen.Church

 

 

 

I’m guessing Viola forgot about quotes like these:

“Of course I had trepidations. Why do I have to play the mammy? But what do you do as an actor if one of the most multi-faceted and rich roles you’ve ever been given is a maid in 1962 Mississippi? Do you not take the role because you feel in some ways it’s not a good message to send to Black people?” – Viola Davis, in a quote from Essence Magazine

 

My contention on this blog has been and will continue to be that Stockett’s creations aren’t admirable maids. They’re MAMMIES. I’m glad Viola at least was honest about admitting it. Not so for Spencer, but she had other reasons to stick with the program, or “agreement.”

 

Patronizing African Americans is nothing new, and there were even organizations which truly believed it was their mission to spread their affection for the black Mammy far and wide. In the early 1920s one such organization, The United Daughters of the Confederacy went to Washington in order to lobby for a National Mammy Monument. Yes, it was to be titled a “Mammy” monument, that’s how ingrained the idea of the black women as a willing, lovable, 24/7 surrogate was and possibly still is. For some, a Mammy is a positive portrayal.

 

According to Robin Bernstein of Harvard University in her review of Micki McElya’s book Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America:

“The UDC wanted to posit an imagined past through which to envision a future of racial harmony based on black subservience.”

 

Author and Professor McElya’s research uncovered the United Daughters of the Southern Confederacy’s rationale:

” . . .the Daughters claimed that their “memories” of faithful slaves, especially mammies, gave them “specialized racial knowledge” . The Daughters constructed memories of benign servitude through dialect performances, “epistolary blackface”  in which white women wrote in the voices of mammies . . .”

 

Compare this with Kathryn Stockett’s PR polished and often stated reasons:

“Like a lot of writers do, I started to write in a voice that I missed. I was really homesick — I couldn’t even call my family and tell them I was fine. So I started writing in the voice of Demetrie, the maid I had growing up. She later became the character of Aibileen [in The Help].”

Link – http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=120966815

 

 

“I’ve played lawyers and doctors who are less explored and more of an archetype than these maids.” – Quote from Viola Davis

Link: http://popwatch.ew.com/2011/08/04/the-help-this-weeks-cover/

 

 

To which I counter with one of the many examples from the novel, which provided the genesis of her character’s Uncle Tom inner make-up:

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, dissing her own culture in an old slur that was used by bigots, but Stockett has it coming out of the mouth of one of her “Admirable” maids.

 

“If we are to reckon honestly with the history and continued legacies of slavery in the United States, we must confront the terrible depths of desire for the black mammy and the way it still drags at struggles for real democracy and social justice.”—- Micki McElya, author of Clinging to Mammy; The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America

 

For more on the history of Mammy monuments and the “affection” myth, see this post:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/the-affection-myth/

 

 

Stockett’s good friend, screenwriter and director Tate Taylor reinforced the notion of southern revisionism regarding the relationship between black domestics and their employers in this quote (bolded items are my doing):

“We just wanted to tell the truth. Tell the real story and get it right. Many times as southerners our stories have been handled, taken into hands that were outside the south that’s not always as we know it to be. So we just really want to tell the truth . . . (pause) the good and the bad.” – Screenwriter and director of The Help, Tate Taylor

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

 

 

But what may come as the biggest shock for some, is Octavia Spencer’s statement of acceptance while reading an early, unpublished version of Stockett’s manuscript, and having no qualms with the depiction of the maids. This quote is from the Oscar winner’s appearance on Tavis Smiley’s PBS show, in an interview prior to the Academy Awards:

” . . . And we differ, respectively, because I didn’t have one issue what-so-ever. Because you know, if I’m gonna go to law school who’s gonna tell me what case not to take? If I’m gonna be a doctor who’s going to tell me what patient not to take? You cannot live to please everyone else.”

Link: http://thegrio.com/2012/02/13/viola-davis-and-tavis-smiley-spar-over-the-help-controversy/

 

 

Please keep Spencer’s answer in mind along with this response:

So how’d you get involved in the project?

Tate Taylor grew up with the author, so I was one of the privileged few who got to read [the book] before it was ever published. I was asked to read the manuscript before it was even published.

What’d you think when you read the book?

Well, I had an aversion to the dialect at first, and I thought it was going to be another ‘Gone with the Wind,’ which I didn’t care for. That was actually the first page. And then as I continued to read, I realized Kathryn wasn’t making a statement about race in using the dialect, she was actually just writing people of a certain socioeconomic and education level, and she had written them with such a depth and breadth of emotion that I couldn’t put the book down. It was, it actually is one of my favorite books.

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/06/octavia-spencer-the-help-movie_n_1130848.html

 

 

“You know early on from page one that she’s not making a statement about race. She’s writing about people with a limited education, limited financial needs . . .I say one doesn’t have to be male or female, white or black, to tell this story. You just have to be a brilliant storyteller and I applaud Kathryn Stockett whether I knew her or not. I would have actually enjoyed the book.” – quote by Octavia Spencer

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFOPpdYPMIw

 

 

On this blog I’ve listed where The Help went astray, ran amuck, and basically put the Mammy character on a pedestal while demeaning black males. The novel also tried to rehab the white males who kept the wheels of segregation turning.

So note what Kathryn Stockett wrote for the character of Minny, which Octavia Spencer had no issue with, according to her published statements:

“Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s just not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think about” – Minny Jackson (Pg 311)

 

That sure reads like a “direct statement on race” to me, even though Stockett, writing in blackface had no stats to back up the statement she created for Minny. But what history shows is that African American males were lynched, run out of town, assaulted, and part of the Great migration to the North, in the hope of escaping the brutality in the south.

 

Photo by famous civil rights photographer, the late Charles Moore

 

 

 

I AM A MAN. The march meant to have America recognize that fact. Note the lone brave white male willing to march among black men.

 

 

 

It’s also important to understand that once those behind the movie got wind of the criticism of the book, changes were made for the film. But there was no way to make these characters “admirable” especially not with lines like “Frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life” which was uttered by Octavia as Minny, and “Eat my shit!” a line that’s as bad as putting “Hasta La Vista” into one of the maid’s mouths. Because as notorious as Jackson, Mississippi was for keeping blacks terrorized, Minny would have either been beaten or run out of town, or lynched for her actions and smart mouth.

 

What many also failed to catch is how in both actresses gave statements initially claiming the characters were positive ones:

Spencer: There are a lot of people who don’t like the idea of us playing maids without knowing anything about the story. Not knowing how proactive these women are in their community and how they are propagating change.”

Davis: They don’t care. It’s the fact that we are playing maids. It’s the image and the message more so than the execution.”

Did that give you pause before signing on?

Davis: “Yes.”

Link: http://popwatch.ew.com/2011/08/04/the-help-this-weeks-cover/

 

 

In the novel, neither Aibileen or Minny wanted anything to do with the rights movement or any sort of change.

Here’s the “proactive” and “propagating” change that never was, from Octavia Spencer’s character, Minny (items in bold are by me):

“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny, speaking of a person she has a personality conflict with, and who’s also holding a community meeting concerning staging a Woolworth sit-in.(Pg 217)

 

And I know there are plenty of other “colored” things I could do besides telling my stories or going to Shirley Boon’s meetings-the mass meetings in town, the marches in Birmingham, the voting rallies upstate. But truth is, I don’t care that much about voting. I don’t care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing silver. Minny (Pg 218)

 

 

They finally join up with Skeeter when Hilly has Yule May Crookle (as in Crook, another poorly placed inside joke in the book) arrested for stealing. The film went with the maids joining up to help Skeeter after Medgar Evers is assassinated, though the novel has Aibileen claiming this after Ever’s death is mentioned:

 

 . . . lately the meetings is more about civil rights than keeping the streets clean and who gone to work at the clothing exchange. It ain’t aggressive, mostly people just talking things out, praying about it. But after Mr. Evers got shot a week ago, lot a colored folks is frustrated in this town. Especially the younger ones, who ain’t built up a callus to it yet. They done had meetings all week over the killing. I hear folks was angry, yelling, crying.  This the first one I come to since the shooting. (Aibileen, Pg 207)

 

“Especially the younger ones, who ain’t built up a callus to it yet” Aibileen’s speaking as if she’s resigned to no change in the status quo. But then, all she ever wanted to be was a maid:

“Did you…ever have dreams of being something else?”

“No,” she says. “No ma’m I didn’t.” Aibileen’s reply to Skeeter (Pg 144)

 

Again, this was changed for the film once it was probably pointed out that having Aibileen state this would make this appear . . . oh . . . as if she had no clue and Skeeter was the brains of the operation. Which to me was the point all along.

 

 

The Help is Skeeter’s book. The Mammies are supporting characters, existing solely to “help” Skeeter’s dream of leaving Jackson and landing a job in publishing come true. Ironically, it could be pointed out that the novel appears to mimic Stockett’s own trajectory and use of two real life maids and a new black “friend” to tell her story.

 

And in an effort to Build a Better Mammy, these days its important to have the actresses playing the roles to get with the program, to convince nay-sayers that slipping into a stereotype is all about an actor’s craft. Or excellence.

Notice the attempt to flip the script in Smileys interview, which was referenced in a piece by Zerlina Maxwell for the Grio.com:

 

 

Viola Davis and Tavis Smiley spar over ‘The Help’ controversy

Opinion

by Zerlina Maxwell | February 13, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Smiley started the interview by cutting right to the chase and saying: “I celebrate the two of you. I’m delighted that you were nominated [for Oscars]… and yet I will admit to you. There is an ambivalence here…There is something that sticks in my craw about celebrating Hattie McDaniel so many years ago for playing a maid… here we are all these years later and I want you to win, but I’m ambivalent about what you are winning for.”

The two talented and candid actresses responded to his criticism by saying that black artists should not be expected to play only noble and dignified characters. And this is true to a certain extent, because white actors are not held to the same standard. Spencer aptly noted that, “Anthony Hopkins won [an Oscar] for being a serial killer who was a cannibal. And Charlize Theron won for being a serial killer.”

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer looking lovely on the Tavis Smiley Show

 

 

Link: http://thegrio.com/2012/02/13/viola-davis-and-tavis-smiley-spar-over-the-help-controversy/

 

 

Uh . . . what? Ever since the novel was released, the propaganda on Stockett’s creation was that the maids were admirable and authentic. Yet if you watch the Tavis Smiley interview, Viola Davis says:

 

“There aren’t enough multifaceted role character goes on a journey, I’m not just always dignified, I know everything, I see everything . . .”

 and

“I understand the argument with the film to a certain extent. . . my whole thing is do I always have to be noble? If I always have to be noble in order for the African American community to celebrate my work, that’s when I say that you’re destroying me as an artist.”

Link: http://thegrio.com/2012/02/13/viola-davis-and-tavis-smiley-spar-over-the-help-controversy/

 

 

WTF? “Do I always have to be noble?”  Well hell, that’s been my point from the start of this blog. Aibileen, Minny and Constantine aren’t “Noble” or “Admirable.” They were supporting characters created to move Skeeter’s story along. Yet for the better part of a year Davis and Spencer argued that the characters were positive.

“This White author wrote from the perspective of Black maids and I think she got it right.” – quote by Octavia Spencer from a Jet Magazine interview

http://www.myjet247.com/Entertainment/Content.aspx?topic=Actresses_address_controversy_over_The_Help_

 

 

Really? She got it right, when on Pg. 23-24 Stockett has Minny and Aibileen cackling over Aibileen’s ability to call down a venereal disease (via prayer mind you) on the woman her husband ran off with, and Aibileen stupidly says “you saying’ people think I got the black magic?” when Minny tells Aibileen people in church believe she’s got an inside track with God.  What’s worse, is that Spencer goes on tour and in at least one videotaped program, Stockett voices Minny in a pseudo black voice, laughing over the Cocoa, Coochie, Clyde scene, yet the line “She reminds me of a big, ugly white schoolteacher” is altered to “big, ugly school teacher” because the audience is primarily white.

And Stockett giving a black character a venereal disease is uncomfortably close to the outright misconceptions spread about African Americans being carriers of VD during segregation. And some even claimed black children carried “diseases”

 

A few women of Mississippi speak. Note Mrs. E A Copland believing that little black kids are afflicted with diseases and immorality

 

 

 

wims-wednesdays-in-mississippi, residents talk about blacks having venereal diseases and that northern agitators are communists

 

 

You can view Stockett voicing Minny the video via this link:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/stockett-voices-minny/

 

 

Stockett voices Minny talking “spoilt cootchies” at the Tower Theatre during her book tour with Spencer right by her side.

 

 

Whether the whopper of an error about Medgar Evers was in the manuscript Spencer read and had no problem with is not known. But since Stockett repeats in three audio interviews still available on the web about Evers being “bludgeoned” to death (instead of shot) and the publisher finally, after almost three years quietly changed this entry where Skeeter also states Evers was “bludgeoned” on his front lawn:

 

Error on Evers in the Paperback version of The Help

 

 

 

In Octavia Spencer’s case, it’s important to note that Kathryn Stockett admitted an agreement had been made with the actress in a 2009 Audible interview, which is in audio form:

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

 

 

Stockett also admitted in yet another interview that for the audio version of the novel, she’d “begged” the producers to give Spencer the speaking role as Minny. and Stockett added this about Tate Taylor:

“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 bombshell revelation has to be what Stockett revealed in this interview, because it contradicts an interview the author gave with Katie Couric (items in bold and italics are my doing):

KS: . . . 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/

 

 

And Taylor in turn pulls Spencer into all this:

“Octavia Spencer is my best friend. We have heated debates about society and the world we live in all the time. She lived with me the whole time I was adapting this.”

Link: http://thegrio.com/2011/08/15/the-help-director-people-are-too-critical-of-this-film/

 

 

Stockett’s revelation of an”Agreement” between the the author, Spencer and Taylor, explains Spencer’s subsequent advocating for the novel, as well as acting as a buffer in tense situations like this one, witnessed by actor and writer Shydel James:

The National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Philadelphia convened on August 6, 2011. During a post-screening of the film The Help, a Q&A moderated by MSNBC’s Tamron Hall was held. Mr. James posted (items in bold are my doing):

A woman in the audience took Stockett to task on the inclusion of sensitive historical moments in the book and her decision to weave them into the fabric of her fictitious story. (Stockett peppers the novel with real life news stories of the time: the murder of Medgar Evers, JFK’s assassination, for example.) But Spencer jumped in, reminding the woman (and everyone else in the audience) that The Help is not a non-fiction book and that it’s Stockett’s job as a fiction author to entertain, not give history lessons with her novel. “It’s your job as parents to teach your children about our history,” Spencer said. And before switching gears, Stockett quickly interjected, “I just made this shit up!” The entire crowd erupted in applause.”

Link: http://www.theurbaneurbanite.com/2011/08/i-just-made-shit-up-kathryn-stockett.html

 

 

 

“. . . I’m so lucky that Octavia has agreed to go on the book tour with me. So on the book tour event, she’s actually going to be reading the parts of Aibileen and Minny 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. . . ”

Link – http://covertocover.podbean.com/2009/04/26/kathryn-stockett-the-help/

 

 

Their “Agreement” looked to be sort of a you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

 

 

And here’s what Viola Davis stated in an early interview with the LA times (items in bold are my doing):

“If you didn’t object to the dialect, were there aspects of the book that did bother you?

Davis: The one thing I don’t embrace in any book about black women is I don’t embrace how the looks are described. I always erase that. I don’t care if it’s the greatest writer in the world. I know these black women. The first woman of beauty in my life was my Aunt Joyce, and she was over 300 pounds, and we thought she was Halle Berry to us.

Every time she came to visit, she would have these earrings, and these clothes and the beauty of her skin. We would all sit around her touching her hands and her face and her skin and she was beautiful. I didn’t see the bigness. I just have a different idea of how we look, the hues of our skin, how we exude sensuality and sexuality and how our hair looks. So I always just interpret that for myself. It’s like Chris Walken cuts out all the exclamation points, and the periods. I cut out all the descriptions.”

Link: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/31/entertainment/la-ca-the-help-excerpts-20110731

 

 

So, I’m guessing both Davis and Spencer ignored things like this in the book, and in Spencer’s case, nothing was mentioned to her “Good Friends” about how this could possibly be viewed as insulting to African American readers:

 

Sometimes two girls from next door would come over to play with me, named Mary Nell and Mary Roan. They were so black I couldn’t tell them apart and called them both just Mary. (this coming from the liberal minded Ole Miss grad and heroine of the novel, Skeeter, Pg 62)

 

She is fat and short and strong. Her skin is blacker than Aibileen’s by ten shades, and shiny and taut, like a pair of new patent shoes. (Skeeter, Pg 164)

 

That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me. Aibileen’s battle of wills with a cockroach (Pg 189)

 

I spot Minny in the back center seat. Minny short and big, got shiny black curls. She setting with her legs splayed, her thick arms crossed. . . Minny could probably lift this bus up over her head if she wanted to. (Aibileen, Pg 13)

 

We call his daddy Crisco, cause he’s the greasiest no-ccount you ever known. Aibileen, teaching her then adolescent son Treelore to call his father “Crisco” (Pg 5)

 

For more on the lack of beauty and appreciation for African Americans in The Help, see this post:

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/absence-of-beauty/

 

 

Both actresses made statements alluding to their characters as being positive portrayals.  For those you who may be asking, yeah, so what? What’s the problem?

This:

 

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

 

 

 

Trying to rehab the southern males who practiced segregation into swoonworthy bigots. EPIC FAIL Disney and Dreamworks.

Not one black character was promoted by either company as “attractive.”

 

 

That “Southern Gentleman” and “Dreamboat” Johnny Foote

 

 

 

And this:

 

HSN product tie in for The Help. Emeril’s pots and pans were on sale, but thankfully no maids uniforms were part of this misguided promo for the film.

 

 

Link https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/the-help-movie-cleans-up-after-itself-the-novel/making-the-help-pay/

 

And this:

 

Celia gives Minny a hug, which is supposed to make moviegoers chuckle and go “Awww”

 

 

That scene is Hollywood revisionism at its worst. A re-imaging of the antebellum ideology of the “affection” between oppressed black domestics and their employers. It’s as bad as having a Nazi guard’s ditzy wife hugging a Jewish concentration camp prisoner. Folks, the novel was based on 1960s Jackson MS, a place notorious for its mistreatment and affirmation of the southern way of life, which was basically to keep blacks in their place, to preserve cheap and at times “free” labor from African Americans.

Segregation was ingrained, oiled daily and worked with precision. There were “official” agencies that kept this regime going, like the Citizens Councils that were located in several states. Formerly called The White Citizens Council, these flourishing branches worked overtime to block integration during the 50s and early 60s. Take a look at this scan from an actual Jackson newspaper to see just how organized all this was:

 

The Citizens Council and the Sovereinty Commission

 

 

For more on the history of segregation in Jackson, see this post:

Link: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/real-housewives-of-jackson/

 

 

And there’s this:

Not just any regular Mammy character

 

 

 

The sad part is this poster has no idea that in any shape or form, being considered a Mammy isn’t a positive portrayal. Claiming that Minny “portrayed a very accurate group of people in a tasteful way” without knowing that a black maid who’d cooked up feces and served it to her employer would never have been able to get away with it in 1960s Jackson is pure Hollywood fantasy. And it’s revisionist bullshit, as if what African Americans endured wasn’t on par with atrocities like The Holocaust and Apartheid. Far too many people forget that segregation lasted for well over a century, and what black males and females were subjected to. Such as:

 

 

The Lynching of Laura Nelson

 

 

 

The Lynching of Rubin Stacy in Florida. This was “entertainment” for some bigots. Note the little girl and women who don’t appear shocked or appalled.

 

 

 

Newspaper editor Alex Wilson being attacked by group of bigots

 

 

 

The kick seen ’round the world. Alex Wilson is attacked by mob and the world finally sees what African Americans subjected to. Also, the man attacking Wilson has an object that may be a brick in his hand.

 

 

 

Photo by Charles Moore. Two African American women being attacked. Note the bat in the man’s hand while another man pummels a woman with his fists.

 

 

 

And yet, while African Americans suffered assaults, rapes and other indignities, here’s how Madison Avenue and Hollywood pictured us:

 

 

Hires ad, “Yassuh . . .” Black males were also required to grovel and give service with a smile

 

 

 

Ladies and Aunt Jemima. Note how she “speaks”

 

 

 

Civil rights protests weren’t called “Freedom Marches” for nothing.

 

 

Marching for Civil Rights and FREEDOM. See all the BLACK MEN?

 

 

 

So while Spencer claimed in this interview with Huffington Post in defending her role and Stockett’s creation:

“But at the end of the day, it’s about edifying one’s self, not necessarily educating. And that in and of itself is the difference. It is, again, a historical fiction, a work of fiction.”

Link http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/06/octavia-spencer-the-help-movie_n_1130848.html

 

 

 

She appears to have changed her mind about as she now wishes to enlighten people, especially youth:

“I want to be proactive in bringing about change and enlightening people. I think the first way is to get as many people to see this film as possible, especially youth. They have no idea about this time period, no idea.” quote by Octavia Spencer

Link: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/31/entertainment/la-ca-the-help-excerpts-20110731

 

 

 

Well, here’s some “enlightening” from the novel:

“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.

 

 

 

Here’s a bit of “enlightening” from the film:

“Eat my Shit!” – Minny Jackson, played by Octavia Spencer (the second African American actress to win an Oscar as a domestic)

“You is kind, you is smart, you is im-po-ent” – Aibileen Clark, played by Viola Davis

 

 

Young Actress playing Mae Mobley learning her “You is” isms, a contrived and condescending piece of dialogue meant to “inspire.” Unfortunately, neither the book or the movie has a scene of Aibileen instilling self esteem into a black child or even her best friend Minny’s children. It appears Aibileen’s love isn’t impartial.

 

 

 

The movie led one reviewer to make this endorsement of the film, in part (items in bold are my doing):

“ . . . the colored folks actually saved themselves. Minny and Aibileen, as well as the other colored folks in the community were the real “heroes” of the movie; they just needed someone to push them to their potential (Skeeter)”

Link: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/the-help-movie-cleans-up-after-itself-the-novel/reviews-on-the-help-movie/

 

 

And here’s a bit of real life “enlightening” from the real life maid of Stockett’s brother whose name and likeness appear to have been spot on for the character of Aibileen, but has not be credited or compensated:

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

 

 

“. . . 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

 

 

“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.”

“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. – Kathryn Stockett, from an interview with Wyatt Williams for Creative Loafing Atlanta.com

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

 

 

 

“The scene where Viola Davis is sitting on a toilet in a garage in 108 degrees, and then a white woman comes out and tells her to hurry up was visually brutal. To me that’s worse than seeing a lynching. It just is.”

Link to Grio article can be found on this post: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/director-says-thats-worse-than-seeing-a-lynching/

 

 

For more conflicting statements by those associated with The Help see this post:

 

https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/the-help-on-the-wrong-side-of-history/

 

To be continued . . .

Posted in: Blog