I have to keep emphasizing this fundamental difference in what my opinion is regarding Kathryn Stockett’s primary black characters in The Help, because I tend to get offended correspondence from those who love them so.
Stockett’s maids are really MAMMIES. and thus, they’re STEREOTYPES. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t love them, because that’s why they were created:
This is an actual comment (on another site) after the person saw this poster:
An actual response to viewing that poster:
“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
“I’m playing a maid, a black actress playing a maid in 2011 in Hollywood, is a lot of pressure. You don’t play a maid. That is something you don’t do. When you play a maid where a white woman has written a story and a white man is directing it, so there is no way that it’s gonna be. . . I’m essentially playing a Mammy. So I felt a lot of pressure. Absolutely. And then and of course pressure from the readers who all wanted Oprah to play the role. And saw her as being seventy years old and about two hundred and fifty pounds or you know, yeah, I felt a lot of pressure. But it’s like Tate says, if you work from that point of pressure and fear, your work is gonna crack. At some point you just have to leave it alone. And know that we have our own standard of excellence . . .”
Link: Atlanta Mom’s on The Move http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shc0mdT-0Cc
From as far back as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of the first novels showing the qualities a good Mammy and Uncle Tom character must have, these “credit to their race” caricatures have an overdose of loyalty, humility, love for their white charges, religious fevor, humor, everything that would make them “admirable” and “heart-warming” to their target audience. And that “target” audience isn’t African American. A stereotype is meant to appeal to the majority.
Just a few of the caricatures passed off as role models for African Americans to follow:
Lincoln Theodore Perry, whose screen name was Stepin Fetchit (as in step and fetch it). When he was berated (which was often) he’d cower, grovel, act confused, in short, he became the quintessential stereotype. While this act made Perry a millionare, he simply cemented the idea of black men being slow of mind, needing to be led via stern chastising or basically, treating them as if they were a child needing an adult’s guidance.
Perry’s act (the character after all, was created by Perry) proved so popular that his caricature was immortalized in cartoon form. The screen grab below is from a Disney film titled “Mother Goose from Hollywood.” Note the bowed stance, oversized lips of pink, the scratching of the head, in short, an artists rendition of what Stepin Fetchit looked like, contrary to his real appearance:
But Stephin Fetchit’s act mirrored how African American males were supposed to behave in public. They were subservient to not just white males, but required to behave childlike so as not to “scare” white women. Thus the cowering, grinning African American could stave off an assault or perhaps worse, simply by perfecting this act so that bigots believed they were not responsible for their actions. It was condescending BS at its worse, but hey, if it saved your life, then it came in handy.
Booker Washington was a black male who lived two roles. For whites, he was the grinning, polite waiter. In real life he owned a bar and revealed why there was a need for this duplicity in a documentary that was shown on NBC in 1965. Ironically, Booker lived in Mississippi, the same state Stockett’s maids/Mammies inhabited. However, there were no goofy, cuddling Celia’s or no way he wasn’t going to get hurt after stating this:
“The meaner the man be the more you smile although you cryin’ on the inside . . . ”
-Booker Wright, from the documentary Mississippi: A Self-Portrait
You can see his courageous testimonial by clicking the link below. For his brave candor, Booker was fired from his job and violently assaulted. All because he spoke the truth.
The travesty and shameful history of race relations in America, is that this was the end result for any African American who ran afoul of those who believed in bigotry. No one was spared, not even black women:
Hattie McDaniel. Truth be told, I’m a big fan of McDaniel. Here was a woman who simply wanted to live out her dream of being an actress in Hollywood. Her grumbling retorts to Scarlett in Gone with The Wind hit their mark, especially when giving Scarlett a reality check on Ashley Wilkes. It’s unfortunate that McDaniel had to utter lines where she clears the riff-raff off the streets as Scarlett makes her way to visit Rhett Butler in jail. But her part was a product of its time, and McDaniel was limited by segregation and misinformation on the intelligence of African Americans, as bogus studies perpetuated the mindset of blacks being inferior to whites.
Hattie won an Oscar for her performance as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Decades later, she was honored with her own stamp:
Unfortunately, the “sassy” or “bossy” domestic stereotype became so popular, it jumped from books to film, to television, to ads, to even cartoons:
Now, the reason why its important to review how African Americans were viewed back during segregation, is because while The Help was celebrated by book critics and readers worldwide, far too many didn’t realize the characters contained characteristics of accepted stereotypes from segregation, depictions that many African Americans had a problem with.
For example, Aibileen is the docile, loving, congenial Mammy. The actress who rose to fame portraying this character trope was Louise Beavers.
Louise got her big break in the movie Imitation of Life. It’s positively uncanny how Fannie Hurst’s “friendship” with Zora Neale Hurston sort of mirrors Kathryn Stockett’s use of Octavia Spencer to champion her novel:
Click for a larger view
For those unaware, Hurston promoted Fannie Hurst’s novel, even getting writer Langston Hughes on board. That is, until he was swayed by the critics of Hurst’s novel. You see, black critics didn’t view Hurst’s maid character Delilah as a positive portrayal. Here’s some of her book dialogue:
“Honey Chile, I’ll work for anything you is willin’ to pay, and not take more’n mah share of your time for my young un, ef I kin get her and me a good roof over our heads. Didn’t your maw always tell you a nigger woman was mos’ reliable when she had chillun taggin’ at her apron strings? I needs a home for us honey. . .” (the maid Delilah selling her skills to prospective employer Bea in the 1933 novel Imitation of Life)
“Oh Lawd! Oh Lawd! Saw a brown spider webbing downward this mornin’ and know’d mah chile was a ‘comin home brown – Oh Lawd!” (The maid Delilah wailing when her daughter Peola rejects being black)
In the scene above, Delilah loves working for Bea so much that she offers to stay on WITHOUT PAY. And this is after she freely gives away her family’s pancake recipe, making Bea millions while Delilah behaves as if she only wants to stay as a domestic and wait on Bea, Jessie and her own passing for white daughter Peola. Compare this 1934 movie based on a book to Stockett’s 2009 The Help, where Aibileen is too stupid (or humble, take your pick) to ask that the idea she gave to Skeeter for free at least acknowledges her deceased son Treelore’s contribution. OT: Many readers don’t know that this time period is considered The New Black Renaissance for African American authors. African American publishers as well as major publishing companies were signing black writers. For more information please see this post:
While Kathryn Stockett has been candid regarding her lack of . . . oh, what word am I searching for . . . association? interaction? observation? with African Americans after the death of her grandparent’s maid Demetrie (who the author says was the inspiration for many of the black characters), when Stockett needed a black person to pattern her maids after, much like Skeeter, she went to a friend of her friend Tate Taylor. Stockett admits watching Octavia Spencer to create Minny. She doesn’t admit watching Aiblene Cooper, her brother’s maid.
However, here’s what Cooper stated to a UK paper (Somehow US journals neglected to interview the woman, which is yet another travesty behind the scenes of this book:
Excerpt from the UK Telegraph article on Abilene Cooper:
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’
Since Stockett has publicly admitted watching the actress who won an Oscar for her spot on portrayal of Minny, the “sassy” maid that audiences loved and laughed at, a character that had riveting lines like “Minny don’t burn no chicken” “Eat my shit!” and “Frying chicken tend to make you feel better about life” it should come as no surprise that Spencer was just fine with the depiction as the short, fat, and “Blacker than Aibileen by ten shades” domestic as viewed by Skeeter in the book.
“. . 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.” – Octavia Spencer on the Tavis Smiley show.
If you’re keeping count, that’s three black women in almost 30 plus years (Stockett was in her mid-thirties while creating the novel), especially after going on a PR tour invoking Demetrie McLorn’s name (her first name, rarely using Mrs. Demetrie McLorn or Demetrie McLorn). No, the maid who was instrumental in Stockett’s best selling trip down segregation lane was simply “Demetrie” in many published interviews. For those reading this last bit and wondering what all the fuss about using a full name is about, then understand this; during segregation African Americans were rarely afforded the respect of using terms like “Mrs.” “Mr.” or “Miss”. Males were “Uncle” or “Boy” as well as the N word. Females were “Auntie” or “Girl” and also the N word. Or called by their first names, or even given a different name to answer to. It just depended on the whim of the employer or when contact was made with a white person. While the north was thought of as more progressive, that wasn’t always the case).
Remnants of the name game in segregation are “Uncle” Ben and “Aunt” Jemima. The familiarity was a false sense of affection.
For real life testimonials from daughters of The Help, see this post:
And for more on the history of how African Americans were maligned and stereotyped during segregation, see this post:
So Octavia Spencer was on board early on, warts and all, as per her response to Tavis Smiley.
And as per her statement, Spencer’s right. You can’t live to please everyone else. But let’s take a little trip down memory lane, oh, about three years ago, from a December 2009 audio interview with Audible.com which is still on the internet and available for downloading, when Kathryn Stockett revealed this (please pay attention to the items I’ve put in bold):
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
“That was just the agreement” Now, what agreement would that be? Perhaps the answer can be found in published statements of the principals (again, please pay close attention to the items I’ve put in bold):
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/
“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:
If by some chance as a reader, you think Stockett admitting she was writing the novel and Taylor was right there, well, that it was just a slip up, here’s another published quote:
“. . . I got the rights a year before it was even in print and in my mind my partner and I were going to raise a couple million bucks the old school way, and make an independent film. That’s how it started. When the book got into print I had already written an adaptation and was controlling the rights.” – Tate Taylor
Now, recall what Octavia Spencer stated to Tavis Smiley “because I didn’t have one issue what-so-ever.”
And look at what else Tate Taylor reveals in this interview with The Grio.com:
“No I wasn’t nervous. Octavia Spencer is my best friend. We have heated debates about society and the world we live in all the time. She was with me the whole time I was adapting this.”
I’ve included a screen grab of the web page:
Click image for larger view:
Link: http://thegrio.com/2011/08/15/the-help-director-people-are-too-critical-of-this-film/ (In this same article Tate Taylor says the infamous “worse that an lynching” statement).
Stockett admits Taylor was there when she was writing it. And Taylor says Spencer was there when he was adapting it (other interviews have Taylor admitting Spencer lived with him during this time period), as per their published statements. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say all three were together when the book was being created. And Spencer admits she read the manuscript BEFORE Stockett secured a publisher (quote is coming up).
Now, there will be those who will proclaim “Say it ain’t so!”
But go back to the “Agreement.” A few more early interviews contradict and raise questions on the interviews both Stockett and Taylor gave prior to the film release of The Help. A major contradiction is when Tate Taylor includes himself in the “missing Demetrie” PR tale which was published by news agencies like Time magazine. Here’s Taylor’s statement (items in bold are my doing):
“Well, my good friend Kathryn Stockett, we have known each other since we were five – grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. She wrote this novel, wouldn’t tell me what it was about when she was writing it. But I remember 9/11 and we were talking on the phone and we were both so distraught. And she said, “I’m so homesick, I just wish I could talk to Demetri, I miss her so much.” (Demetri was the African American woman who raised her.) She told me she had been writing these short stories where she and Demetri would just talk. Little did I know that Demetri became Abilene and five years later she had finished this book, which she still wouldn’t let me read.”
Unable to keep his story straight, notice how Taylor says “She wrote this novel, wouldn’t tell me what it was about when she was writing it” but contradicts himself in other interviews and Stockett’s own words that I posted earlier, where the author says “But while I was writing the manuscript and Tate was reading it”
And Taylor may have forgotten that Stockett gave an interview where she stated there was no phone service when he attempts to include himself in Stockett’s original tale of how she missed Demetrie’s “voice”(again, please pay attention to the items I’ve put in bold):
Why did you decide to write The Help?
“I started writing it the day after Sept. 11. I was living in New York City. We didn’t have any phone service and we didn’t have any mail. 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]. I sent the story to my mother and she was sort of like, “Hmm, that’s good.” As I wrote, I found that Aibileen had some things to say that really weren’t in her character. She was older, soft-spoken, and she started showing some attitude. That’s [how another character] Minny came to be. After a while longer, I decided to make it a book.”
Stockett added more to the tale when interviewed by the UK Telegraph back in 2009:
“September 11 she was working in her apartment when the planes hit the twin towers, and due to some sort of power surge, everything was wiped off her hard disc, and she had no landline and no mobile phone reception. For two days she and her husband were completely cut off. ‘I felt so homesick, I’ve never been that homesick in my life, and on September 12 I started writing a story, in the voice of Demetrie, to comfort myself.’ “
Okay, guess he wasn’t there. Or he was there when somebody came up with the whole “Missing Demetrie’s voice” which went over big with the journalists and was a PR person’s dream. It all seems so perfect . . .
And Stockett did an interview with Katie Couric where she stated the rights weren’t given to Taylor until AFTER she’d secured a publisher:
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.
However Taylor again contradicts her in yet another interview, revealing he’d secured the rights prior to the book’s publishing (items in bold and italics are my doing):
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.
Okay, stay with me now. Because I know some readers are confused. But it would makes sense that Taylor, Stockett AND Spencer worked on The Help together. So while Stockett originally said this:
“But there’s also a character named Minny. . .who was loosely inspired by the mannerisms and gestures of a friend of mine named Octavia Spencer. Octavia is an amazing actress in L. A. One of the most intelligent and versatile actresses out there today. And (laughs) I am so lucky that Octavia has agreed to go on the book tour with me. So, in the book event she’s actually going to be reading the parts of Aibileen and Minny and, 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.”
The entire podcast can be heard and downloaded here:
And Spencer stated this in an interview published by the Huffington Post:
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.
And then goes on to reveal the only thing that bothered her about the book:
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.
Long story short, the trio (plus one, perhaps Brunson Green) did what they had to do. Each one came to the table with a piece to contribute. Stockett had the pedigree and history that could be verified. Spencer gave Stockett a glimpse of the black culture, however there was no nuance in the depiction. The self loathing of the primary female domestics coupled with the overt stereotypical dialogue and characterizations are just too pronounced. The “humor” is too broad, and plays upon stereotypes that African Americans fought to overcome during segregation. Spencer’s pretty shrewd, no, let me correct that. She’s very shrewd. No wonder she was jumping in anytime the heat was on either Kathryn Stockett or Viola Davis. Some other examples of Spencer running interference are this one, recorded by actor/blogger Shydel James:
“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.”
And there’s the time Ted Casablanca’s question unnerved Viola Davis, so Spencer jumped in:
“I’m not exactly sure where Davis was going with that one, but I assured her I wasn’t the only one wondering such thoughts.
Especially to young people who aren’t schooled in Civil Rights history, I said, “it sort of makes it look like it took a white author to get the job done.”
“Skeeter [Emma Stone’s character] just wanted to be a great writer,” Viola explained, in defense. “And she helped these women.
“But it is the black women who risked their lives in this movie,” Davis finished.
At which point Spencer gave me one of those And your point is? looks, quickly followed by a huge smile.
“Like I said,” Viola added (smiling as well), “it’s a loaded question.”
But is it, really? Also, everybody, let’s get this question settled now, because I assure you it looks like Davis may very well be getting the Oscar for her Help performance.
So, the somewhat sticky issue ain’t going anywhere.
And there’s this (items in bold are my doing):
“As a result, she [Stockett] wrote with “abandon,” letting her feelings lead her. It was only much later, when she decided to try publishing what had become a full-blown novel, that she started to get “very nervous that I had crossed a line that should never be crossed in America.”
To help cover her tracks over that line, Stockett recruited an actress friend, Octavia Spencer, to participate in her first book tour. “I would read the white parts and she would read the black parts and we had a lot of fun,” Stockett says, adding that Spencer’s free spirit was the inspiration for Minnie, one of her two black heroines. “She got it. She grew up in Alabama and she understood that world probably better than we do.”
Interview with John Barber for Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Yep, “she got it” alright. Only, even the best laid plans can have unforeseen issues.
Red flags they should have caught:
Aibileen, who’s supposed to be the most compassionate character in the book and movie comes across as highly impartial. She dotes on the white characters yet there’s no scene or dialogue where she cares for any African American children or even the children of her best friend Minny. Why is this important? Because Minny’s children witness her abuse on almost a daily basis. And Kindra, Minny’s youngest is just three years older than Mae Mobley at the start of the novel (Mae Mobley is two, while Kindra is five). Yet Kindra defaults into the mouthy, attitude prone black kid, while the white children are either labled as “cute” “pretty” (by Aibileen) while Kindra is observed by Aibileen as if the maid is being judgmental:
Kindra – she seven now- she sass-walk her way to the stove with her bottom sticking out and her nose up in the air. Pans go banging all over the place. “Why I got to do dinner? It’s Sugar’s turn!” (Aibileen observing Kindra, Pgs 396-397)
For more on the differences made in the black and white children of The Help, please see this post:
Minny’s bullyish behavior towards her children, particularly her daughters. While Minny can joke and have empathy for Celia Foote, she smacks her daughter Sugar in the book for gossiping about Celia and gives the girl some Mammyish advice to grow by (thus this abused woman abuses her own daughter). In addition to negatively labeling her youngest daughter Kindra, the novel plays favorites with how the black children are portrayed versus the employers children. Not once in the novel does Minny tell her kids that she loves them. Kindra whines and is bratty in several scenes, so as not to earn the type of compassion a reader has for Mae Mobley’s predicament with her over anxious mother Elizabeth.
The demeaning of the black male while elevating white males who practiced segregation. Minny makes this all encompassing statement:
Plenty of black men leave their families like trash in a dump, but that’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think about. (Minny Pg 311)
I’m not sure why Octavia Spencer wouldn’t be offended by that line. By the end of the book and movie, all three maids are separated from the black male, as if what the black female had to fear along with segregation, is the African American male. This is another stereotype and holdover from that time period. So its no wonder that in the novel an omni-present narrator swoops in to “tell” the reader that the white males are either “honest” (Skeeter says this about her father) a “good man” (after Stuart dumps her, this is what Skeeter thinks of him) or only following the will of constiuents in following segregation (Stoolie Whitworth, Stuart’s father). Even Constantine’s dad is given an out. Though he’s fathered several children without marrying Constantine’s mother, he’s not labeled as “no-ccount” “Crisco” or any derogatory term, unlike Connor, Clyde and Minny’s father. Minny states this about her dad “My no-good drunk daddy.” Yet Constantine swears her father loves her, because he cries over her predicament (the family is quite poor).
For more problems in the novel, see this post:
Aside from the problems in the book, Kathryn Stockett couldn’t remember that she’d written about Medgar Evers being shot in her own novel. Which raises a valid question. Did she even write that part?
How could the author do three audio interviews, one of which was with Barnes and Noble, where she states Medgar Evers was “bludgeoned” in front of his children?
“…1963 was a horrifying and momentous year in Mississippi’s history as well as the entire United States. It was… the fall of 62 when James Meredith was accepted into Ole Miss and in 1963 Medgar Evers the uh…who was with the NAACP he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.”
stated at 8:34 minutes into a 10:31 interview
The error can be found in the hard copy of the novel and paperback. The ebook has since been quietly corrected. Here’s a screen grab of the error. Please click the link for a larger view:
Read the excerpts from the other two interviews where Stockett mentions Evers was “bludgeoned” and somehow made it’s way into the novel here
Please understand that all this is old news, most of which I chose not to post until after the awards season. There are those in Hollywood who probably know all this and more, and know who contributed what.
And one more thing. Congratulations to Octavia Spencer for her publishing contract with Simon and Schuster. But her novel won’t be her first venture into authorship imo. Spencer contributed a lot more to Stockett’s novel The Help than just being the physical embodiment of Minny.
The problem was, Spencer was a comedian and not a historian, and what’s included in the novel at times is highly offensive instead of being funny. Many times Aibileen and Minny’s conversations bordered on stupidity, as well as their actions. The “spoilt cootchie” scene, the very one Spencer stood on stage, shoulder to shoulder with Kathrn Stockett as they read a scene where Aibileen and Minny cackle over Aibileen’s ability to call down a venereal disease on the woman Aibileen’s husband ran off with, then Aibileen, whose supposed to be a devout Christian asks “You sayin’ people think I got the black magic?”
It’s also important to note that claiming blacks carried venereal disease was a common slur against African Americans, and used as an excuse to block integration. Here’s a scan from an actual resident of Jackson, Ms during 1963, where she claims even black children are carriers:
And WIMS actually documented whites repeating this offensive slur.
Back during segregation, African Americans were thought to be practicing pagan beliefs from the motherland of Africa, no matter if we professed to be Christians. This is just one example of an error in perception of the black culture, and one that was spread by bigots. Far too often the black characters of The Help simply validate the bigotry of the times instead of challenging it.
Much has been said by other critics on Skeeter acting as the brains and leader, as if the black characters are unable to do anything on their own when the actual “Freedom Movement” was started by African Americans for African Americans, with help from sympathetic whites.
So when Aibileen makes an insulting statement about one of her now grown charges; “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 seeing the kids grown up fine.” (Aibilene, Pg 91) That’s not funny. It’s a slur that was used by bigots back in the day, insinuating that becoming black could be contageous, like a disease, through things like coffee, cocoa, and other items considered dark.
And Aibileen also does a skin color test with a roach, stating “He black. Blacker than me” (Pg 189) in a scene that illustrates just how self-loathing she is. How this character can instill postitive affirmations in a child is questionable to say the least, especially since Aibileen cowers and cringes throughout the book. The film at least gave Aibileen (and also Charlotte Phelan and Skeeter) a scene where Hilly is told off.
Nowhere in the book, and probably the movie is the beauty of the black culture even broached. None of the advertising for the movie mentions how attractive Minny or Aibileen, or any of the maids. Not so for the white characters.
There’s also the tasteless tie-in with HSN, where items were “sold” like pots and pans and designer dresses in order to promote the film. As Austrialian reviewer Liz Jones noted when this mis-guided promotional aspect hit her country (items in bold are my doing):
“I went to an advance screening last week of The Help, the Oscar-tipped Hollywood film that has already taken $62 million at the American box office and which opens here next month.
It amused me no end that it was a “fashion press” screening, which has been followed up with “get the look” emails from various High Street firms, due to its setting in the Deep South of Mississippi in the early ’60s. Never mind that the film is about segregation and lynchings.
It’s like being asked to a screening of Schindler’s List, and then “getting the look” of all the lovely uniforms. Such is modern-day marketing.”
For more information on the “selling” of The Help, see this post:
However, flaws and all, the novel and movie was just the ticket for a group of friends to get into Hollywood and investors to earn a profit.
And some might even stay the means justifies the end. Only time will tell, and more scrutiny will reveal whether it was really worth it.
“There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism.” – Howell Raines quote referenced by Kathryn Stockett
I think I like this one better:
“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 in “Clinging to Mammy The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America
For more on the “Affection Myth” see this post:
Additional published statements can be found here:
To be continued . . .