“The Help”: Is it just me or…

…are black people not feeling this movie trailer?  I’ve witnessed a very conflicted reaction to the trailer of the new movie “The Help” recently, in a movie theater that was filled with black folk.  Conflicted is the best way I can describe the mix of disgust and curiosity.  Am I surprised? No. It’s 2011, but the subject matter and images still sting.  Nothing like a dark-skinned black woman serving white folks in a maids uniform…in a period movie…set in the deep south.  Sigh.  Especially when it centers around a classic white savior character.  Since it takes place during the Civil Rights era, I think the author could have done a better job of developing the black lead character.  However, would Hollywood even make such a movie if it didn’t have a white lead?  I don’t know.

Unlike a lot of people I know, I read the book last year.  I can see how the movie trailer is off-putting without the book as reference.  I had some problems with the book, but overall I thought it was a decent read given the full context of who wrote it and the back story presented.  At times, reading it was heart wrenching for me as a black woman whose family is from Mississippi (mom’s side) and who’s great-grandmother was a maid for several white families.  Parts of the story were plain old scary, as racism sometimes is.

I don’t know for sure how this movie is going to be received by the black community.  I think Michele Wallace’s recent review in Essence is dead on (if they post it to the site, I’ll link to it).  In my opinion, this is not going to be a celebrated movie (like “The Color Purple”), but I’m glad that great actresses like Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson are taking on the roles in this film so that they are played with dignity.

One more point that doesn’t help: A Maid Sees Herself in a Novel, and Objects – Yep, a black maid, named Ablene, that worked for Kathryn Stockett’s older brother is suing her.  Dag! At least name the main black character in your book something other than your brother’s REAL, black maid’s name.  Come on!  To add insult, the woman says that part of the storyline was taken from her life.

NY Times | “Ablene Cooper, a 60-year-old woman who has long worked as a maid here, has filed a lawsuit against Kathryn Stockett, the author of the best-selling novel “The Help,” about black maids working for white families in Jackson in the 1960s.

In the complaint, Ms. Cooper argues that one of the book’s principal characters, Aibileen Clark, is an unpermitted appropriation of her name and image, which she finds emotionally distressing.

It is more complicated than that. For the past dozen years, Ms. Cooper has worked for Ms. Stockett’s older brother, Robert, and sister-in-law, Carroll, and still does.

“Ain’t too many Ablenes,” Ms. Cooper said at a law office after a day’s work at the Stocketts, for whom she has helped raise two children. Ms. Cooper also said that she had their support in her legal quest.

“What she did, they said it was wrong,” Ms. Cooper said of the Stocketts, members of a prominent Jackson family. “They came to me and said, ‘Ms. Aibee, we love you, we support you,’ and they told me to do what I got to do.””

Quote from Viola Davis in the August issue of Essence magazine:

”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 multifaceted and rich roles you’ve ever been given is a maid in 1962 Mississippi? Do you not take the role because you feel like in some ways it’s not a good message to send to Black people? No. The message is the quality of the work. That is the greater message… As Black women, we’re always given these seemingly devastating experiences – experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as Black women is take the worst situations and create from that point.”

14 Comments

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14 Responses to “The Help”: Is it just me or…

  1. Heidi

    I have read the book, it gives an accurate depiction of the life of female domestics (i.e., maids) in Mississipp1 in 1961, which was a time of great turbulence. Some of the women share stories of positive interractions with their employers, some have negative experiences to share. I enjoyed it, yes the “N” word is present, that isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. I am eagerly awaiting the release and hope they stick to the story, we don’t have to choose to be angry about everything having to do with Black History. Injustice is everywhere, try to keep an open mind and see the movie.

  2. sista

    After watching the trailer of the movie, I think i’m going to vomit.

  3. Although I havent read the book, I’ve watched the previews and plan on watching the movie.

    As tough as it may be to view or discuss the film, for me it’s important to understand and never forget what those times were like, and what black women endured for the sake of survival, for family.

  4. Shawnte

    “Nothing like a dark-skinned black woman serving white folks in a maids uniform…in a period movie…set in the deep south. Sigh. Especially when it centers around a classic white savior character.”

    -thank you for putting words the conflict i’ve felt, but couldn’t quite describe, every time i’ve watched this trailer.

    my biggest issue with this movie is that there’s no balance in hollywood to the movie roles offered to black actors. how long are they going to keep rolling out the same type of black movie. it’s 2011, we’re not maids anymore. i don’t mind period pieces that show black history, but there’s more to the “black american” story than what’s being portrayed.
    it’s pathetic and heartbreaking that in this is one of the most “multifaceted and rich roles” offered to black women.

  5. BuckwheatsMomma

    There is nothing wrong with an actress playing a role in a period piece.This is what actors do, they portray a role.

    The film is a good, quality film, with a gripping story taken from a period that was truth.

    Your grandmothers and aunties and even some grandfathers and uncles worked as domestics back in the day. They earned a living and in doing so was able to keep their families together, and even sent some black children to college on the monies earned by doing this type of work.

    Please stop with the smug attitude about something that was real. These maids worked hard, they held their heads up. They took care of their families, they did what they had to do, and in fact this is a good film for younger black people to see so they understand exactly what some of their grandmothers had to do to survive during that time period since many of the youths of today do not have a clue about their history. They will also have an education about the Civil Rights era.

    These days the Mexican/Hispanics are doing the same work as maids/domestics that Black women used to do.

    The work of the black actresses in this film is excellent, so much so that there is already Academy talk, and that is music to any actors ears. It is unfortunate that one would not want to see a very good body of work.

    As to the woman that and the law suit, it is a waste of time. The character’s name is not the name of the maid that worked for the authors brother.

    As black people we must learn to respect others, not only other black people, but other human beings on the planet..

    There is no shame in working in this film.

  6. BuckwheatsMomma: You are welcome to your opinion, as am I. I have a true problem with the portrayal of “The Help” in this movie. It was very, very one dimensional. Where are the black men? The only one really acknowledged is a domestic abuser. Where are the black children? Where is Abilene’s family? I have a list and I won’t go into it. This movie doesn’t honor the legacy of the proud black women you’re talking about, in my opinion. My great grand mother worked cleaning white women’s houses in MISSISSIPPI. She would not have approved.

    Much love to the sisters who took on the roles. I wish that they had more Hollywood pull so that they could have worked to improve the roles they were given. That’s not how the world works right now. They had to play their part like so many black women have had to do. Play your part. Work for real change. Feed your family and yourself. Sounds like the past isn’t too far from the present.

  7. Aussie girl

    I’ve just finished reading the book & went to see the movie today. Ive just read all your comments & find all the views very informative. I’m from Sydney Australia & we have book club this Thur night & I was really interested in knowing if there are still some towns or people in the south that hav’nt changed their views towards equality & may still live like that portrayed in the movie/book. I know here in Australia there are still pockets of people living the ‘old’ way.

  8. Hi,
    I’m white. I’ve been wondering what African American people thought of the film. I just saw it today. It was a good story. But there was a part of me that cringed at the white savior character, too. The acting was really good. I haven’t read the book yet, but intend to. While I think it’s a decent story. I wish we would see the real stories more fully. I wish it was told & written truly from an African American woman’s perspective. It’s been helpful to read some feedback here. I’ve been looking for more. I had mixed feelings too.

  9. I just found a good article from The Association of Black Women Historians, which seems like a trustworthy place. Here is a link to the article:
    http://www.abwh.org/images/pdf/TheHelp-Statement.pdf
    It has some suggestions for further reading, which I will gladly seek out. I am sorry there wasn’t a more complete and realistic portrayal of African American families in this film & novel.

  10. Heidi

    Okay folks, I spent my money and saw the movie. Just like the John Grisham novel that addressed the atrocities of the tobacco industry, this one went to film and they changed the story line, which made it lose the point the book made.

    In the book, Skeeter’s maid, Constantine is dismissed, as from her own gene pool she produces a child that looks very white, as I do, and Skeeter’s mother assumes the baby’s father is her own husband, and fires her.
    She then is trundled off to Chicago without a word to Skeeter as to why.

    In the movie, Constantine is well past childbearing age and the behavior of her visiting and newly emboldened daughter is the cause for Constantine’s dismissal.

    This had the effect of watering down the importance of the message, which was, “I will entrust you with the lives of my children and their welfare, but you are still black and therefore in our eyes will always be substandard to the white race.”

    Hollywood needs to take the movie from the book the author has written, and quit worrying about making people confortable. This is, and always will be an uncomfortable subject.

    I anjoyed parts of it, but I will not be seeing it again. As for “The Terrible Awful”, they stuck to the script and “she had it coming”!
    In the movie they completely remove the pr

  11. Heidi

    Oops did not get to finish, I was goign to say in the movie they remove the problem and therefore, lessen the impact. I was disappointed.

  12. Now that some time has gone by, whether, or not I think “the Help” was a good or bad film (I personally disliked it), isn’t the point. It wasn’t the point with most of the people who had issues with it. Not with if the portrayal of the life of a maid at that time was accurate or not, but more with the fact that these types of films are the only films that Hollywood seems to get behind and produce when it comes to stories about black people (other than inane comedies). The other problem is why do so many black stories have to be told from the perspective of a white protagonist? White people seem to have no problem with it, but I wonder what their response would be if Hollywood found a way to shoehorn a black perspective character into the majority of stories about their culture?

  13. Bri

    Another problem I have with period pieces set in the south is that apart from the color purple is that these movies never really has the main center of focus as the lead or to ever tell the story themselves. It’s almost like black folks can’t speak for themselves because they always need a third party (9 times out of 10 white) to represent us. When there is a movie that focuses on a black characters point of view I find that its never a box office hit or given any real recognition until after the fact it’s been out for a long period of time. And it seems like now that movies that are catered to us are almost always (forgive me anyone who gets upset) dumbed down as far as I see it. They are the new blaxploitation fims that has the same plot over and over. I’m not sure if it’s just me but my white peers sometimes see these movies and believe that this is the way all black people act leaving me to constantly explain that in disbelief. Things like this make it harder for me and other black students to be looked as equals while also looked at as a ambassador for anything involving the black culture such as slang or down to even where the tree at. Sometimes it’s innocent but then there are those who mask their hatred and pass on ignorance as fact. For an example I was told “kids” who play on the blocks outside are more likely to be drug dealers or statistically we have lower I.Q’s. I’ve met people bold enough to say this out loud and I proved them wrong but it gets to a point where it draining there are so many things we as people have to prove we got a long road to travel.

  14. CBP

    I am soooo glad to read that this young lady had misgivings or uneasiness about this film. I thought it was just me. Did not read the book and do not wish to. I am so tired of this genre or “Maid” stories, which always does well at the box office. Sometimes I think it is just to keep the memory alive “so they do not forget” from where they come from. Moreover, I agree that the deepth should have been greater. Someone commented about Hollywood addressing these issues, “look at Red Tails”. They did not want to make it. These issues are going to be around for as long as Jesus has at some point.

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