Cover of The Help. Does this book, which was made into a popular movie, realistically depict institutionalized racism?
Of course I can only presume to speak for myself in matters such as this, but I have zero interest in reading the novel “The Help” or paying to see the movie “The Help.”
Say what you will of this decision, but something about this much-heralded book/movie combo smacks of distorted or parallel reality marketing to me, like to way politicians are loathe to admit to mistakes while the rich in our society cannot be taxed because doing so might somehow “hurt” the economy or weaken job prospects for the working-poor in our country.
It’s tough to talk right and walk left at the same time and not eventually hit a tree.
Aren’t you more than little tired of these films in which the white person is an all-powerful Force of Good (or good-natured but has acceptable character flaws) and the black servant (in this case several female “domestics” or maids) reveals secret truths through uttering simplistic, hydrocephalic language and pointing out things the Mighty White Force has overlooked?
Is it a coincidence that the star of “The Help” is a blond-haired, blue-eyed white woman who wants to help the happy servants and the author of the book is a blond-haired, blue-eyed white woman who sees herself as helping “the help?”
In “Driving Miss Daisy,” the grouchy old lady (but of course with a heart of gold) forms a life long bond with her chauffeur (who puts up with her senility and grouchy disposition and inability to give even the most basic directions or show overt kindness) despite herself.
In “Bagger Vance” bubbly light-skinned cross-over star Will Smith plays a servant to Matt Damon‘s golf pro and tries to teach him to relax and see golf as a metaphor for life. In “The Green Mile,” Michael Clark Duncan, although a physically massive man and good actor, portrayed a giant man-child incapable of intelligent discourse or adult insight….who was dependent upon the white Master for ultimate guidance. On and on. The white person is on the throne and the black person is a smiling, shucking and jiving but worldly and wise servant (or sidekick) who shows the white person hidden truths and is allowed to do so with restrained and limited hostility toward the Master.
The subtle, unspoken message is that it’s okay for a black person to offer advice (even funny or accepted at times), and they may have some kind of value in the grand scheme of things, but that they may not ever become equal to the white adult Master class, and certainly not overtake that person who represents the group. “The Help,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” “The Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Green Mile,” they all state this same underlying subliminal message of being less than or subservient to the Master.
And it’s good to see the Association of Black Women Historians not so much as coming out against the film (which simply can’t be done since it has a huge financial marketing machine behind it), as trying to let anyone who will listen (which ain’t many) that both the film and book are riddled with inaccuracies and oversights.
Even the premise of the book/film combo alone causes me to feel that I’m watching a Hallmark afterschool special – that a young white teeenager would want to interview black “domestics” and get to know them and speak for them and could see them as equals. And that the women “domestics” never suffer violence at the hands of the their sixties slave masters…and that not only do they love being regularly debased on the job, seen as second-class less than fully human workers, are depicted with infantile intelligence (like an adult ET/child hybrid).
I mean, could the “domestics” of “The Help” go and get better jobs somehow if they did not “love” washing white babies’ bottoms or mopping white home-owners’ floors or taking out their trash? Hardly. Could they somehow have gained access to equal education as was available to their white counterparts at that time in history and then been able to apply for jobs other than “domestic” (a nice word for legal slave)? No. They either worked as “domestics” or they didn’t work and didn’t make money….. Just too much to swallow (for me, anyway).
It is entirely possible that the author of “The Help” is a sincere, perceptive, and kind woman. She may even believe that her novel made into a movie is doing something positive for society. I beg to differ, contrapuntally so, and have zero interest in reading the book, seeing the Disney-fied version of a horrible violence-ridden chapter of American history (full of rapes, hangings, lynchings, assassinations, beatings, on and on) and ask you, gentle reader:
Do you agree?
Here’s the link to the press release from the Association of Black Women Historians:
If you’ve seen the film, read the book, or have strong intimations on this book made into a movie let us know-but remember to keep the comments based on logic and reason.