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View Diary: My Thoughts On "The Help" (236 comments)

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  •  I had a lot of problems with the book (6+ / 0-)

    And so did my roommate, who is African-American and has family in Alabama.  She HATED the book as yet another condescending story of self-righteous politically correct white folks giving a voice to the poor, oppressed minorities.

    Me?  I wanted to mulch the copy I read, only it was a library book.  I hope the movie tanks at the box office, but I have this awful feeling it's going to be nominated for a fuckton of awards and probably win several even though it's based on a cliched, condescending, ultimately racist book.

    •  Do you know of any books on this subject written (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      by African American authors that you can recommend to us?  (no snark).

      I've got my spine, I've got my (DKos) orange crush, we are agents of the free.....R.E.M.

      by FlamingoGrrl on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 11:57:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Ultimately racist"? Why? (4+ / 0-)

      Because it is written by a white woman or because it is politically correct? I'm genuinely confused, probably because you don't articulate why it is racist. Just that it is.

      On a similar note, Tavis Smiley's blog has a thoughtful article about white authors being entitled to write about the black experience.

      “Until the lions have their own historians,” begins an African proverb, “the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s worth noting that the African American experience has often been chronicled by whites. Do such accounts, in effect, glorify the hunter at the lions’ expense? And if so, is the solution to declare Black history off limits to “white hunters?”

      According to the author, 20% of the African American respondents agreed that white authors should not write about the black experience.

      Given that 20% of these African American respondents reject on principle a white author’s legitimacy in writing Black history — without reading a word of what he wrote — anyone who calls this a non-issue or a question that doesn’t need to be asked is celebrating Black History Month by wearing a blindfold. It’s something that must be discussed, if only to dispel the myth that “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” If the historian is honest and true to his trade, the color of his skin should not matter.

      •  Several reasons (8+ / 0-)

        But the big one?  Because once again it's a white woman (in this case, a pretty young girl) being shown as the way the poor oppressed black folks find their voice and achieve some sort of liberation.  It's the same trope you see over and over and over again in popular culture:  it takes white people to liberate the oppressed.  It denies the oppressed their own voice and their own take on the story, and allows well meaning white people to identify with the white liberation character so they can thin and of course would have been nice to their maids, when none of us know what we would have done.

        Kathryn Stockett almost certainly didn't intend this, and she's probably not happy that there's been so much controversy.   And if it opens up conversations about race and class, well and good.  But I'd be willing to bet money that the conversations will die away, and this movie and book will be remembered as yet another "female bonding" movie when the inherent inequality between Skeeter's position and the maids' position precludes that from ever happening, at least in Mississippi in the early 1960s.

        •  Sstockett lost me in the book by giving all the (7+ / 0-)

          maids dialects and the whites none.  In the South?  It seemed to "normalize" and center whiteness.  Another feel good for white folks since the white girl saves the day. They can identify themselves as innocent of racism.  

          •  Good point (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Hadn't considered that point.  The author of this diary makes a great point about the same thing going on today that I hadn't considered either.  I liked that in the book Skeeter shares the profits of the book with the "Help" and I wondered if Sockett has done the same thing.  Shared with her former maids family or set aside a large portion for scholarships or something like that.

        •  Too easily dismissive of past works (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lgmcp, Tonga 23

          While I agree that there are too many instances of the black experience being told through the eyes of whites, it is too simplistic.

          For starters, no one is denying "the oppressed their own voice." That is patently ludicrous.

          Moreover, American history's cinema, literature and music is filled with white artists giving rise to black voices. From Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Melville's "Benito Cereno" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" to record producer Ahmet Ertugen's role in the rise of black music in the 1950s and 60s to such movies as Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?", Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night" and "Glory" and Spielberg's "Amistad".

          To dismiss a work of fiction as "racist" on no other basis than it being created by a white person is wildly misguided.  

          The movie may or not be crap. It may or may not be another saccharine Hollywood depiction of the American family (familiar terrain from director Chris Columbus who also gave us "Mrs. Doubtfire"). But to be racist by its very existence of being a story of black life penned by a white seems way to easy.

          •  Chris Columbus didn't direct "The Help". (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            second alto, dannyinla

            Tate Taylor directed it.

            I like to hide mine in the crack of a turkey.

            by DoobyOne on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 02:29:49 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Uh...I must point out (0+ / 0-)

            That several of the books you cite were written in the 19th century, when an African-American who dared to write the truth about his/her life might well be in danger of being lynched.  And Harper Lee wasn't writing in the voice of an African-American.  She was writing in the voice of a white child.  

            As for Amistad - same problem.   The star of the movie isn't Djimoun Honsou, playing the slave who led the rebellion.  It's Anthony Hopkins, playing a white former President.  And I will bet anyone that the person from the cast of The Help who's nominated for Best Actress next spring is either Emma Stone or Bryce Dallas Howard, not Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer.  

        •  I read a different book (11+ / 0-)

          In the book I read an unattractive white woman, finding no place in her community (and under constant criticism from her mother) is gradually awakened to the reality behind her world. And through those interactions, and observing the courage of the black women she comes to know, she is liberated and finds her voice. In addition, seeking answers about the disappearance of the only woman who ever loved her unconditionally, she learns some very ugly truths about her own mother, and the society she was raised in.

    •  The movie is better than the book (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the flaws in the book are less obvious in the movie.

      Here's the take of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.  

      For obvious reasons, I had expected to dislike “The Help.”

      Kathryn Stockett is a white woman and her writing a book about black women having to “Yes ma’am,” and “No ma’am” their lives away didn’t sit well with me.

      What gives her the right to tell this story in the first place?

      To make matters worse, Stockett is profiting off the painful plight of black women who lived and died in a racist world.

      But after watching the film version of “The Help,” which opened in movie theaters this week, I forgot all about the hand that penned this work.

      Thanks to the insightful direction of Tate Taylor, and the acting of Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, and Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, I walked out of the theater with a greater appreciation for the black women who bore this burden.

      Because of Davis’ and Spencer’s emotional performances, “The Help” became more than a movie about a white woman’s (Emma Stone as Skeeter Phelan) struggle to find her place in the world, and white redemption.

      She's right.  Skeeter's a lot less of the story in movie than she is in the book.

      sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

      by stivo on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 04:01:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Interesting comment (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      denise b, Catte Nappe, emal

      Having read the book I can fully understand why an African American, especially from the south, might see condescension from the writer.  I'm white, was raised in the north but spent one summer in Florida in 1955 when I was 10, and I saw Jim Crow first hand.  I had no desire to ever go back.

      Kids today, at least in the north, have little idea how ugly and incredibly cruel Jim Crow was in the south, and for that reason I was pleased in the past year to find that The Help, Warmth of Other Suns, and the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks all made it onto the bestseller's lists.  They all in their own way expose younger readers to the reality of the Jim Crow era.

      While the movie The Help might offend some because the white writer got the credit for the maid's stories, the movie has some redeeming qualities in my opinion.  Most of all it showcased two incredible actresses, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  You say you have an awful feeling this movie might win some awards?  I hope so, Davis and Spencer (especially Spencer) were superb and deserve to be recognized.  I went back a second time just to watch those two again (and Jessica Chastain who was also remarkable).

      I might also mention that my wife, who is African American and can spot condescension a mile away, fully enjoyed the movie.

      Though I agree, the book (and especially the movie) was cliched, and could be viewed as condescending, I fail to see how it was racist.  Personally I saw it as a love story where Skeeter wrote the book as a tribute to the maid who raised her, mothered her, loved her, and encouraged her to be be comfortable being herself instead of becoming a racist Junior Leaguer like all the other rich white girls her age.

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