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

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  •  Offensively highbrow? (6+ / 0-)

    I grew up a generation after this book/film are set. My grandmother had an African-American maid who was the only person in the household who was ever nice to me. She was treated like a workhorse, expected to laugh at all the racist humour and when she got terminally ill near the end of her life, she was 'let go' with no insurance or financial support.

    Later, when my grandmother died, papers turned up that proved she was my grandmother's daughter, my aunt. You see, my grandmother's father was half African-American [another closely guarded family secret], & genetics being what they are....

    My grandfather was the owner of the biggest agricultural company in the county. He utilized slave labor by keeping undocumented people from impoverished countries such as Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam & later Central/South America trapped on his property. Yes, he technically paid them, but then charged them usurious fees for food, housing, etc.
    I remember, as a young child, seeing pre-school aged children working in the fields, because the amount of work that people were supposed to do in a day was beyond the ability of a single person - frequently whole families worked these fields.
    As to what the women had to face... it was common knowledge that anyone [predominately white men] who worked in management saw these women as 'stress relievers'. Until I was older I had no idea that meant they considered these women to be available to be raped on demand.

    I consider every word Professor Harris-Perry said, tweeted and e-mailed to be spot on. I LOATHE the use of the 'magical white hero' to tell the tales of others.
    Plus, people who are separated enough from their family's past to be able to find such tales amusing: may I suggest that has more to do with the fact that it is much harder to get published when one tells autobiographical tales of POC who suffered, than it is to tell the tale of their brave, white hero.

    My other car is a Tardis.

    by lupinella on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 12:33:37 PM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Thank you for your (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lupinella, evergreen2

      comment.

      Professor Melissa Harris Perry, from mediaite:

      “it’s really easy to frame an African-American woman feminist talking about a feel-good happy race movie with a critical eye as a killjoy,” and wanted to make clear that the acting and immediate story was entertaining. It was the periphery of that story that Harris Perry took issue with, arguing that “the African American domestic workers become props” for the white protagonist, and that it reduced the struggles of laborers in the South to light Hollywood fare.

      “This is not a movie about the lives of black women,” she clarified, as their lives were not, she argued, “Real Housewives of Jackson, Mississippi… it was rape, it was lynching, it was the burning of communities.” She then explained that it was, to her, completing the work started by the Daughters of the American Confederacy when they “found money in the federal budget to erect a granite statue of Mammy in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial,” which happened while the same Senate contingency failed to pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. “It is the same notion that the fidelity of black women domestics is more important than the realities of the lives, the pain, the anguish, the rape that they experienced.”

      “It’s ahistorical and deeply troubling,” she argued, to make the suffering of these laborers a backdrop for a happy story.

      We must use what we have
      to build what we need. -Adrienne Rich

      by Xapulin on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 01:33:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Great response (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Trakker, Tonga 23

      and this is why we have critics and criticism. However, my problem with Harris-Perry is exactly her highbrow approach. The movie she WANTS to see is not the movie that exists. "The Help" is a Hollywood movie made by Chris Columbus who has also graced the film world with "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire." Harris-Perry and I'm sure countless others have a problem with "The Help" because it is not the political statement that they agree with - a statement I generally agree with. But almost NOTHING that comes out of Hollywood fits Harris-Perry's criteria. It's al highly-polished, neatly-packaged and pandering.  Why would any of us expect anything different?

      Her tweeted film criticism dismisses the fact that the movie may, in reality, speak to a wide swath of moviegoers about race relations in a way they CAN understand and feel. "The Color Purple" ain't "Bamboozled"... but the movie directed by the white director reached a wide audience and opened a dialog in this country about the black experience (and, as a side note, it's a movie I don't care for) and the movie directed by the black director was barely seen, alienated audiences, and preached only to the converted.

      If "The Help" opens some eyes, then more power to it. But NO ONE should be expecting from Hollywood a realistic probe into the dark side of domestic help in the American South. Or maybe we can expect it, but we shouldn't flip out on MSNBC when we don't get it.

      •  You calling it a 'Highbrow Approach' (0+ / 0-)

        Is something I simply do not understand. I am quite the fan of Prof. Harris-Perry, and find her very good at parsing out why commentary is problematic. I don't believe she takes a highbrow approach simply because she puts issues into historical perspective. If anything, I feel she is brilliant at explaining the layers of privilege in an approachable way that is easily understood.

        The fact that 'The movie she WANTS to see is not the movie that exists.' - it's 2011 - 'Mammy' films, quite simply, are completely anachronistic!

        I'm not going to talk to Hollywood's output, except in regards to your comparison, because I think we would both agree that discussion is another several journals - especially as I'm quite the: anorak, nerd, geek - fill in the blank with whichever - in regards to early Hollywood.

        As to 'The Color Purple' vs. 'Bamboozled' - not a fair comparison. One is based on an amazing story written by Alice Walker, so thus a white man's vision of a tale told BY a black, female author. The other is satire - problematic and deeply troubled in its telling, but at times managing to painfully skewer the images of African-Americans that are still 'acceptable', to white culture.

        My biggest problems in 'The Color Purple' were the complete excision of the lesbianism so inherent to the plot of the book and also Nettie's tale of gender disparity. I'm not a huge Speilberg fan, but let me point out again this was adapted from the Alice Walker novel. So it does, as its origin, draw from a WOC.

        I feel that 'The Help' contains characters more at home in a satire than in a representative fiction. [Though not in that PARTICULAR satire.]

        The idea that 'The Help' could open some eyes? To what? A white person's vision of the experiences of POC? 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was AMAZING in its day, but is it still necessary to have a white, privileged avatar to allow us to see the struggles of people without power? The fact that the portrayals of the characters in 'The Help' could 'speak to a wide swath of moviegoers about race relations in a way they CAN understand and feel' says so much about why Hollywood continues to excrete this type of film, and why so many of us find it troubling.

        Prof. Harris-Perry didn't dismiss the film in her actual criticism. She mentioned a positive aspect as to Skeeter's coming-of-age story. [Don't have the transcript, so I cannot quote that section.]

        Also, couldn't people have their eyes opened at James Craig Anderson's recent murder in MS.? The fact that in 2011 a group of young white men just killed a man because of his race is a lot more relevant than the fantasy that is 'The Help'.

        The idea that she 'shouldn't flip out on MSNBC' - the very last thing I would call her response is 'flipping out'. She also explained why she wanted to calmly talk about the film. To call her response flipping out is adding a layer of anger that has a very different kind of baggage when applied to a WOC.

        My other car is a Tardis.

        by lupinella on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 06:25:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I appreciate the well-reasoned response (0+ / 0-)

          I too, and something of a geek when it comes to movies and am hyper-aware that movies are made for varying audiences and varying reasons... and that they will never appeal to all viewers.  There are so many layers to this discussion that I can't go on any further. Suffice it to say that I agree with many of yours points and disagree with many others.

    •  Let me guess, you haven't read the book (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      doroma, second alto, Trakker

      You really don't know what it's about other than comments you've picked up on, so you don't realize how close the book comes to telling parts of the story you just told.

      •  Actually (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe, evergreen2

        I'm generally not a fiction fan, but this book was loaned to my partner from a well-meaning work friend. Because she has dyslexia & I'm a book-a-holic, she gave it to me asking if I'd like to read it first.

        As I started reading, I became furious. I DID read some of the criticism on the social justice blogs I frequent.
        Then I went back to the book.

        The more I read, the angrier I became. Between the negative depictions of the African-American men, the glossing over of the dire threats of violence that forced POC to live to live in fear - especially the threat of sexual violence against 'The Help' & the fact that this white woman wrote so many black voices in 'Mammy' patois whilst having her white characters speak 'normally'. [As a southern woman, let me clarify that those stereotypes, in both cases, are wrong.], I felt justified in not finishing the book.

        What I DID read of the book [over half] was more than enough for me to make a pretty fair judgement as to the author's intent and voice.

        Now, feel free to judge me for not finishing the book before I deigned to make comment. I am perfectly comfortable putting down a book that has the condescending lesson that WOC, in the end, NEED a white woman to give them agency.

        As to the book telling parts of the story I told - utterly untrue. A great deal of what I was pointing out is that the exact same situations exist today and have always been more dire, repulsive and horror-filled  than this coming-of-age tale would have one believe.

        People have got to realize that a dialogue on race can only be started when POC are listened to, not had fictionalized tales woven around their lives. I would NEVER assume I could write anything from the viewpoint of my Aunt Barbara Jean, nor the families that my grandfather 'employed'. It takes an arrogance beyond my ken to understand how someone like Ms. Stockett couldn't take the time to examine their place of privilege and come to the realization that she actually knew very little about what those women felt - ranging from their TRUE feelings for their charges to Medgar Evers assassination.

        Also, you could have simply asked if I had read the book rather than make an assumption based on your experience reading this novel.

        My other car is a Tardis.

        by lupinella on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 04:04:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You are right - I should not have assumed (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          emal

          I also understand some of the objections to the story and/or the author being the one to tell it; although I don't fully understand the angry vehemence over a work that has at least opened up an opportunity for reflection and discussion for those who might not otherwise have taken such an opportunity.

          As I've noted in another comment I did not take away the idea that the WOC "needed" a white woman to give them a voice (or agency) - in fact I took away that the Skeeter character was awakened by what she was learning from the black women and that thehe needed them to give her a voice.

          Of course, we all bring our own background and experiences to any work, including a piece of fiction. I am white, I was a child in the times this story was set in, did not live in the south except for a very brief period when I was about 4, and was not even living in the US during some of the active years of the civil rights movement.  

          So, in that context, I found the book giving a useful snap-shot of a time/place that I had glimpsed only edges of. I saw strength and courage and community from "the help", and a shallow self-centeredness in their employers. Much of that rang true to more recent experience and observation as an adult.

          •  Some common ground. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Catte Nappe

            To look it as Skeeter's coming-of-age story, and her learning how to achieve her voice IS a completely different story. That is actually something I might've found interesting if not for the backdrop of Jackson in the early 1960s and the author calling the book 'The Help'.

            The reason so many people are vehemently angry [I'm fully including myself in that category.] is multi-layered. Here's some of mine:

            I do TRULY DESPISE 'the white hero' trope. Whether 'The Last Samurai', 'Dances With Wolves' or 'Avatar', I feel that white people don't have to see a representation of themselves to enjoy a film. The fact that 'The Blind Side', 'The Lost World' and 'Step Up', et al. are still so prevalent in modern times, says much about Hollywood's desire to cater to subconscious racism or self-congratulatory liberalism.

            The 'villain' of the film set in mythical 'Jackson, Ms.' is a white woman who is rude to her help. As opposed to Jackson, Ms. where the reality was that the villains were the people who demeaned, raped & killed POC. The truth of the time is a lot more dramatic and certainly more problematic to an audience.

            By calling the book 'The Help' Ms. Stockett sets up a presumption as to who was speaking in the book. From what I read, she should NOT have presumed to understand these women's experiences. She does use them as background to her white heroine. As the book went on I found myself wondering if she'd ever truly talked with a WOC & not managed to bring the discussion back to being all about her.

            One of the white heroes is a man who personally opposes segregation, yet stands shoulder-to-shoulder against it. Because of the fact that his voters expected it of him. Yet this character was set up as a 'good' man'.

            The prominent African-American men in the book are horrible: abandoning their families, drunk and/or abusive. When we live in a modern society that has a huge disparity in our arrest & conviction rates according to race, to portray so many MOC as dangerous, it's as close to pandering to the worst racist beliefs as to be repulsive.

            'The Help' themselves are made into asexual 'Mammies' who note, at one point, that the white children they raise grow up to be racist, but yet 'love' these children. In some cases seemingly more than their own.

            I could go on, but am in my third week of pneumonia & tend to [looks up at posts] get a bit wordy when I feel so strongly on a subject.

            My background is that I am a southern, mixed-race woman who does not, however, feel I could ever be a voice for WOC because the fact that I'm part African-American & part Cherokee simply doesn't read to people until I've told them. Then they look past my skin color to see what they assume are my 'ethnic' features. I've never been pulled over for driving-while-black or had anyone do a racist chant at me. I have seen both of those done to others.
            Our backgrounds do define us until we defy them. When my family found out that we were part African-American, which I mentioned in my first comment, my father, who'd had a stroke, told my mother - in front of me - that if he was well & didn't need us to care for him he'd, 'Take out a gun and kill you and all of your children.' He was not exaggerating. His brother, when I was in pre-school, had spent mere months in jail for shooting an African-American man. I'm not certain as to why he did this, because, in our family at that time, that was reason enough.

            As I mentioned in my earlier post, what I saw from my grandparents was during the late '70s through the late '80s. The fact that Ms. Stockett wrote about this time/place as if it was a sad piece of history truly disgusts me because there is nothing done to POC in 'The Help' that is not currently done to many people in our country today. And it, past and present, is FAR worse than this woman's idealized reminiscing. Thus my vehement anger.

            My other car is a Tardis.

            by lupinella on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 08:13:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thoughtful writing on this at Salon (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Catte Nappe

              Two lengthy pieces on the film and the reaction to it. One from Andrew O'Hehir:

              In fairness, even most critics who like the movie would agree that its principal audience is white people, and that it's a mainstream Hollywood entertainment package that's intended to reassure and uplift its viewers, not to challenge them directly. As we'll see later, the question of how you interpret that undisputed fact is central to your reaction to the film.
              http://www.salon.com/...

              And this one from Mary Elizabeth Williams:

              When a story becomes a hit, it's because it's struck a particular chord. And one of the more absurd aspects of the criticism of "The Help" is irritation that it's a success in the first place. "Why this?" its detractors wail. "Why this, when there are other books, written by actual black women, to be read?"http://www.salon.com/...

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