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"Help" is on the way


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The movie, "The Help", is opening this week-end, and it being an example of a white woman telling a black one's story, makes it the object of controversy.

I have mixed emotions about this best-selling book, whose screen version has been much anticipated. I read it when it first came out and posted a mini review of it here. Then, as now, a lot of its story line didn't ring true to me because the author often sacrificed credibility for the sake of providing comic relief. And at the book's end, several issued remained unresolved.

Other critics, many of whom are black female writers, say the approach to the book was patronizing, and that the treatment of the characters was emblematic, - with each one representing a stereotype. The fact that the debut novel of this young white female so easily gained acclaim while black female authors struggle for recognition was obviously one reason why the popularity of this book didn't sit well with the black literary community, especially because of the subject matter.

Resentment over whether or not a white woman can tell a black woman's story, however, begs the question. We have to ask can a male author effectively portray a female character, and vice versa. Or can an adult write about a child or a young person write about an old person. Presumably a skillful writer should be able to convey human emotions that transcend race, sex and age. Or, - maybe not. In its defense, "The Help" didn't try to get inside the heads of the black characters, but was told from the point of view of an observer, who was a sensitive young white woman. She empathized with the black maids but she left it up to the reader to conclude why these beleagured servants endured what they did before liberating themselves.

Still, I can understand the indignation of black female authors. I just wonder why they didn't think up this idea for a book first and beat a white author to writing it? Why didn't I, myself, do so? Living in the North, I was little aware of the degradation that was going on in the deep south in the 1960s. Yes, I knew many black women who worked as maids including my mother at one time. But if their working conditions compromised their dignity, these women had no qualms about telling off their employers before walking off the job.

Whatever. To me, the most remarkable thing about this book was how these servile conditions in the South existed in the 1960s, almost a hundred years after the slaves were freed, and almost 10 years after the civil rights movement exposed racial indignities.

But, as evidenced by the current political situation, we can deem that racism is a stubborn concept that refuses to go away. We have at the helm of our nation, a black president who is being held in bondage by plantation masters who refuse to relinquish their power and who have the wealth to enforce their will... And so it goes.

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Dang it Cynique, I was ready to come back to my old stomping grounds and get it on with you, just like the old days. But nope, I am actually in agreement with everything you said, including the part about you mother once working as a maid... so did mine. But I don't know why I am surprise at the position you've taken? Hell, you've always moved away from the main stream (sort of). I mean, everywhere I went everybody was crying about this movie, and the actors, and the white writer, and the "black savior movie" slant. Damn, I've never got so tired of negroes whinning and crying in my whole life. And get this, much of it was coming from people that had not read the book, nor had they seen the movie! One of the major uproars was over black actors having to, or accepting roles as maids. Oh yeah, they were screaming about white folks this... and white folks that and shame on those actors. And Shame on the NAACP. . I was like, write your own damn story. This book was not a case study of the life and times of maids from "that" period. The book (and movie) was not focused on civil rights, nor was it a portrait of civil rights and the po' suffering maid. It simply was not that kind of party, nor was it intend to be.

Like you mother, my mother was not worked like a dog, and she would not be talked to like she was less than. Yet, some of the complaints about this movie centered around a "false" representation of a maids life. I know maids come in all flavors and thier employers do to. And you and I both know that white folks in the North can be, and many times are, much more evil than those in the south. Martin Luther King said the same.

Nice post.

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Thanks! I was so busy re-hashing the book, I forgot to mention that I intend to check the movie out, and I don't think me - or anyone else is obligated to provide an explanation or justification for going to see "The Help". I anticipate that it will be a rather entertaining picture.

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Yep Classic Cynique. Thanks for sharing your perspectives here again! I dont think I've witnessed a movie more controversial than "The Help". This was even more controversial than Tyler Perry's For Colored Grils and Lee Daniels Precious combined. Perhaps because it is a film based upon a book written by a white person. If the book's authors and film maker were Black and the movie exacty the same the major media would not have covered the issue nearly as much.

I posted a link on my social media to a statement issued by Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), which provided a "...historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help." This link was clicked more than any other link, in a 24 hour period I've ever posted: Here is the statement: http://aalbc.it/therealhelp There you will fin a link to a CNN video of Martha Southgate.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I went to see "The Help" yesterday and, as reported by others, it did prove to be a very faithful version of the book. So if you liked the book, you'll love the movie. If the book offended you, seeing it portrayed on screen will require that you endeavor to appreciate the messengers, if not the message - which is to say that the acting was good and the 1960s era re-created very well.

I would categorize "the Help" as a simplistic movie, pitting good against bad with the sympathetic characters eventually triumphing over their antagonists who get their comeuppance by being reduced to objects of ridicule and laughter. Did I like the picture? Well, I credit it with doing an adequate job of fulfilling its good intentions, and I'd give it two-and-a-half stars.

With the schedule and the time of day being factors, my daughter and I ended up seeing this film at a theater in Elmhurst, Illinois, an "old- money" suburb of Chicago, and it was interesting that the early afternoon audience was made up almost exclusively of white women, many of whom were elderly. The reaction of these ladies was appropriate as they chuckled and sniffled in all the right places, seeming to have enjoyed the movie.

Ironically, as we were filing out of the lobby it suddenly dawned on me that my mother once worked as a part-tme maid for the president of the Elmhurst National Bank! She was allowed to bring little me to work with her and I remember this residence being a big mansion. The only other thing I can recall is that when my mother once caught me jumping up and down on one of the beds she scolded me, much to the amusement of the lady of the house who would always gave me cookies. I guess I have come full circle. ^_^

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Cynique after seeing the movie do you undertand why some folks are all riled up over it?

Nowadays your mom could have parlayed that connection into a nice intership while you were in HS and a fat job after college :-)

Carey did you have a good copy? I'll eventually check out The Help when it becomes available on Netflix it (I guess it will be available within the year).

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Let me say something in regard to Troy's comment: "Some folks are all riled up about it."

I personally don't doubt the film and book are entertaining and "good".....my complaint......is that I don't want

to see another "Black Maid" movie.

For the dark skinned black actress & us watching her on screen.... this seems to be an enduring wasteland.

White Actresses have a full range of characters to play (types of women; VIABLE women images that tell the

society to cherish & procreate with White wombs). The White Man's mother is presented as desirable; Queenly;

intelligent; shrewd; accomplished; a normal and necessary figure.

Black women's images in film are almost 3 to 4 different variations on the same 1-note bleakness.

The movie "The Help" is basically being loved and supported by WHITE WOMEN. And that's because this is

the way they are comfortable seeing Black women; just as many Black men have no problem with constantly

seeing Black women portrayed as Maids or Prostitutes.

I don't doubt the movie is good.

I just refuse to accept in 2011 yet another Maid Epic....because it's time for Black women to have a better more

hopeful image.

Naomi Campbell is in negotiations to play me in a movie; Michelle Obama's story is riveting; we have novels

like "Glorious" and black women Astronauts.

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Sorry, Kola, but I need to be filled in about all these movies where black women are featured as maids. I'll agree that there is a paucity of roles for black actresses but with the exception of "the Help", when I do see a black one in a movie it isn't as a maid.The characters they play are feisty, yes; sexy, yes. "normal", frequently. It's not so much about how black women are cast, it's about them not being cast at all because black-oriented movies aren't being made, thanks to black film makers not being able to get financial backing. "Art imitates life", and unless a role is a supporting one with no romantic overtones, a black actress cannot compete with a white one to play opposite a white male romantic idol. Older white actresses are also complaining about there not being any roles for them either. Show biz is about youth and beauty and money. Blacks can come up with the first 2, but not the last.

In answer to your question, Troy, as entertainment, "The Help" had a certain amount of broad appeal, but as a social statement, it did co-opt the right for black women to tell their own stories, and produce movies where the heroines are less docile and less attached to the children of white folks.

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"Clara's Heart"

"Corinna, Corinna"

"Backstairs at the White House" (NBC Mini-series about MAID & other black servants)

Queen Latifah as the maid in Steve Martin's "House' movie

"I'll Fly Away" (t.v. series)

Hattie McDaniel in 50 classic movies as "the maid"

"That's My Mama" (t.v. series)

"Good Times" (t.v. series)

......these are just a few that I can name, Cynique. But for the 'dark brown' actress

this remains the most commonly cast role.

I have not seen Viola Davis (or women like her) cast as "Queen Nok" or "Nina Simone."

Yet White and Mixed Race women are consistently given a broader range of roles and


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Hattie McDaniels was from another era, and she was type cast. The other films and documentaries you named from 15 or more years ago were roles where the strong female characters were not defined by their occupation, in addition to the fact that they were given star billing in these "housekeeper" roles. Plus, the 2 white men who starred opposite Queen Latifah's comedy movie were cast as utter buffoons. Except for "The Help", what maid roles are aspiring black actresses in this century playing because they are passed over for other characters?

Until Hollywood changes its standards of perfection, no female, dark or light, black or white who doesn' meet these criteria is gonna make it as anything other than a character actress. Who in show biz gives a damn about giving fair and equal treatment??? Profit is the name of the game.

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I watch ALL MOVIES from every era ....currently.

My statement remains: "I am not supporting anymore Black Maid movies--no matter how good they are."

I think MILLIONS of Black Women feel me on this. We're fed up. We want a new image for Black women

and we're not supporting this shit anymore.

Bottom line.

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I hear both sides of the argument, not only in this thread but across the blogspere. Today, I have to agree with Cynique. Now, although I understand Kola’s position , I can only address the issues she used to support here claims.

Watching movies is one of my biggest passions, so I have to agree with Cynique in that the roles listed by Kola where over a span of 70 or more years, and I am here to tell you that for every role of a maid, there are at least 50 different roles that black actresses have played on film and in the theater.

Also, there remains the argument that black dark skinned actresses are seldom seen and/or projected as “beautiful” on the big screen. And, imo, that’s a valid argument.

In short, the most defining factors of what and who we see on the screen is supply and demand. As someone mentioned, and we all know, there are wonderful stories of POC, but if history serve us well, the black viewer is a fickled bunch. Some have defined them a hypocrites. We cry that we want a better “quality”/diversity of television programming and movies, and that we want a “better” representations of “black life”, however, our dollars speak differently.

In a broad sense and if we use Hollywood’s standards of success, we don’t support movies that some believe champion the black face in a positive light.

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