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The Help

I haven't seen the movie or read the book The Help but I've seen a lot of people talking about how it's not an accurate description of the time period and place it depicts or of the relationships between white families and black domestic workers in the 1960s US South. Here are a couple of articles discussing the subject.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 15th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
I'm reading the book right now and I get the feeling that the authors of the statements you link to above have perhaps not read it. The 68-year-old African American woman sitting in the room with me had the same impression. She really liked the book. I can't comment on the movie.
Aug. 15th, 2011 04:52 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad to know that.
Aug. 15th, 2011 02:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that comment. I have been searching IN VAIN for responses from people who were actually around during the depicted time period (let's say, born 1950 or before).
Aug. 17th, 2011 03:20 am (UTC)
I think they need to be in that area, too. I was born in Seattle in 1955 and we didn't really have anything like that.
Aug. 15th, 2011 04:35 am (UTC)
I saw the movie and didn't read the book.

The first commentary makes me a little sad, because I would hope most of it didn't even need said.

Unless there is more in the book, it seems to be pretty much only about the women's part of the world. It's not about men or children so they only flit through as needed for the plot. This is also why it only portrays the awfulness of the boss ladies and not of schools, shopkeepers, klan, etc.

It definitely is showing the women as having very few options. The white women too have very few options, the options they do have certainly are more comfortable, less financially stressful, more stable, less strenuous, less demeaning. Perhaps one of the reasons they are mean to the help and each other is because in this world dominated by their husbands and with strong rules about what is acceptable behavior and interests they mostly aren't seeing other outlets to take out their own frustrations.

I would expect that if we heard all the women's stories there would be sexual harassment and rape, but the movie could get confusing and lose it's story arc if it tried to do that. Does the book do it?

We could just as well complain that only one white person who was not of this elite class was in the movie and then only because one of their men had married her after getting her pregnant.

They did show the church's function as a community center. I saw it's importance. I don't know if they didn't see the movie, or they think it needs to be specifically called out which could again disrupt the flow, it is already a very long movie.

Okay the whole 'smart, kind, important' thing got old, not because of dialect, I don't know one southern accent from another, but because it was meant as such absolutely blatant audience emotional manipulation, rather than what necessarily was real.

What struck me as the points I would most expect objection to - they only mentioned one of - that the center of this whole thing is a white woman who is basically using them for her own purposes (though she does her best to treat them fairly), and that they leave you with the impression that it will be okay for all and I fear it would have gone quite badly for at least some.

Girls our age who came from Mississippi (the ones who said I was ok until the revolution), said that they had been completely shocked to find out that the shopkeeper who had always acted nice and polite to their faces was unmasked as the grand dragon. That sort of two-facedness would also have been interesting to include somehow, but yes it was a very long movie already.

I guess there is a question of who the book/movie is for. I think that they felt that in order to get white people to see it and not write it off as a black movie it had to have that main white character. I assumed the reason they didn't show the maids as more forceful is to emphasize how much fear was in the air. Certainly they couldn't have been shown mouthing off at their bosses or they'd be fired, and the main other interaction shown was related to getting them to tell the stories for the book, again it was already long so they didn't really get into the personal lives of anyone except as necessary to push it along.

I was a little appalled at the people in theater (mostly white women at Camera 12 opening night) as they cheered along with every victory or comeuppance, it somehow didn't feel quite seemly. I guess I was flashing back to high school a lot. More appropriate to me would've been a group of black girls like I had in my history class who muttered 'amen's and the like throughout as if they were in church listening to an inspiring preacher. It was obvious at least some of them had read the book because you'd hear people say 'oh this is going to be a good part' and such.

My friend who is from the Bay Area, but has been stuck in Georgia for the last several years as a military wife, took her two elementary-aged daughters to it and reported that it was very eye-opening to them. They hadn't previously heard of the whole white vs colored signs and such before , so she figured it really was time they started to learn about it.

Aug. 15th, 2011 04:36 am (UTC)
the second link is wonderful - thanks
Aug. 15th, 2011 04:52 am (UTC)
Thanks, I appreciate your perspective a lot.

I get frustrated when a movie seems to have people like me (for whatever value of "like me" doesn't get portrayed very often in movies -- queer, nerd, fat, etc.) in it and doesn't flesh out the characters or oversimplifies them because they're stereotypes for the main characters to react to. Those movies might cause or perpetuate damage with the stereotypes. And they might be good movies in other ways or might teach some people things they don't know.

It's a superficial comparison but the movie Up bugged me because there was a geeky female character in it (spoiler elided) so the main character could decide to go on an advanture. I wanted a story about the female character.

I hope some useful conversations come out of all this.

Edited at 2011-08-15 04:53 am (UTC)
Aug. 15th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, it is frustrating. I try to see things where I think there might actually be a character that is 'like me' somehow because it is extremely rare, and the stuff that is wrong sticks out because of that.

To a certain extent movie portrayals, except MAYBE in a biographical/historical piece are always going to either be stereotypes, or deliberate plays off of stereotypes, of whoever they are portraying.

It's sad that even now, if the movie did not have the central white woman character so many fewer people would watch it, try to relate to it.
Aug. 16th, 2011 05:43 am (UTC)
I try to see things where I think there might actually be a character that is 'like me' somehow because it is extremely rare

I am extra cautious about movies/books that are supposed to have character(s) "like me" and am less likely to consume them than movies/books about different characters/cultures/worlds. I'll ask a lot of people with clue first what they thought of it.

I'm not sure I think movie characters inevitably have to be stereotypes. Why do you think so?
Aug. 18th, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC)
Maybe they don't and I'm grouchy? It depends on who is writing it. If they are writing about people like the ones they actually know they can be less stereotyped, but still to not get in trouble they should be making them composites if not meant to be historical fact. When people write about people they don't know - what else are they going to go on for the most part? It's not 100% stereotypes, but often.

I shouldn't mix the words "to a certain extent" and "always" in the same sentence and expect it to make sense.
Aug. 18th, 2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I definitely think that "stereotype" is the way to bet. Occasionally I am pleasantly surprised.
Aug. 15th, 2011 06:54 am (UTC)
check out the review at Colorlines.com.

that was what made me be willing to let go and not see the movie, and I'll think about reading the book.
Aug. 15th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
have you read the comments?

those seem to largely break into
- actually read the book or saw the film - they recognize some flaws, but like it anyways.
- just reacting to the trailer and what other people have said about it, don't like it.
Aug. 15th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
I am still searching in vain for reviews of either the book or the movie by people who were born in 1950 or before, even if they didn't live in the South. (Roger Ebert reviewed it, but he addressed mainly the quality of the film as a film.) All the links here show me women who probably were not alive at the time. No disrespect meant to them or their opinions, but I really want to know what people who actually had some experience of living during that time think.
Aug. 15th, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC)
If you find any I hope you will post them!
Aug. 18th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
Your next bet would be finding people who were kids, but in that area. They would have some stories about it, from their parents as well as what they remember personally.
Aug. 18th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)
Not quite that, but you might want to read this -- I got it from the library.
Aug. 22nd, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
Obama took The Warmth of Other Suns on vacation.
Aug. 29th, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)
Again, I don't know about reviews, but the new book The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure by Norma Watkins is a memoir of her life in the 1950s & 60s. She's white, but sees all the segregation and damage done to blacks and eventually leaves her family so she won't be participating.
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