Is New Film "The Help" Historical Whitewashing?
Today, the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel The Help opens in theaters amid a lot of hype, but not all the reviews are positive. Akiba Solomon of Colorlines put it this way:
"I just can’t bring myself to pay $12.50 after taxes and fees to sit in an aggressively air conditioned, possibly bed bug-infested New York City movie theater to watch these sisters lend gravitas to Stockett’s white heroine mythology. I’m sorry, but the trailer alone features way too many group hugs to be trusted."
She elaborated with:
"The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday confirmed what I suspected—that the narrative of black maids Aibileen and Minny 'is structured largely around their white female benefactor.' Citing “The Blind Side,” Sandra Bullock’s odious Oscar vehicle, Hornaday goes on to ask why Hollywood keeps this tradition going:
That this is the story we keep telling ourselves is all the more puzzling—if not galling—when viewers consider that, precisely at the time that “The Help” transpires, African Americans across Mississippi were registering to vote and agitating for political change. In other words, they were helping themselves."
Colorlines also pulled this quote, from a review by Nelson George.
A larger problem for anyone interested in the true social drama of the era is that the film’s candy-coated cinematography and anachronistic super-skinny Southern belles are part of a strategy that buffers viewers from the era’s violence. The maids who tell Skeeter their stories speak of the risks they are taking, but the sense of physical danger that hovered over the civil rights movement is mostly absent.
A final review by novelist Martha Southgate nicely sums up the rhetoric:
"There have been thousands of words written about Stockett’s skills, her portrayal of the black women versus the white women, her right to tell this story at all. I won’t rehash those arguments, except to say that I found the novel fast-paced but highly problematic. Even more troubling, though, is how the structure of narratives like The Help underscores the failure of pop culture to acknowledge a central truth: Within the civil rights movement, white people were the help.
The architects, visionaries, prime movers, and most of the on-the-ground laborers of the civil rights movement were African-American. Many white Americans stood beside them, and some even died beside them, but it was not their fight — and more important, it was not their idea."
Read Colorlines' full report on how 'The Help' whitewashes Civil Rights history here.