Skip to content

Ignore the Bullshit: The Help is Not That Bad

August 23, 2011

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help sat on the bestseller list for weeks on end, but I didn’t read it until a month ago. And that was because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, but knew if I was going to watch the movie, I should go ahead and make it happen. While the book seemed to be making headlines everywhere, I failed to hear too many black people who had read – and liked – the story. In fact, I encountered many people who condemned it without ever reading so much as one sentence. To be fair, I do not support that. To dislike something without any experience is cutting a little too close to hypocrisy if you ask me. I heard comments about this white lady (Stockett) writing in a “black vernacular” that was insulting. Again, to be fair, Zora Neale Hurston wrote in a similar manner. Are we to say that Stockett’s is inferior because she is white? They use similar styles in capturing the tonality of an uneducated black person from the south. Hell, that’s how I’d write dialogue of an uneducated white person from the south as well. Would I be wrong? Can only black people write black dialect?

There were lots of other comments, concerns, etc., that continued to pop up and I noted that I was seeing a lot of tweets and Facebook posts from black people who made their disinterest in the film extremely clear. Once again, in all degrees of fairness, I have no interest in watching movies like Rise of the Planet of the Apes or the latest Harry Potter… so I don’t. But I also don’t go around proclaiming my disinterest. I think that if you’re taking the time to say that you’re not interested, deep down, you really are, but just don’t want to admit it. Shakespeare said it best, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” I will leave it at that and start my review now.

Bullshit. That’s what I have to say to the naysayers who claim that The Help is a feel-good movie for white people. Who feels good with that ending? I didn’t. Maybe it’s the dumb white people they’re talking about when they made those proclamations. Bittersweet? Yes. Feel-good. Hell no.

Bullshit. That’s what I have to say to the people who claim that Emma Stone’s Skeeter swooshes in and saves the day for the poor, hapless black mammies maids, Aibileen and Minny (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, respectively)? She haphazardly brings them right into the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, without ever so much as realizing how fool-hearted that could be. She is a wide-eyed innocent; ignorant of what is going on around her and how her decisions can affect others. As the film progresses, portions of the veil are lifted, but she is cast, nevertheless, as a debutante (a reluctant one, perhaps, but still a debutante), viewing the world through the rose-colored glasses of white privilege.

Bullshit. This one is to the people who complained that we didn’t see enough of these women’s husbands, many of whom were probably donning white hoods and ruining lives. I’ll give you that many of them might have been members of the KKK, but this story is clearly told through the point of view of women. Women handle everything differently than men. The only man who received any relevant screen time was Leslie Jordan as the cantankerous Mr. Blackly and he certainly wasn’t upping the testosterone quotient of the film.

That’s a lot of bullshit. Which is a shame. I like the movie. Hell, I’d buy it on DVD and watch it again on a Sunday afternoon. That’s not to say that there aren’t some issues with the film. The book was told from three points of view: Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. In what appears to be an attempt to clarify that this is Aibileen’s story, the decision is made to have her do the voice-overs. Realistically, when watching the film, I feel as though the superb Viola Davis is given precious little to do. The film’s storyline is clearly about Skeeter, with bits of Minny thrown in to make you laugh. Davis is, interestingly enough, almost an afterthought. Yes, the film opens and closes with her, but not even the staunchest supporter of the movie can provide a valid argument that she gets the screen time she should. The storyboard probably read as thus: Skeeter. Skeeter. Minny. Skeeter. Skeeter. Minny. Aibileen. Skeeter. Which would be fine, if they weren’t so obviously trying to push Davis. To clarify: I feel Viola Davis deserves to be on the same list as Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Helen Mirren, Sally Field, et al., when history books are written. But what the hell?

Other notes:

  • Octavia Spencer did not steal the show. The role in the book is very showy, and I have heard that she steals every scene, so I cringed at the anticipated over-acting. Instead, Spencer played her part perfectly. Make plans for her well-earned Oscar campaign.
  • Despite my concerns that Viola Davis’ Aibileen is an afterthought in her own movie, it is almost certain that Davis’ name will be on the Oscar ballot come winter. As it should be.
  • I have loved CJ Cregg Allison Janney since episode one of my beloved The West Wing, and she didn’t fail me in the role of Skeeter’s cancer-ridden, overly-involved mother. Hitting a perfect balance between annoying and heart-breaking, Janney continues to act her ass off.
  • Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis, True Blood) was in the movie! I love him.
  • The aforementioned appearance by Leslie Jordan was over-the-top and hilarious. I’m sorry but I love that little man.
  • Sissy Spacek kills, I mean kills, in her role.
  • The whole Constantine/Rachel (Cicely Tyson/LaChanze) storyline is much more believable in the movie than that crazy shit Stockett came up with for the novel, but to be fair, it’s still silly. I don’t believe that the characters would have acted as they do in the film. It just came across as a way to make Skeeter a character who’s quote/unquote sympathetic with the black maids. Again, I cry, “bullshit!”
  • Bryce Dallas Howard creates a character with ice running through her veins, but who isn’t a caricature. After several films, she’s come into her own. One day she won’t just be Ron Howard’s daughter.
  • Aunjanue Ellis‘ role of Yule Mae is beefed up for the movie, over what’s in the book and it’s better for it. She brings a feisty earnestness to her role.
  • The film is pretty. Floral dresses, polished silver, fake smiles… it’s all presented as a dichotomy between the world the white women saw and the one the black women lived in. The glossy look to the film certainly masks the dirty history associated with Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. Again, I believe this is because the story is told from the point of view of women. Women don’t like to get their hands dirty; they prefer to keep things more civilized. Even if the world is going to hell in a handbasket at the same time.

Okay, so you just read my opinions. And, yes, that’s exactly what they are: opinions. Many people have told me that I am not supposed to like this movie. Truth be told, though, I do. There’s definitely reason to argue that they should have shown a more realistic look at the underbelly of the Civil Rights Movement, but tell that to Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. Their 1990 film The Long Walk Home aka The Help With Whoopi Goldberg instead of Viola Davis made a mere $4 million. It also was a much grittier view, set during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Or, maybe you should call Don Cheadle and ask him about John Singleton’s Rosewood. The 1997 film made $13 million, telling the story of a 1923 lynch mob attack on a black community. Hell, while we’re at it, let’s email Oprah and ask her why her rendition of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved only generated $22 million. Those movies weren’t supported, so I don’t know why people would expect an outpouring of viewers for a grittier version of The Help.

At the end of the day, I encourage you to go see The Help. If you don’t like it, get up and leave. You have that freedom. I enjoyed it. Would I have made some changes had I written/directed/produced? Of course. But does the overall film tell a good story? Yes. Is the acting good? Hell yes. The entire ensemble carries their weight. And now that you’ve gotten way more than my two cents, I’ll put down my pen and let you have the floor.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mike permalink
    December 21, 2011 9:06 AM

    Yes it is bad.. Not ALL white people hate black people or use black people or had slaves that were black people OR HAD SLAVES AT ALL. This crap needs to stop. This is coming from a black man. The same crap goes for the Jews who think only THEY were killed in the Holocaust when the facts show that millions of other nationalities/religions were targeted.

    Stops the insantiy by not giving into propaganda bullshit like this.

    • December 21, 2011 9:44 AM

      When I wrote this, I knew I would have people who disagree with me. I have had many conversations with friends who disagree as well. That’s okay. This is one person’s opinion. You have yours, I have mine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: