I was able to see “The Help” back in July for a pre-screen and even after sitting on the front row and watching the grossly distorted images courtesy of looking up vertical to a 30 foot screen, I walked away surprised at what I saw. I was happy to watch a movie that told the stories of black and white women, side-by-side and across generational lines–I haven’t seen a movie like that. For each main character from Aibleen and Minnie to Skeeter and her mother; Hilly juxtaposed to Celia Foote’s character and even the story of Constantine–all characters showed development from the beginning to the end of the movie. I was expecting a movie similar to that of the “Dangerous Minds” or “Freedom Writers” that portrays the liberal whites as making a difference in the lives of the poor black and Latino children and ends with a storybook ending and usually throws in the death, by a bullet, of one of the children.
However, black women across the blogosphere didn’t see it that way.
Blog upon blog of black women prior to the movie’s release had begun the rants against “The Help.” Some were coherent and others not so much. Famous bloggers said they weren’t going to read the book or see the movie and gave their reasons why. I was left reading whole articles about why someone wasn’t going to see it based on what I felt were bad assumptions–prejudices if you will. Perhaps because I saw the movie already I knew that much of what people were allegedly having a problem with as far as the concept of the movie was somewhat incorrect.
I think the promotion of the story was a bit misleading, probably for the sake of a white American audience. But let’s be honest, this movie wasn’t intended to be a movie specifically for black audiences or a movie that didn’t really care whether blacks attended or not. Fact of the matter is, blacks as a demographic are not a driving force when it comes to box office sales. That being said, I think some of the beauty of the movie was lost in the marketing and promotion of it.
Nevertheless, black people–not just black women–as the opening weekend drew nigh became more and more critical of a movie that hadn’t even been seen and by most people who hadn’t read the book.
From the likes of Melissa Harris-Perry to other black female bloggers nationwide, this was still an incorrect image in which to portray black women. This was still the same image of black women as subservient and unempowered that got many people bringing up the image of “mammy” and decrying the fact that Minny went on about fried chicken through the entire movie. Some even found the pie-eating story unrealistic. Harris-Perry tweeted that she thought the violence meted upon one of the other minor characters was the only realistic part of the movie. Which left me asking So black women only identify with violence?
For the sake of this blog, I’m talking about black women, but I think at times this is true of blacks in general. [Yes, I'm aware I'm stepping into some murky territory here.] I don’t say this often, but I do think there is a romanticized view of violence and victimhood that blacks collectively suffer from. Collective suffering comes from systematic and collective oppression; we were uniformly oppressed in this country therefore we uniformly have some amount of suffering as a result. What results is a “my oppression was worse than your oppression” matrix that groups contextually operate.
The tenor of the conversation that I’m reading about and hearing about surrounding “The Help” is that it doesn’t paint a realistic image of black women domestics in the South. For Harris-Perry to identify with the violent part the most was highly disturbing to me. Seriously, it got my attention; it was a tweet that stood out from the crowd amongst her others. This leaves me wondering what is the view of historical black women or even historical blackness at that time. The subtext that I read is that experiencing lynchings were an everyday occurrence in any given community, that everyone suffered from Night Riders from the KKK, that every black domestic faced sexual threats from the patriarchal white males in their households and that it was all really just that bad. News flash:
Black folks eat fried chicken.
Black folks are fat and eat fried chicken.
Oh, and we clap our hands on the 2 and 4 beat in church as well.
I am not at all trying to minimize the historical oppression and struggle of blacks in a Jim Crow South, but I think far too many of us are succumbing to looking at history through too contemporary of a lens. Based on just the stories out of my own family, the level of unempowerment that blacks faced on a day-to-day basis was serious and social conditioning was real. It’s as though we’re ashamed of the image of black women that doesn’t show them being a triumphant and metaphorical Celie from “The Color Purple.” The silent struggle of Aibleen resonated with me much more than the towering images of black womanhood such as Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer went to bat and was an outlier amongst thousands of unnamed black women who never mustered the courage to speak up, and on behalf those that had sacrificed their lives and their womanhood when they did.
And….if it wasn’t for some courageous white people, the modern Civil Rights movement wouldn’t have been what it was: a revolutionary movement. A revolution happens in slow, incremental changes, not all at once. Yes, there are watershed moments that make it in the history books, but the annals of history tell of countless stories full of unnamed men and women who used their own smaller acts of resistance against a system that they were unaware was unjust in the future hope of generations yet to come. The Civil Rights movement in this country began when the African slave woman decided to pee in massa’s morning coffee back in 1621, it did not start with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat in 1955 and end one decade later with the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Is this a story worth telling by a black woman? I answer with a resounding yes. Would I pay money to go see it? Yes I would, and I’d buy and support the book. Am I entitled to my opinion of how black men are portrayed in the book? Of course. That’s one of the issues in the movie, the only image of a black man in the movie was a totally faceless one and that of an abusive one. But, I resolved that in my mind because the movie made men in general take a back seat–this was a story about what it meant to be a woman–white or black–in the Jim Crow era South.
Seeing as how this was historical fiction, there was some basis for truth in this story. I think this was the case of William Styron’sThe Confessions of Nat Turner revisted: black folks, particularly black women, were just incensed that this wasn’t a story told by a black woman. While I discount people’s opinions of the book or the movie who have neither read nor seen it, I think many of those that read it or saw it had unrealistic expectations of the movie. It seemed as though the likes of Harris-Perry were expecting this movie to be “The Color Purple Redux” with heavy elements of “Eyes on the Prize” documentary infused into it.
I think even if the bloggers who had issue with movie went to go see it, they’d be so jaded and be able to offer an opinion without severe bias attached to the judging process.
That’s it. I just wanted to join the chorus of rants on this topic as well. It’s officially dead and buried for me. #ontothenextone
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL