Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is "The Help" really helping?

"The Help" came out in theatres this week and has drawn a significant amount of praise and controversy.  

Movie critics have especially praised the performance of leading lady, Viola Davis whose performance has been said to raise the entire cast and plot of the movie.
Some critics, however think The Help is a step back...

"'The Help' makes Jim Crow palatable. I don't think this is a good thing." Rebecca Wanzo, Associate Professor of Women's Studies at Washington University

Certainly this is not the only film where we have seen derogatory images of African- American women, but what is unique about this film is that the aggressive marketing campaign is trying to make this a cultural phenomenon and we wanted to speak to that...The film does not represent the vibrant activism of Black women in the South. These women were active participants; they were not sitting around for a young white woman to give them a voice or a purpose” Tiffany Gill, Associate Professor of History, African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin Gill said.
"The Help's representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy -- a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it." The Association of Black Women Historians,

I have not read the book, however I do plan to see the movie this week...I'll let you know what I think. ;)

Here's a little background about the story:

The Help is a 2009 novel by American author Kathryn Stockett. It is about African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s.  The novel is told from the point of view of three narrators: Aibileen Clark, a middle-aged African-American maid who has spent her life raising white children, and who has recently lost her only son; Minny Jackson, an African-American maid whose back-talk towards her employers results in her having to frequently change jobs, exacerbating her desperate need for work as well as her family's struggle with money; and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a young white woman and recent college graduate who, after moving back home, discovers that a maid that helped raise her since childhood has abruptly
disappeared and her attempts to find her have come to naught. The stories of the three women intertwine to explain how life in Jackson, Mississippi revolves around "the help", with complex relations of power, money, emotion, and intimacy tying together the white and black families of Jackson.

The Help is Stockett's first novel. It took her five years to complete the book, which was rejected by 60 literary agents before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent Stockett.[4][5] The Help has since been published in 35 countries and three languages.[6] As of August 2011, it has sold five million copies and has spent more than a 100 weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list. Stockett, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, was raised by an African American domestic worker in lieu of an absentee mother.

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