The Association of Black Women Historians pens an open letter to ‘The Help’

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Last Wednesday, The Help (an adaptation of Kathyrn Stockett’s novel that stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Bryce Dallas Howard) arrived in theaters and did fairly well by landing in second place with $26 million in box-office receipts. Of course, neither the book nor the movie are entirely accurate depictions of the subject matter (the lives of black domestic workers serving white households in 1950s Mississippi) at hand; to be fair, however, the story doesn’t even slightly pretend to be a cumulative historical presentation of the Civil Rights Era by any stretch. Still, it’s bound to ruffle feathers that the book features a young, privileged white girl in her efforts to gather up the stories of the black maids in her town. While the movie does take great pains to reframe the story as being more about the two main black characters, Abileen and Minny, instead of having the white girl “save” them, it’s still not exactly cinematic history in the works. Even if, essentially, The Help was only meant to be a summery beach read, I can definitely see why certain black stereotypes presented in both the book and the movie would upset the Association of Black Women Historians, and they have penned a letter as such:

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help. The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.

During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women’s employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. 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.

Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smat, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family, in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.

Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of white employers. For example, a recently discovered letter written by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks indicates that she, like many black domestic workers, lived under the threat and sometimes reality of sexual assault. The film, on the other hand, makes light of black women’s fears and vulnerabilities turning them into moments of comic relief.

Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi. Granted, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi based field secretary of the NAACP, gets some attention. However, Evers’ assassination sends Jackson’s black community frantically scurrying into the streets in utter chaos and disorganized confusion–a far cry from the courage demonstrated by the black men and women who continued his fight. Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

[From 40 Acres.com via ONTD]

Does the association have a legitimate point? Probably so, but I still don’t feel that the book’s author meant for her work to have any serious implications other than possibly opening the eyes of a few readers. It’s a tough one to call, really. Overall, I don’t find either the book or the movie to be overly offensive towards blacks, but my opinion in this matter doesn’t hold much credence for the simple fact that I’m not black. While the dialect used both in the book and the film is an obvious problem, it’s also rather vindicating that the heroes in this story are the black domestic workers. Yes, the book is about racism, but I don’t know if we should go so far as to label it racist in and of itself. Thoughts?

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Movie stills courtesy of AllMoviePhoto

 

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184 Responses to “The Association of Black Women Historians pens an open letter to ‘The Help’”

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  1. ladybert62 says:

    In america, we cannot discuss racism because no matter what is said will be labeled as being politically incorrect by someone or some organization.

  2. Cheyenne says:

    I’m black and I and my black friends are in complete and total agreement with the above statement from ABWH.

  3. Ruth says:

    It is in some ways the perfect expression of the kind of outlook some whites have about racism against african-americans. Yes it is about black characters. But its very troped in thier characterisations and in the characterisations of thier white employers.. It could basically have been done better. (especially cutting all the awful overdone southern black dialect-now that is pretty blatantly inaccurate and yes racist)

    But at least it is a film with more than one or two token darker-skinned characters. That im considering this a positive thing says a lot about film in america no?

  4. I had two thoughts when I saw the promos/previews for this movie: 1) This is going to overly simplistic and therefore, offensive and 2) My mother-in-law (who’s family employed a “Mammy”) is going to love it.

    Looks like I was right on both counts. Gross.

  5. Sloane Wyatt says:

    My black neighbors and I disagree with you ladybert62. Racism is talked about, along with any other topic we feel like.

    I enjoyed the book and haven’t seen the movie. Some of Terry McMillen’s books portray racism and skip the overly sentimental stereotypes of ‘The Help’ and are really great reads.

  6. Rita says:

    It’s encouraging that this film did well at the box office since movie demographics are primarily the young who want sex and explosions (preferably at the same time).

    I think this is a true movie of perspective. Everything the letter said about sexual harrassment and exploitation applies to the eras white women as well.

    I understand the indignation at the “mammy” characterization of the black “servants” but the movie seems accurate in portraying the distinct seperation between the races in that era. It sounds that whites can get a good perspective of the time by watching the “servants” in the background while listening to the white conversations in the foreground.

    I want to see this movie and study it from the perspective of gender and race.

  7. Pseudoangie says:

    I advise you to study something more than armchair sociology 101 please ladybert62

  8. mln76 says:

    Well I am a bit torn. I find the whole storyline so stereotypical that I have no interest in reading or watching the movie. I think the cast is really talented though and it seems that may have elevated the material. Hollywood is superficial and most of the time their approach to movies is superficial in a case where it’s tackling such an intense part of our history that’s probably going to upset a lot of people of color.

  9. bros says:

    I just wish people would stop criticing this movie or book for not managing to tell the entire history from all angles of the civil rights movement and everything that it entailed. it was a piece of fiction. its not a documentary. so the author took license with the speech of some of the characters. much like winter’s bone interpreted the linguistic stylings of the white trash hillbillies in the ozarks. the idea of historians reacting to a fictional portrayal of anything is ridiculous.

    i did not think this book veered over to the mammy territory. I found it touching and emotional and not in the least bit campy, but really rather melancholic and I dont think it trivialized anything. it was meant to tell a side tale or subplot taking place within a momentous time in US history, and it did just that.

  10. Nicole says:

    I too am Black and am in agreement with the letter stated above. Since the book’s author what White, the least she could have done was do a little more research in the feelings she was trying to portray. People who write historical romances do it all the time. It’s call providing context. I read the book upon glowing recommendations of many friends. I was so pissed that if I could have had a conversation with the author, I would have. Alas it was not meant to be. Understanding that this was supposed to have been a fluffy read, this could have been a more content rich, and as Roger Ebert said, “more fearless” book.

  11. dr.bombay says:

    @ladybert62: Well said. No conversation, statement, movie, book, action is ever, when we truly think about it, holistically *perfect* on any topic, racism or not. There’s always some angle you can find weakness or fault and critique it, or strength within an opposite view. Ask any debate team member.

    Racism is one of the main topics in this realm within the US. Unfortunately, we’ll never heal and truly mix, in my opinion, because of that fact. People are afraid to talk, and talking is a *major* part of healing & growing.

    It was a great idea that she told the story from different points of view, but a huge task, and it did come off as…”cutesy”, in my opinion.

    I read “The Help” & found it to be good albeit general. It’s a somewhat enlightening story but narrow in scope, by far. There are probably thousands of different angles the author could have taken, but I’m guessing that she had to stay on que with the storyline.

    @Nicole: Maybe she did sufficient research, and these were the feelings she chose to represent. I’ve read pieces where a black author writes a white character–sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t, but I accept it as their interpretation.

  12. Mshuffleupagus says:

    I completely agree that this movie was way too watered down for the subject matter it took on. But for all the popularity this letter will get damning this vanilla beach reading story, where is the same amount of press condemning Tyler Perry for his outright racist depictions of Black America whenever a movie of his comes out? I mean you want to talk about promoting the “Mammy” stereotype, no one does it more than Tyler Perry.

  13. Tigger says:

    I’ve not seen either the book or movie, but I mean seriously? Don’t bite the hand that feeds. And when did Hollywood in anyway begin to make films with accuracy? Movies are entertainment. Nothing more and nothing less.

  14. dr.bombay says:

    PS-I’m mixed–black mom, white dad, for the record. My parents are not originally from this country, but I was born here.

  15. Call Me Al says:

    Good for the ABWH! This book was horrible, stereotyped blacks, and didn’t say anything that anyone who has any sense didn’t already know. Black women raised white children. We know. On the other hand, many white people curiously continue to remain ignorant of this fact. However, The Help did a terrible job of representing the experience of the black domestic workers and did a better job of pointing out the continuing existence of patronizing attitudes towards blacks in the South and all over this country. Thank God someone said something, I thought I was the only one who hated this book!

  16. Amy says:

    I saw the movie (didn’t read the book) and really liked it. Whenever race plays a prominent role in a movie, people are going to get offended no matter what. I’ve read comments from imdb from black posters and they seem divided on the issue–some who have seen it loved it while others not so much (and some who have not seen it judge it which I say you have to either read the book or movie before you pass judgment). White people don’t come out looking so great in this movie (I am white btw) and I’m not complaining about their portrayal. And according to my mom who read the book, while the book centers more on Skeeter, I found the movie to focus way more on the black characters than Emma Stone’s character.

  17. cookie says:

    I wouldn’t want to see this movie. I work with white South Africans and always cringe when I hear them recount their fond memories of growing up with their black nannies etc The reality is, the two experiences are completely different and this is something this letter points out. That’s fair.

  18. randomness says:

    Documentaries are for making the truth known or expressing opinions of those involved.
    Movies are for entertaining. Sometimes I wish everyone would just calm down and watch the movie for the fun of, not for education.

  19. Valerie says:

    I’m not black, but a person of color. It’s hard to judge without reading the book or seeing the film, but it does seem like “The Help” is just another Hollywood version of racial injustice, featuring a white protagonist. Even if it doesn’t pretend to be an all-encompassing historical treatment, it’s still insulting to frame a narrative in this way. The Black Women historians’ critiques about stereotypes and the misrepresentation of history sound valid. It’s dangerous to present history inaccurately in a popular film, because such strong visual images stay with people and wipe out the harsh reality. I most likely won’t see it; I would rather watch a documentary such as “Eyes on the Prize”, as the NY Times suggests.

  20. Lucinda says:

    I read an article where they pointed out that every movie about civil rights shows the hero as a white person “saving” the black person as part of their self-awareness about racism. But the truth is that any white people involved were helpers, not leaders, in the Civil Rights movement and Hollywood continues to ignore this. I think the letter above makes some very valid points. (and yeah, I’m as white as they get).

  21. LisaMarie says:

    I read the book but haven’t seen the movie. The book was just ok. Not one I’ll ever pick up again, but at least it was a quick read. Not interested in watching the movie at all, but if anyone out there has seen the movie and read the book can you clear up something for me? I didn’t find the book to be a comedy. The adverts make the movie look like a romping good time comedy. What’s up with that? Those two don’t seem to match up to me. Is the movie set up to be a comedy?

  22. moi says:

    It is inherently racist, yes. And I’m sure the author and filmmakers were not intentional in this, but none-the-less it is offensive.

    The fact that most middle class white people can’t see that and view the film/book as “eye opening” is indicative of WHY it is racist.

  23. Debbie says:

    Oh please stop all the whining. It was a great book and a good movie. Wonderful acting. Most historical movies do not depict the exact, precise details of the day. We are allowed to love a good book and a good movie, still, are we not?

  24. malia says:

    dude, not gonna lie, I saw the Help and found it pretty patronizing as well as pandering. I think it was made with the best of intentions, and yet it feels like a movie that was meant to be made in 1985, not 2011. It’s like 30 years late on its message and sensibilities.

  25. mln76 says:

    @Lucinda THANK YOU !!! Great point. Most mainstream movies/books about racism are about white characters figuring out racism is wrong and not about the very real things that Black people did for themselves to overcome segregation in the South. In most cases the black characters are the impetus for the white heroes to get some sort of realization/healing in their lives. Black characters become ‘magical negroes’ and not actualized individuals who have feelings/thoughts/that are of their own impetus. A great example of this stereotype is ‘The Secret Life of Bees’.

  26. Gabrielle says:

    I read the book and saw the movie. The book is told from 3 perspectives and focuses more on the characters of the maids than the movie does imo.

  27. GossipVixen says:

    It’s an interesting letter and no doubt accurate in many ways. I most agree with with this sentence: “It is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own.”

    It was an enjoyable movie, chock-filled with stereotypes, but I find that to be true in pretty much any and all “important” Hollywood films. Those films, by their very nature tend to be filled with stereotypes, so that in the end, the sense of “justice” will be that much stronger.

  28. lizzie says:

    lol….in ireland people call their mothers “mammy”….i actually don’t think i know anyone who calls their mother anything other than mammy.
    its weird reading about it in a racist context.

  29. Beth says:

    I thought the book and movie were works of fiction and therefore subject to the author’s interpretation, not biography or documentary?

  30. jesikabelcher says:

    Has anyone ever seen Driving Mrs. Daisy?? COME ON?? Its a movie for cryin out loud??

  31. Delilah says:

    This is a work of fiction. If you don’t like it, then don’t read it. It’s not being forced on anyone or presented as factual. It’s a story. A made-up story. Guess what – J.K. Rowling isn’t really a wizard. Should Harry Potter books be banned because they are not based on fact or written by an actual wizard? Lighten up.

  32. Rhiley says:

    I read the book and saw the movie all in the same week. I really appreciated, and agreed with Bedhead’s take on the book last week, which was basically, “don’t come up to me and tell me the book changed your life.” Life changing books for me are The Cider House Rules, The Catcher and the Rye, Cold Sassy Tree, Bastard Out of Carolina. Those books will change your point of view on myriad issues. The Help, for me, was exactly what you termed it, a so so beach read. That said, I did like the movie and thought it was so much more well written than the book. I can definately see how it could upset people, but when I was in the primarily all white theater, in the fairly rural South, the movie had sold out and I took a seat in the very front row (my mom in tow of course). I was surprised to see young black men there, with their girlfriends, older black couples there together, a black church group was also there. I was walking out of the theater (and this is going to sound corny but I am going to document it any way) but there was an older black lady sitting by herself, tears streaming down her face. She seemed really moved by the Aibileen character. I was really touched in return. I think for some black women they can relate to the characters in the movie, and I think that it is good that the movie industry has opened itself up to showing the lives of other kinds of women besides the overworked, under sexed, very beautiful, blond, professional woman in her early 30s. Plus, the acting is really great in the movie. Bryce Dallas Howard is really really good as the villian, and Octavia Spencer and of course Viola Davis, steal the show.

  33. Hellen says:

    The book itself was a poorly written and cliched piece of tripe. The plot structure, characterizations, dialogue and language were subpar, and the manuscript should have had a thorough going-over by a REAL copy editor.

    The subject matter was treated in a shallow, simplistic manner that dumbed down whatever positive message the author might have been aiming for.

  34. Nah, nah & nah... says:

    1.) I am a black woman and have a BA in American History. I have also weighed in on this site a number of times regarding my view on this movie.
    2.) I was raised in the South and am still very close to women (family & friends) who represent and lived similar lives to all of the women in the book and movie as they have been described to me.
    3.) It is still too raw and recent for me to view this subject matter, regardless as to approach, as any type of entertainment, particularly when not enough examination as been done from an academic standpoint to provide even more distance and context.
    4.) I respect the author’s right to write and profit off of her reality; in no way am I saying that she is wrong for doing so and I applaud her success. However, that does not mean that I have to agree with or participate in that success and I would ask that she respect my right to feel this way. My hope is that Hollywood follows this discussion, not just the money trail attached to the book and movie, and understands that there are many more realities that deserve their chance in the spotlight also.

  35. mln76 says:

    @Sandrine….So you don’t think that the white people who inforced and supported Jim Crow laws in the south were racist???

  36. Nah, nah & nah... says:

    5.) I have not seen Whoopi Goldberg in Corrina, Corrina or any of the black domestic female films made in the last 20-some-aught years for the exact same reasons as I listed above, so Stockett should really not take my views as being against her, her work or the movie. I almost love Viola Davis as much as Whoopi. I also think the world of Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard. However, if the subject matter itself is seen as the pig that I view it as, these great actresses have been used as nothing more than lipstick.

  37. kieslwoski says:

    I understand the criticism levied by this organization on the book and movie, but where are they when TYLER PERRY releases his disgusting, stereotypical movies that portray African Americans in an equally ignorant and heavy handed manner? Why is Tyler Perry seen as a hero and the writer and people behind “The Help” seen as the bad guys?

  38. Ron says:

    So what they are saying is that every depictation of black america needs to to be approved and seen through their eyes only. Vomit. I saw the movie with a primarily black audience, and they gasped at certain parts and laughed at others, as we were leaving the women in front of me were saying how much they liked the movie. Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one.

  39. LOVE ANGELINA says:

    I had never heard of the novel “The Help” until of course the movie came out…which clearly shows I prefer movies over going to the book store…lol. However I can tell from a mile away it was full of sh*t. There something about movies like this…I can just spot how full of sh*t its gonna be especially when it comes to women of color in roles like these. LOL I agree with the Association of Black Women Historians on this one.

  40. djork says:

    Thank you for posting the letter. Once again, Hollywood makes a civil rights movie as seen through the eyes of white folks. Please. It’s called The Help. The women are maids. The only thing that’s changed is that it’s apparently a tear jerker and all the white people in the audience can feel good about themselves that they aren’t Big Bad Southern 1960s Racists. The only positive thing about it is that actresses of color are working (and are, I understand, stellar). But they are still required to say “dis” and “dem” and “you is”. Not all Black people speak in such dialect. Christ, people, it’s 2011.

  41. Mari says:

    @ Lucinda- I think you are really short selling the many whites who helped lead the CR Movement. Editors like Ralph McGill- named by the Klu Klux Klan as “Southern Enemy Number One”- and Eugene Patterson of the Atl Constitution, Buddy Davis of the Gainesville Sun, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman of Mississippi- both murdered for investigating the burning of a black church-, and the thousands of white women across the South who stood up and LED their peers against social injustice(some reading material- Deep in Our Hearts:Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement and Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement),white news outlets, namely television, who brought this struggle to the attention of the world, and the Freedom Riders. So, in point, I disagree with you wholeheartedly that there were no white leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. To say that does a severe disservice to those who made it their life’s goal to see equality and to those who lost their lives in the process. All those who stood with integrity and rectitude were leaders.

  42. BeckyR says:

    Somebody (or some group) always has to s**t on the woodpile. It is a BOOK. It is a MOVIE..meant to insult NOONE. Good God..let it go.

  43. MommaQ says:

    Soooo, if it is 2011…why are they still using “vernacular” ?

  44. Rhiley says:

    As for the dialect depicted in the book and the movie, I think it is very accurate. I grew up on a coastal sea island in the south. The dialect still exists there. I imagine it is the same for Jackson.

  45. 6 says:

    Of course there were atrocities not covered in the movie or book. But, I wasn’t going for historical accuracy or lack therof when viewing the movie. I compare this movie to any other watered down version of historical events that Hollywood puts out. Why would or should this movie be any different? Countless movies about Vietnam, Pearl Harbor, the atrocities suffered by native americans to name a few are pumped out with no regard to historical facts (my uncle did 3 tours in Vietnam and laughed at the depictions of movies about Vietnam and the inaccuracies, but he still watched them because it was entertainment). Is it accurate? No. But I guess I go to a place where I can get legitimate facts, like the library, not to Hollywood producers looking to make a buck and spoon feed me something. It is a Hollywood movie and I don’t think it was masquerading as anything else.

  46. Elizabeth says:

    Re : the letter above : I have a history degree (no value but I enjoyed the courses). Its been my observation that “real” history is always screwed over when Hollywood puts it on the screen. They aren’t looking to be accurate – they’re looking to make money and they’ll alter the story any way they have to in order to achieve that. I would go to this movie looking to be entertained, not given an accurate history of the era. A bit sad but true.

  47. MaiGirl says:

    For those of you upset that Tyler Perry doesn’t seem to be taken to task about his stereotypical portrayals of African-Americans, trust me, there are PLENTY of black folks who have spoken out and written countless articles about TP’s Mammy stereotypes, among others. Please do not assume that because you don’t know about the criticism, it doesn’t exist. Essence, Ebony, blackplanet.com, and countless scholarly journals have all featured critiques of his movies. You don’t see it as much in mainstream media because mainstream media doesn’t care, and when a forum is available, people concerned about the issue are often shut down. Usually, if an issue concerning racism is mentioned at all, the person is told to get over it or stop being so sensitive, as some above posters are also implying.

  48. NaomiCampbellsPhone says:

    When I saw the trailer to this film I thought it might not be received to well for being fluffy when dealing with such a serious issue. I’ve only studied American history, not experienced it, but it still left me with a funny feeling. If you want a REALLY bad movie on a similar subject matter, check out that one where Will Smith is a golf caddy (name escapes me), now THAT was bad.

  49. Lisa says:

    The letter specifically states its intent is to give historical context to the novel and the film, and the letter does exactly that.

    The most irritating thing to me is the dialect piece (although, of course this is not the most serious issue), and it’s the same reason (the dialect piece) that I couldn’t make it through even the first chapter of the book.

    It’s a novel. It’s a movie. It’s entertainment. I get that AND I agree with the historians’ letter and the points it makes re: giving context.

  50. jc126 says:

    I haven’t seen the movie or read the book. But people I know online – not here – have been praising both up and down, and I’ve always considered them to be rather backwards and prejudiced, although they may not even realize it (we’re all on the same board, not everyone there is like that). The fact that people like that praise it so highly have given me pause on the movie/book’s messages and portrayal.

  51. Jen says:

    The issue is that this book and movie, when understood as entertainment for entertainment’s sake, spreads falsehoods about black life in the period it depicts, and enables whites to enjoy these productions without having to think deeply or accurately about race relations then and now. When I saw the book notices and previews, I knew that this would be another one of these productions in which the white characters gain from the black characters and tell their story, at great cost to all. I’m so tired of these magical black friend movies (Bagger Vance, Green Mile), etc., that completely strip the story of black lives until they’re just backdrop.
    I’m white and I find this offensive. This book and the movie could have told a much more powerful story if the author had decided to let the black characters be multi-dimensional and closer to the historical truth, but instead it’s sanitized and once again, really all about the white character.

  52. Callumna says:

    Offensive, schmaltzy crap designed by totally insensitive whites to make themselves feel good as if they are the heroic sensitive ones of their own active and degrading, elitist, self-congratulatory imaginations.

    Revolting. Black actors and actresses still have to do the most degrading crap to get work. Elitism and schmaltz from liberal whites is not okay either. It’s better than a rap video or pornography, but far below acceptable.

    Agree with the historians.

  53. WillyNilly says:

    “In america, we cannot discuss racism because no matter what is said will be labeled as being politically incorrect by someone or some organization. ”

    WOW. Not only is that not accurate, its dangerous.

  54. Cheyenne says:

    @MaiGirl: Excellent post. My black friends and I are disgusted with Tyler Perry’s stupid stereotypes and won’t watch his movies. But Terry’s depiction of blacks, although stereotyped, isn’t racist. Perry is black. With him it’s a case of trying to be funny by using tired stock characters and not succeeding.

    Let me add here that I am sick and tired of white people accusing blacks of being oversensitive. Sorry, but you don’t get to tell us what we aren’t supposed to be offended at. If we find it offensive, it’s offensive. Deal with it.

  55. lucy2 says:

    While the letter does make some excellent points, as others have said I think it’s important to remember that it’s a work of fiction, not a text book or documentary. There are certainly some very valid criticisms, but I don’t know if it’s entirely fair to expect it to be something it’s not. It did not claim to be a “true” story or any kind of historical report, but a work of fiction which took some artistic license to focus on some aspects and not focus on others. Not everyone will like the end result, but the author of any work of fiction is allowed to do so.

    Admittedly I’m coming at it from a vastly different perspective – I’m not black, not Southern, and was born a long time after this story was set, so I have no way to compare the book with any sort of reality of experience. But I enjoyed both the book and the film, because the story, the Aibileen character in particular, was interesting to me, and in the film the performances were excellent. I saw it much less as Skeeter “saving” anyone, but more of Aibileen finding her own voice, writing her own story, and inspiring others to do the same. Skeeter may have planted the idea, but in the end she was simply the messenger.

    One thing I’m not sure where the ABWH is coming from – that most black males were portrayed as drunk and abusive? My book recollection may be a bit fuzzy, but in the film, only Minny’s (unseen) husband was abusive in the way implied, and I don’t recall anyone being drunk except Celia and Hilly’s mother, both white females. There were very few male characters in the film at all, black or white, and I saw nothing negative about the way that Henry (Nelsan from True Blood! I was surprised when I saw him, I didn’t know he was in the film!), the preacher, or any of the males in the church congregation were portrayed.

    Aside from that, I appreciate the ABWH adding some historical context to it – maybe it will inspire someone to put forth a more “true story” book or bring attention to some that already exist. But in general my feeling is that too much is being expected of a work of fiction, and a lot of assumptions are being made about both the work itself and people’s reactions to it.
    On a side note – if someone has neither read the book or seen the film…how do you form an opinion, good or bad, on it?

  56. Christina says:

    How do I put this.

    I’m a white girl who grew up in the south and I was pretty put off by the book. (I read it for my book club, and I have to admit, seeing the differing generational responses to it were pretty eye-opening.)

    But to me, the whole thing smacked of personal redemption fantasy for the protagonist/thinly veiled author. The thing I remember most about it was all the times I had to stop and say, “REALLY?” I get it, it’s supposed to be pretty fluffy, but it makes me cringe in the same way listening to an obviously uninformed beauty queen talk about world issues does.

  57. WillyNilly says:

    “Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.”

    I actually really LIKE that the book/film focused on institutionalized racism. Many films depict the struggles as being an enemy of a group of men with missing teeth, unshowered, uneducated Klan members when the reality was that it was so incredibly promoted that it was chic to be racist. And THAT is also what is accepted used as leverage to move up (ahem, Michele Bachmann).

    Its disgusting but its a truth that needs to be reviewed. I do agree that they should have included Klan hatred – but haven’t we all seen it in films? We’re aware of it.

  58. RMac says:

    I’m not quite sure ABWH has actually read all 522 pages of this book. I think the book stereotyped southern white women more than southern black women. Also, I’m from the south (TN) and my mother grew up with “the help” in Atlanta, so it portrayed those dynamics quite accurately. There were some historical inaccuracies which Stockett comments on at the end of the book, but as far as white society women employing black maids and treating them like second class citizens (or less)… that part is quite true.

    Also, anyone who doesn’t believe white society women didn’t cause as much terror as their husbands, has clearly never lived in the south. Many were complicit in furthering racial tensions and again, the book does an excellent job of how much power these women actually had… and to some extent still do.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet (seeing it next week) so I can’t comment about the film’s stereotypes, but I can comment on the “stereotypes” in the book. I found all of the white women stereotypes to be far more offensive than Abileen and Minny… and yet those WW stereotypes aren’t really stereotypes because they *still* exist today and they certainly existed in the 1960′s.

    Finally, Skeeter was definitely not “the white savior” and Stockett makes this clear. Skeeter lost everything trying to tell the real story about segregation. Skeeter had to be the one to write about the help because in the 1960′s, in the South, it would have been suicide for a black woman (and her entire family) to openly write this kind of book. Stockett makes this crystal clear as well.

    However, I will ask if a black woman wrote this book, would we even be talking about it this way? Stockett doesn’t have any perspective and her book isn’t valid because she’s white?! Really?

    The stars of The Help as well as Stockett should actually thank ABWH for giving them even more press, and getting people involved in this discussion.

  59. Madison says:

    It’s ridiculous to expect historical accuracy from a movie thats meant to entertain and is not meant to be a histoical record of what happened at the time.

  60. mel says:

    Its a “novel” – not non-fiction. I agree – people need to lighten up…

  61. nnire says:

    i’m enjoying this discussion. i agree with the commenters that have pointed out that this book is a work of fiction and in no way intends to be the accurate voice or experience of all black people at that particular place and time in history. it does not purport to be historically accurate. if readers and film goers are taking a work of fiction to be completely accurate, it’s not the author’s fault.

    i disagree that this is an example of a book about a white person saving or attempting to save black people. i believe Skeeter is just the ‘vehicle’ to get the story out there (would it be “historically accurate” for a black maid from Jackson to have a connection to a huge publishing company in NYC?). but without the maids agreeing to share their stories, there would be no book, and there would be no subsequent discussion. while Skeeter has the connection to the publisher, Aibileen sees the book as ‘her book’ or at least partially her book, and it is clear that she herself is a good writer. the film tries to point this out too– it’s not Skeeter in the last frame seen at her new job in NYC, it’s Aibileen thinking to herself that there was a writer in her family after all, and it turned out that instead of her son, it was herself. Skeeter isn’t the hero, the heroes are Aibileen and Minny.

    i find it odd that commenters on this site that haven’t even bothered to read the book or watch the movie have already dismissed it.

  62. Annaloo says:

    I am black, and personally I don’t care.

    My grandmother on my father’s side worked as a maid for white families in NC– I have stories from my dad how the little boy of the family had suddenly stopped playing with him after he threw a fit that my father couldn’t join them for dinner.

    This IS the past, and more dangerous TODAY are stereotypes of the black female as a VIDEO WHORE and we can also thank Ronald Reagan’s worst legacy to black women : the Welfare Queen.

    What black women did in segregated US was honest, albeit unfair work, and nowhere near the potential of what they could be bc society just didn’t allow them. This was America’s loss, truly.

    However, I think some of the images we see today are far more harmful than what has passed on from the past. THe stereotype for cleaning women & maids today is probably someone who is an undocumented worker (which is its own problem in stereotyping).

  63. Resa says:

    Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before people like Sandrine came out with the “they” and “them,” referring to the black people they know, which, of course means they know us all and our collective quest to make white people feel guilty. Girl. Please. Stop. Ms. Stockett wrote this book for herself to pay homage to her own black help, however erroneously. No one can make you grovel unless you let them. Fact. And what gives you the right not only to denigrate the very real and hurtful past of others, but to then tell these people when to get over it? Your anger about and towards the very real concerns of blacks in this country speaks volumes about your character. You may have grown up around “them,” but you’ve learned absolutely nothing.

    Throughout history, blacks have been misrepresented in film and continue to be up to this day, in films like The Help and the works of Tyler Perry, which brings me to my next point. Plenty of black people have complained about his work—perhaps not this organization in particular, but there have been many newspapers articles and blog posts devoted to the bashing of his subpar films. Just because you’re too lazy to Google said articles doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And what the hell does he have to do with this anyway? Because Tyler Perry exists and SOME black people enjoy his work, the entire race is forbidden to comment on the inaccuracies of The Help?

    And for the people complaining that this novel is just a “fluffy” read, how the hell do you make a fluffy book out of a subject so horrifying? What’s next? Concentration camp chick lit? The point that these historians and many other detractors of The Help are trying to make is that Stockett deliberately ignored history in her historical fiction. In the time in which this novel is set, many black women were already telling their own stories and joining the fight for civil rights. But Stockett had no use for those women in the story she desired to tell. She needed her black protagonists to be scared, in search of a white savior, which she was more than happy to provide.

  64. Iggles says:

    @ Debbie:
    Oh please stop all the whining. It was a great book and a good movie. Wonderful acting. Most historical movies do not depict the exact, precise details of the day. We are allowed to love a good book and a good movie, still, are we not?

    Thanks Debbie. Comments like YOURS is a perfect example of why racism continues to exist! God forbid people of color critique race. It’s just us “whining”!

    Grow up!

    We’re allowed to engage in debates about race without being dismissed as “whining”!

    Anyway…

    I saw the movie and I liked it. I never read the book, but I heard enough about it that I was worried about how they were going to represent race. I love that they focused more on the two black characters in the movie, instead of such a strong emphasis on Skeeter (the white protagonist).

    Cicely Tyson made me cry, but it’s Cicely Tyson! She’s an incredible actress and her few scenes were great.

    I saw lots of problematic things in the movie, but overall it did an excellent job of showing that the “status quo” of those days were indeed RACIST and that “not making waves” does indeed make you a contributor to the problems.

  65. Sumeria says:

    First, I am a person of colour, Black to be specific.

    I did not read the book, but my sisters and I just saw the movie and yes, we enjoyed it. That is not to say I did not see issues with it; the biggest one being that of appropriation.

    I have no issue with an artist who chooses to tell whatever story.I think it is absolutely great the book got published and the movie got made. The problem arises when the only stories promoted about a community are written by those outside of it.
    My issue is where is the room for our stories crafted and told by us? Whether it is music, literature or film/theatre, IMO this type of appropriation and dramatic telling (inventing) of the facts is not innately offensive.

    What is offensive is that there is little room for stories that do not help the mainstream feel comfortable about themselves, and therefore no room is made for stories that aren’t told from a mainstream perspective. Bottom line, both the book and the movie feature the young white girl as the protagonist, because the powers that be believe that you and I are not interested in hearing any other perspective.

    Now that is truly offensive!

  66. Seal Team 6 says:

    having read the book when it first came out, I’ll say that the message wasn’t racist, but the use of dialect in the book made the book racist. The sue of regional dialects and accents in the movie is not racist.

    I’ve lived in the South most of my life, and have known and am friends with people from all walks of life. I am politically very, very liberal. Because of certain things about myself, i have been horribly discriminated against, and understand the difference between “soft” and “hard” bigotry.

    The movie takes pains to NOT veer off the fine line the book often did, and I think it, like “The Long walk Home,” helps bring to light the plight of Black domestics during this time period. A white woman also saves a black woman in the latter film I mentioned, but since the actresses were Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, it’s overlooked I guess. btw that’s an awesome movie if you haven’t seen it.

    As I said, I’m extremely sensitive to bigotry, and I don’t think the film falls into this category. It’s started a dialogue about race, which is fantastic. As reply #1 said, it’s almost impossible to talk about race in the US, which is a shame.

    This reminds me of the criticism of “The Blindside,” which actually happened.

    Honest question: if one agrees this movie is racist, then what of the terrific Black actresses who star in the movie?

  67. Carol says:

    I have read the book, but have not seen the movie. Based on my experience with the book, I really don’t understand this quote from the letter:

    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 African American women portrayed in “The Help” were not contented. They were committed to the children in their care, but their frustration with the limits society placed on them due to the color of their skin shines throughout the novel. Did this central issue in the novel fail to translate to the screen, and perhaps the ABWH only watched the movie?

  68. Seal Team 6 says:

    I will say that thinking the most dangerous during that time period were society women is incredibly misguided. They were not the power in anyway, not in the community and not in their homes.

    They had little more power than their Black sisters. I actually think the movie did do a good job with getting that one point across: this was a women’s story.

    EDIT: I see some posters above me disagree with em on this. I’ll say that yes, white society women had much influence, but had little power, and what bites that were taken out of this discrimination INTERNALLY (ie White Southerns) was almost always made by white women with a bit of money.

    I’m glad this movie has stirred up some talk.

  69. maggieNZ says:

    I’m white and non-American, and I do agree 100% with the statement made by the ABWH. It is sad, frustrating, and shameful that African Americans in film are marginalised as stereotypes and comic relief and that their stories are often listened to and accepted only when either sanitised or told by a white proxy. I find this smug, patronising approach revolting.

  70. yepp says:

    has the Holocaust ever been made into a light hearted comedy? where a Nazi comes to town and saves the day?
    but at the same time its hollywood, and if you dont agree with it dont see it.
    And as a black woman i have never seen nor will i ever support anything Tyler Perry does. just cause he is black does not make him any better!

  71. Seal Team 6 says:

    One quick thing I forgot: remember that just a few years ago we had probably the most racist member of Congress in many years die: Strom Thurmond. Strom the raging racist, who had a hidden daughter of color who resulted from “sex” (ie sexual assault) with his black maid, when he was a college man. Now we have a biracial President. I think this movie is actually pretty timely.

  72. RobN says:

    Movies are made to make money. Period. You don’t think Schindler’s List or The Piano took poetic license with the facts of the holocaust in order to fashion a story that people would pay $10 to see and recommend to their friends? Of course they did and so does this book/movie. You want to see a documentary? Go ahead, there are lots of great ones out there. You want to see a more personal story of what it was like for these fictitious women? then see The Help. Just don’t expect a work of fiction to be a comprehensive discussion of racial issues in the south in the 1950′s.

  73. RMac says:

    I didn’t find the dialect in the book racist or offensive because people in the south, both black AND white, still talk like this. I’m a teacher and a lot of my students even write in their dialects! Total nightmare.

    Now to pretend us southerners don’t have accents or speak in our own dialects is insulting. But if it makes everyone more comfortable, please keep believing everyone in the South speaks the Queen’s English. Good luck with that.

  74. Scout says:

    I read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it as I believe it was meant to be enjoyed – a novel that had humorous, poignant and downright sad aspects to it. Not once did I think I was reading some historical account nor did the author claim it was an historical account. And I SURELY did not view it as an “eye opener”. I just loved the way ALL the characters came to life in it. I haven’t seen the movie yet but quite frankly, the trailers were making it look like they made the movie all light and fluffy, which is NOT what the book was. I still will see the movie, I suppose, but I fully expect to be disappointed, as I usually am when I see a movie after having read a book. I will not view the movie as historical, either.

    I, of course, am completely free to feel unoffended in any way since, being white and from the north, it doesn’t touch a personal place of pain for me. I am so sorry that it does do that for others – so much so that they cannot simply like or dislike a FICTIONAL book and/or movie based on nothing more than personal preference in this day and age.

  75. mln76 says:

    @RMac since I didn’t read the book my question is are only the black characters speaking in dialect as I have read in many reviews of the book?

  76. Seal Team 6 says:

    It was the way the dialect was done in regards to the black characters verus the white characters in the book. It really was wrongfooted. Even educated whites from that part of the South in that era wouldn’t have spoken the King’s English, and yet they weren’t written in the same type of demeaning dialect circa GWTW.

  77. Shannon says:

    It’s important to be historically accurate about the reality that black domestic servants faced because so many people don’t *know* what they faced. Many people are totally unaware of the institutionalized acceptance of sexual violence toward black women for centuries, and the full extent and effects it had on their lives and communities. To brush it aside is to ignore a very central component of lived reality for these women, and it’s impossible to understand them without it. It gives viewers a distorted trope, and considering how few people pick up history books these days to find out the truth, movies like this often provide the only information people will ever know about what went on. It’s therefore incredibly important to bring these issues up, because the alternative is widespread ignorance and the re-writing of history. Yes, this movie is fictional. But it’s meant to be based in historical reality.

  78. Seal Team 6 says:

    Well, I’m not Jewish, yet I found “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” appalling, because of how historically factually wrong it was, and how it really trivialized life in the camps. Very unrealistic. So, you can not be part of a group and be righteously and rightfully offended.

  79. RMac says:

    @Seal Team

    Good point about Strom Thurmond. Lord, he was a peice of work and kept all those white power stereotypes alive… much to the chagrin of most southerners. I’d also agree that in the 60′s, women didn’t have “power” but they had a lot of influence within their circles. Many of them used that influence for good while others did not, glad somebody finally wrote about it.

  80. Cheyenne says:

    @SealTeam: One thing I always wondered about ole Strom was why he put his biracial daughter through college. I can’t believe it was solely out of guilt about impregnating her mother because back in the day white men in the South felt any black woman, married or single, was fair game. Thousands of black women were raped with impunity by white men and nothing was ever done about it. He may have felt an emotional connection to the mother all those years that he took with him to his grave.

  81. RMac says:

    @mln76

    Yes… but I slightly disagree with SealTeam. Skeeter was both very rich, and well educated with a degree in English (Journalism?) from Ole Miss. In fact, most of the white women in the book were every rich and went to college. So, they would have accents but not dialect, or if they did have a “dialect”, they wouldn’t use the same vernacular as Abileen… but only because a white society woman wouldn’t talk like her black maid, which is exactly the point. Stockett made such a stark contrast between speech because it was symbolic of the divide between races, IMO. Only one black maid in the book had been to college. This maid didn’t talk or write in a dialect (Yule May), probably due to her education. However, Abileen wrote very well, but only talked in dialect.

  82. Chrissy says:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet or read the book but they seem like harmless fluff to me. As for the accents, my white in-laws from Alabama have just as strong of accents as do those highlighted in the promos. Is it really a stereotype when you do hear VERY heavy accents and slightly hard to understand words throughout the South? Not quite sure how that is an insult to anyone …

  83. Bobbie says:

    My mother, who is white, was raised in Jackson Mississippi during this very era. She is a fountain of real life knowledge about that time. She did say that it was very accurate, historically, in terms of portraying the white world. She also said that white people can’t pretend to explain the world of blank people in the deep south during segregation.

  84. FD says:

    People…You find this book in the FICTION section of the bookstore. Neither the book nor the movie were meant to be taken as factual. This is what’s wrong with society. Can an author not write a fictional book without getting slammed by a different race? If the author were black I guarantee there wouldn’t be any concern…

  85. vic says:

    Expecting historical accuracy in a fluff, summer movie. Yawn. Some people, of all races, will get offended no matter what. Search for it, invent it and thrive on it. Big payoff in being a victim.

  86. timotei says:

    There is a problem when mainstream movies have a trend of characters who are white seemingly inspiring and being key players in creating a movement for the emancipation of non-white characters. This maintains the myth that people of color were and are unable to create positive changes in society for themselves and covers up the reality that white privilege causes and has caused great harm to those with a different skin color.

  87. Patrik Trimmer says:

    the obviously non african american posters, trying to shout down people who take offense at the film/book are comical at best. You don’t have to defend the movie…it’s just fiction right?

  88. Bitch says:

    I think it comes down to this: One cannot write about the experiences of another without seeming to be condescending.

  89. wtf? says:

    people like “vic” are the reason that movies like this are a problem

  90. mzjask says:

    i think this is absolutely ridiculous and didnt even bother to finish reading the statement. some people will always find something to complain about.
    its a movie, if you dont like it dont watch it. but i can guarantee, just because a little “association” pens an open letter siting their grievances, its not going to change nothin in hollywood people.

  91. Rena says:

    I am bi-racial, white Mom and black Dad, and I will never see this film.

    My gran lived thru this period and served as a maid and speaks of having to run home to use the bathroom every day from work hoping she could make it there before she soiled herself. She was denied the basic rights that all should enjoy by her employers who had 3 black yard jockys she hated and had to keep clean as part of her “duties”. She has nothing good to say of that time in her life, of the daily continuous indignities she had to endure to feed and clothe and educate her family.

    I will boycott this tripe which passes as fiction for some of you but which is very real to many still alive today who suffered under the whip and yoke of racism, all because of the color of their skin. Quite ironic as my gran is light bright and damm near white with green eyes.

  92. Lukie says:

    I’m not offering my opinion on the book. I own it, and that’s all I’m saying, but some of the comments on this thread are seriously making my blood boil.

    I love how some people on this thread want to portray Black people as always pulling the victim card.

    Do you tell Jewish people that when they talk about Hitler and concentration camps? No? Japanese and the camps here (oh right as if most of you even know about that)? No? Native Americans? No?

    Then STFU about your F-ing opinions and theories about Black people. Seriously. All you are doing is proving Black people right about what many of you really do think about us.

    Bitch: “I think it comes down to this: One cannot write about the experiences of another without seeming to be condescending.”

    Amen sister! That pretty much says it all!

  93. Ashley says:

    Chill out everyone, this is a MOVIE not a DOCUMENTARY. Movies don’t have to tell a TRUE story same as ET and THE TERMINATOR are movies, do we see a bunch of Aliens and Robats come & say that “No, ET and THE TERMINATOR movies did not really capture what happend on our planet,,,”.
    This MOVIE dosen’t represent the truth about lives of white and black people in the 50s. It is a fictional story made for entertainment & hopefully is not going to be show in any History101 class as a documentory!
    Why can’t we all live together and get along??
    By the way why doesn’t ABWH produce a movie that IS A DOCUMENTARY and present the TRUE STORY of what happend back then and educate everyone (black/bi-racial/white/red/yellow/all of the above) with it?

  94. ZenB!tch says:

    I loved the book. I’m not black (or fully white). The book was recommended by two friends who are also not black. I’ve not seen the movie but my boss has and she loved it. She is black.

    I started reading this book and started watching Mad Men at the same time. For me it just illustrates what our mothers and grandmothers went through in the 60s and before, regardless of race. We were chattel and it IS good to be reminded of that so we can make sure that doesn’t happen ever again.

    PS: Me and another coworker were telling our boss about Mad Men yesterday.

  95. lilikoi says:

    the posters who are completely dismissing the letter and its intentions? I’m mean, it’s pathetic, you’re just making the letter’s point even more clearly. It’s hilarious.

    I have no problem with people saying, “you know I liked this book, and I liked the movie, and it talked to me.” totally valid.

    I don’t get these sweeping generalizations that those overly sensitive, uppity minorities causing waves again.

    God, it’s embarrassing to see, it’s 2011 people.

  96. original kate says:

    i haven’t read the book but my bookstore has sold TONS of copies. it looks pretty condescending to me, and i won’t be seeing the movie even though i love viola davis.

    did anyone read “little bee?” it is very popular but just awful. i had to read it for my book club and it was amazingly racist. i wonder if that will be made into a movie too.

  97. Riririririr says:

    I’m plaid and I’m offended that I wasn’t represented in this film. AT ALL.

  98. the original bellaluna says:

    Haven’t read the book; won’t watch the movie. For my time, Ghosts of Mississippi is worth repeated viewing. It’s compelling, painful to watch at times, and pulls my heart-strings. I also love The Secret Life of Bees and Remember the Titans (gets me every time).

    I’m the mother of two bi-racial children, and as such I will not engage in verbal warfare on this topic.

    Suffice to say that if you didn’t live it and/or don’t have an oral/written history of it, from the perspective of those who fought so bravely for racial equality, you shouldn’t write about it, because your perspective is skewed.

  99. Cat says:

    … I liked the movie, (prepares to duck and cover) mostly because of the acting. But then, I didn’t go in expecting serious topics to be focused on or the whole scope of Civil Rights to be touched. It’s clearly from the maids’ perspective.

    I think the main reason this is getting flak is because the source material is from a white woman, honestly.

    Do I think some black people play the victim card? Yes. A few, limited people, but they do in the same way that some of my fellow Native Americans constantly harp on “the White Man” doing this and that and wah, wah, wah. Unfortunately, they tend to have the loudest voices and people get labeled as playing the “victim card”. It sucks, but there it is.

    I think topics like this should be talked about, definitely. But there is such a thing as tact. If you don’t want to see the movie, that’s more than fine. But don’t complain about it, if you haven’t seen it. Kinda stupid.

  100. Annie says:

    @ bros……spot on!!!
    On another note…we hear numerous complaints of African-Americans not getting enough roles. These kind of debates make it more difficult for writers to consider wading into this kind of subject matter without back-lash.
    I read the book and LOVED it for what it was…a novel, not a historical document.

  101. Lukie says:

    @Original Kate: wait. I’m reading “Little Bee” (up to the funeral when Batman tumbled…you know). What about it did you find racist.

    Honest question. I’m in the beginning and I haven’t felt that way yet…

  102. Ally says:

    Melissa Harris-Perry’s live-tweeting of the movie sums it up:

    - I’m one hour into #TheHelpMovie I’m not sure I can make it through to the end…..arrggghhhhhh & I read the book. I knew…but the images…
    - Hard to tell whether it’s the representations of black women or of white women that’s most horrible.
    - Thank God magical black women were available to teach white women raise their families & to write books!!
    - And thank God plucky white girls could give black women the courage to resist exploitation!
    - And man oh man was Jim Crow full of giggling good times in the kitchen!!
    - “Oh I loves me some fried chicken” this line was just uttered in #TheHelpMovie #Seriously
    - I just timed it. Miss Skeeter’s date got same amount of screen time as Medgar Evers assassination.
    - First real moment. Violent arrest of black woman.
    - Oh yeah “cute” stunts like the pie incident would have provoked community wide violent reprisals. Not audience giggles.
    - Ok wow. They purged the “Imitation of Life” storyline from the film. Just wow…
    - #TheHelpMovie reduces systematic, violent racism, sexism & labor exploitation to a cat fight that can be won w/ cunning spunk.
    - I understand the sentiment that movies/culture are frivolous compared to “real issues” but these images matter.
    - Domestic workers in New York just won a basic bill of rights with minimum labor protections in 2010. 2010! This is not just history.

  103. Lucinda says:

    @min76–You’re welcome
    @Mari–I’m not denying there were some courageous white people in the movement. There were courageous Germans during WW2. I’m merely summarizing what this article stated which is Hollywood makes it look like it’s ALWAYS the enlightened white person who saves the black person when in fact the movement was started and led, for the most part, by black people. That’s all.
    @Sumeria–that’s what I’m reading over and over is the issue of appropriation. It is the biggest criticism and I think it’s a fair one. To be honest, I haven’t read the book but know the basic premise of the book because it’s everywhere right now. And it’s pretty clear that many feel the author has stolen the story of another race and that this book would not have been as vigorously promoted if it had been written by someone of color.

    FWIW–Stockett even admits that the dialect in the book was not the best choice.

    The nice thing about the book/movie and this letter in combination is that is can certainly spark a much-needed conversation on this topic. That alone could make it a good book-club read if your group is up to it. Unfortunately, not everyone is.

  104. Ruffian9 says:

    Love the folks who say ‘chill out, it’s just a movie’.

    Excuse me, but people shouldn’t be offended because it’s ‘just a movie’, because it’s just a piece of popular culture that may be taken as truth by someone who sees it and has no other frame of reference? I think we DO need to keep watch and raise a red flag when something drifts by or pops up in culture (art, movies, literature, music)that is offensive, misleading, hurtful to others or just plain wrong. Doesn’t ignoring these ‘red flags’ help them be be considered more acceptable or mainstream? I know I’m simplifying here, and perhaps not articulating very well, but I’m bothered by those that, instead of being prompted by a letter such as the one above by ABWH to examine an issue more closely and perhaps learn something, smugly write it off as people overreacting or being too sensitive.

    Original Kate, it’s interesting, I’ve eyed “Little Bee” in the bookstore a few times without picking it up. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t?

  105. crtb says:

    I am Black. I read the book and saw the movie. Thought both were Great!

  106. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    Holy Frijoles! So you’re trying to tell me there’s a difference between fiction and non-fiction? Gather ’round black people, we’re about to learn something! Hey, how does the stork get pregnant? And here I thought we lived in post-condescension world. If you’re so antagonistic towards opinions, perhaps you should live in a cave and pierce your eardrums with knitting needles because it’s concensus, silence or nothing? So you all just sit around reading Thucydidies all day? 2500 years after the events took place are nothing but steely war correspondance? I mean, if it’s ‘just fiction’ why are you so interested is commandeering the interpretation? If it has two eyes and the ability to read, it gets a say. And to decide that people don’t have the intellectual capacity or maturity to engage with a story because they didn’t respond according to your pre-ordained specifications is baffling to me. In a week, this will have blown over and shitty romantic comedies (redundant) will rule the day. Hey, I hear that Emma Stone kids isn’t totally fucking overexposed, let’s worship her for some reason!

  107. Ruffian9 says:

    the original bellaluna, Remember the Titans, I cry EVERY TIME…it’s not like I don’t know how it turns out. Sacrifice and friendship slay me. Every time.

  108. Jilly Bean says:

    From another perspective, Ms. Robyn Quivers has an equally interesting discussion regarding racism in the 1940′s being portrayed on film…
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-quivers/captain-americas-usa_b_915142.html

  109. Mia says:

    Annaloo: Terrific post.

    I’m black. My grandmother was one of those women who helped a white woman raise her children. To this day, she speaks fondly of Mrs. W. And in the next breath, she can curse the ones who mocked her as she walked to the bus, who threatened her if she didn’t get back to her side of town. She loved the Help. She thought it was a good book that portrayed some of what went on during that time period. Some, not everything.

    That said. It’s just a book. It’s just a piece of fiction. I’d rather read a book that addresses some of the indignities of the 50s/60s than to have the entire time period swept under the rug.

  110. Ruffian9 says:

    Ok, my last post (for reals)

    “Suffice to say that if you didn’t live it and/or don’t have an oral/written history of it, from the perspective of those who fought so bravely for racial equality, you shouldn’t write about it, because your perspective is skewed.”

    Thought provoking, the original bellaluna. The old adage; Write what you know.

  111. Chris says:

    It seems to me that whenever someone who isn’t white plays a character in a movie a lot of people want to lumber them with the burden of representing their race. Yet the same people don’t put the same burden on when white actors. The white actors are just seen to be representing the character they’re playing not their entire race. This in itself is racist.

    Also, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie but if it is so racist and offensive to black people why did the black actors agree to appear in it?

  112. DesertRose says:

    Racism is perpetrated by insecure people. Keep the cycle going so you always have someone to kick. It will never be eradicated from the individual level of our society, for there will always be those who need to make themselves feel superior. Movies like this are trivial, fluffy nonsense to keep the masses entertained. But kudos to the ABWH . As a history major I appreciate any effort to keep the information out there, as many of us are woefully ignorant to the facts.

  113. original kate says:

    @ lukie: i don’t want to give too much away, plot-wise, so i will just say that little bee, despite the horror she endures in this book, is so happy, so good, so simple-minded she appears to be slightly retarded. her character reminded me of the old mammy character, taking care of the white folks and sacrificing herself repeatedly to ensure the white folks are ok, kind of like a really loyal but dumb dog.

    i also thought the writing was abysmal, and the ending was downright laughable. i mean, i literally laughed out loud.

  114. Amy says:

    It’s interesting to read all the different opinions the movie/book evokes. Some of the posters here are saying the movie was a fair depiction of the reality that black maids faced in the South in the 60s. Others are criticizing it for its lack of historical accuracy and for misrepresenting how black people spoke (yet Southerners here are claiming the way people speak in the movie is accurate while others are saying it’s not… just remember accents are different everywhere–I’m from New York and there is no one New York accent!) Just goes to show how different each individual experience is–each viewer/reader interprets something differently due to his or her own personal experience. I’m loving the different reactions this movie has evoked–racism is not a topic that should be held away with a ten foot pole nor it should be ignored. I’m glad this movie has at least created this sort of dialogue!

  115. Nah, nah & nah... says:

    Again – waiting on the blockbuster book and movie “The Boss” written by the actual help. If not, I’ll settle for the autobiography of Doctor Essie Mae Washington-Williams. Now, if we all hold our breath until this happens….

  116. Resa says:

    @ Original Kate

    And guess which book will soon be turned into a movie? Nicole Kidman is working to get the motion picture version of Little Bee off the ground. Over and over again we see that this is the representation of black people that Hollywood wishes to portray. Somehow they’ve gotten the message that this is what people wish to see. And movies like The Help aren’t, well, helping. But I don’t begrudge anyone their success. Not the actresses or the author. Ultimately, I feel Stockett wrote this book with a full heart and an uniformed mind.

  117. XYZ says:

    For those arguing that black people should just shut up and write their own books about black history. Well, I hate to break it to you, but many black people have and continue to do so (In 2004 black author Edward P. Jones won the Pulitzer for The Known World, a novel told from the perspective of a black woman during the time of slavery. It too was a NY Times bestseller, just like The Help. Where is his movie deal?)

    There just seems to be a misguided view that mainstream America (read white people) can only relate to the story of another race if seen through the eyes of a white person. For this, I am offended on behalf of white people who are presumed racist (when most are not) AND the people of color who often end up getting misrepresented in the process.

  118. Flan says:

    Why don’t they spend time and energy on making their own indy movie? Then they can make it how they want it and if it’s acted well, will likely even get Oscar nods.

    Nobody thought or talked about these issues before the movie came out. Window of opportunity here: ‘we tell how it really was’.

    Also, fail to see how accents are racist (unless they’re totally off). Saying that’s racist, implies that you find those accents inferior.

  119. punkroxie says:

    I love how quickly Hollywood was to see this film about black maids come to fruition. I’m sure the next big budget Hollywood movie with a largely black female cast will probably be about big booty video hoes. So annoying yet so American.

  120. Nah, nah & nah... says:

    @ XYZ:
    August 16th, 2011 at 9:32 pm -

    EXACTLY!:-) But, you and I both know the NYT is the harbinger of the “cultural elite” and the “lamestream media” and there’s no redeeming Hollywood entertainment value to the known world in The Known World. It makes Americans do something we really don’t find entertaining as a nation – think.

    @ Flan:
    August 16th, 2011 at 9:42 pm -
    You just asked an academic professional organization comprised of black and female PhD’s to make an Oscar-contending dramedy. That’s like asking Al Gore and his crew to make a Captain Planet cartoon movie instead of An Inconvenient Truth.

    Plenty of people have been talking about these issues regularly, including this organization. Recent discussion of the previosly undisclosed attempted sexual assault of a teenaged Rosa Parks is all over he news. Google it. Again, for many, this is just not possible to be viewed as a subject for entertainment.

  121. Michelle says:

    I’ve been waiting for this shoe to drop. I, myself, am just a 31 year old suburban raised white woman, but even I can see that this is gonna rile people up and create concerns about racism, no matter what the intent. I’m just surprised it didn’t happen earlier.

  122. Nah, nah & nah... says:

    …and, I don’t really have a problem with dialect as long as it isn’t used to label the character as insurmountably ignorant. It’s interesting how a cockney accent might label a Brit poor but not necessarily dumb, while historically black and ebonically-laced accents automatically label their characters as inferior on every level.

  123. NancyMan says:

    Normally, I visit this blog to be amused on a admittedly superficial level. But, I have been intrigued by the dialogue here and by the reactions to the movie. I have not read the book. But, I did see the movie this weekend and I thought it was well acted, fairly reasonable and filled with many of the stereotypes that people expect to see in any movie about the South.

    Having been born in the mid 50s in the a small southern town, I grew up in a household where we had two Black American couples who helped around the house. One of the first lessons I was taught by my parents was how to treat these people with courtesy and the respect they deserved. They were an integral part of our family. When Lillian our cook got married, she and my mother made all of the dresses for the bridal party and my old maid aunt sang at the wedding. Edwin, our driver, helped me get most of my Scout badges and taught me how to fish. My parents sent two of their kids to college and we ended up buying homes for each family.

    My parents were lovely people. They had respect for themselves and respect for their employees. Consequently, their ‘Help’ worked for them from the early 50s until the late 90s when my parents died.

    I have been fortunate to have had the pleasure of having the same kind woman working in my home since 1981. She retired in 2004 to help raise her grandchildren but returned because she was bored. I dread the day when she finally does live me. She has become a part of my family.

  124. Allison says:

    The movie was really beautifully made, and I don’t think it was intended to be a heavy and emotional racial drama at all. It could have been one and depicted the racial issue much much more strongly, sure. But that’s not the kind of movie this was meant to be. It is very well done for what it is, don’t go into it expecting some revolutionary eye-opener.

    That said, although I loved Emma Stone as Skeeter, it bugs the crap out of me that there is always a white hero saving the day in so many movies about racial tensions: Freedom Writers and The Blind Side are recent examples. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

  125. Flan says:

    Many people are aware of Rosa Parks. She was an activist and therefore a very different kind of woman from all the workers who suffered more or less silently. This movie does give this group more visibility and makes a far wider group of people aware about the wrongs commited to them.

    I must say that I was very wrong to say ‘nobody’, since I’m sure these organizations and women who lived through it talk about it. Usually, when I say something like this it’s in the ‘is this starlet still relevant? Nobody talks about her” context. In this context, it was very wrong of me to say it and I’m sorry for it.

    Don’t necessarily think they should make a dramedy, just a movie on the topic (something in the style of Winter’s Bone). I’m sure some excellent acting talent (perhaps some of them unknown) would shine in it, that would love to play something written by this group instead of the usual criminal roles or the token ‘the black best friend’.
    And yes, I would rather watch their interpretation than this movie.

  126. Nah, nah & nah... says:

    Flan:
    August 16th, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    See. Flan and I are having a fairly civil dialogue on race in entertainment. This is how it’s done for all of you posters who throw the “whining” word around. We both told our side, our reality, both are ok and nobody’s rioting at the Magic Johnson Theater as a result.

    Again, I do think Stockett was well within her right to write from her reality, but Flan has admitted she’d also be open to viewing other realities, other interpretations. How come Hollywood doesn’t get that?

  127. bitchbelying says:

    Won’t see it. But Middle AMerica will because, oh yea that’ right, its a feel good movie. Whatever the hell that means.

  128. Nah, nah & nah... says:

    @ Flan:

    PS – FTR, I’m kinda sicka the BBF, too. It, as an icon, jumped the shark with Jennifer Hudson in SATC.

    :-) lol

  129. Venus says:

    Well, thank God -or should I saw the “Law” {rolls eyes}– SOMEBODY said it. I can’t believe Hollywood even made this movie & it is getting good reviews. You can see from the trailer it is exactly what the ABWH says it is.

  130. Flan says:

    @Nah, Nah & Nah. The longer I think about it, the more I realize my so casually writing ‘nobody’ shows a closed-mindedness I was not aware of. Perhaps nobody I know talks about it, but that does not mean it’s not a painful issue to many other women in this world still.

    Will go to the ABWH website and get myself more informed, as well as try to find some of their literature/follow links to other websites.

    Do still hope they will make that movie I was babbling about ;)

    The SATC BBF was far over the top. Some recent versions have been more nuanced (in which they at least have their own storyline and struggles), but that seemed to come straight from the nineties.

  131. DetRiotgirl says:

    I have no plans to see this movie or read the book. To be honest, I’m more of a Sci-fi/comic book nerd. So, The Help hadn’t even registered on my radar before this. The posters and buzz around it made it seem like some kind of feel good, coming of age flick, and those are the types of films I usually don’t investigate until they get to Netflix.

    Anyway, I’m glad I caught this post. I still have no plans to see the movie or read the book. But, I really enjoyed reading @Nah Nah Nah and @Flan’s discussion.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed everyone’s thoughts on the matter. But, as @Nah nah nah mentions, it’s especially nice to read debates like this when both sides are civil and are actually willing to keep an open mind.

  132. Trashaddict says:

    Nah, nah, & nah: very sane and civil posting. I wish your hopes for Hollywood reaching beyond its few favorite themes (the civilized oppressed, the serial killer, the slasher with all the embedded stereotypes)
    would come true, but I am not optimistic. That being said, I’ll avoid reinforcing the vicarious guilt-washing experience by skipping this movie. If we keep laying our money down for movies with plotting, complexity, well-written dialogue, and diverse ensemble casts, maybe we won’t be sold so much tripe any more.

  133. TL says:

    You ever get pulled over for DWF? Driving While Fat

    Now ain’t that sum shit?

    “I’m not living my life being a color ~ Michael “H-HE-HE-HE” Jackson

    The only race we should worry about is the race to help the needy, hungry and poor.

  134. RhymesWithSilver says:

    I don’t know practically jack about black history- I studied Russia. When you find a movie with Russians in it who aren’t spies, soldiers or gangsters, let me know!

    Hollywood will never make the real story because it’s depressing as hell, and no one wants to pay $10 to feel like crap. Hell, they barely make anything that anyone wants to see, or that isn’t a sequel these days, so your next thought-provoking movie about race should be in the pipeline for 2016 or so.

    I’d like to see a new movie about Josephine Baker or a movie about Paul Robeson. She was totally fascinating; came from the street, danced her way to the Paris stage, became the most famous entertainer in France, spied for the French Resistance against the Nazis (both because she was black and her husband was Jewish) and adopted more kids from around the world than Angelina Jolie (so far). She was amazing, though she did notoriously dance topless in a skirt made of bananas. Robeson was also world-famous, but his star was tarnished in the US because of his ties to Communism. Stalin LOVED Robeson, and considered him a personal friend. Can you imagine Robeson and Stalin sharing some cognac and a cigar? What on earth must that conversation have been like? Forget the gloomy-but-important realities of oppression; why hasn’t anyone made these perfectly Hollywood-appropriate stories into major films?

  135. echo says:

    @bros, who are you or anyone else for that matter to tell other people what they should be offended by?

    For example, it’s laughable when Whites say Blacks shouldn’t be offending by being called the “N” word because they overhear Blacks saying it.

    The only thing that should concern them is that they offended someone and not looking for reasons to justify why it’s okay to be offensive.
    Does anyone tell gay males that they shouldn’t be offended by the “F” word? Or tell women they should stop getting offending by being called a B**tch or the C word?

    How about if you say it with the subtle implication that you changed the last letters of the word? Instead of “GER” you said it with a “GA” so therefore no one should be offended, right? What about telling a gay man that you said “GAT” instead of “GOT” and so he should just lighten up and stop taking things so seriously?

    You see how ridiculous that is?

    All you need to know is that someone was offended and then change your behavior or outlook. In regards to this movie, Bros, who are you to tell anybody they shouldn’t be offended by the movie or book just because you enjoyed it?

    I guess Hollywood was overdue for their feel good movie of the year but it looks like this one made you feel real good. Congrats to you and others like you.

  136. Chris says:

    Actually white women should be outraged by this movie. The white women in it look like “stereotypical” Stepford wives.

  137. sauvage says:

    I am a white middle-European and I am really, really offended by some of the comments. So you really think African-Americans are “overly sensitive” regarding that issue? B***ch, PLEASE! I haven’t experienced segregation. I haven’t had the experience of being treated as a fifth class citizen because of the colour of my skin (how idiotic is that anyway? The five year-old in me is asking: “Why not discriminate people with blond hair? People with green eyes?” It is just so indredibly arbitrary!). I don’t know what it’s like being denied the basic right of using a BATHROOM. But, you know what, I can sympathize. I can at least imagine that it must be pretty hard experiencing treatment like that. And, as far as I can see, the whole discrimination thing is FAR from over. So to all of you bitching and moaning about black people taking offense: Get a f****ing sensitive chip. You DON’T KNOW first hand what it’s like being discriminated on a daily basis? You don’t know first hand what it’s like to have that kind of experience embroided in your collective memory? Well, then STFU and leave the judgement to those who DO.

  138. 9 out 10 experts recommend says:

    Haven’t seen the movie, nor have I read the book. But we all should see more movies and read more books- the latter I believe the more important. There are different opinions, views, ideas and stories to be told.
    After reading some of your comments I am pleased there differing views and lots of critical thinking going on here.
    Thank god for freedom of speech!

  139. Celebitchy says:

    All I would like to say on this topic is that I read half the book and put it down, for some of reasons outlined in this complaint (although I could never articulate them this well) but also because the writing bugged me. Why were the black women the only people talking in slang while the white southern women got to “speak” normally with no creative spelling or verbal mannerisms? I’m white, and a lot of things about this book bugged me.

  140. Summerlink says:

    This isn’t a film purporting to accurately document social histories of women in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi — it is a Disney production of a work of fiction.
    As a Disney film, caricatures reign, as do omissions of other cultural contexts, oversimplification and stereotypes: “mammy” is there, yes, but so is the rich white Southern bitch who’ll stop at nothing to preserve her comfort and the status quo, delivered with a phony smile.  As a white female and native Mississippian, I can attest that well to do whites were and remain the minority of the state.  I grew up in a rural economically depressed community, and always felt I had more in common with my black peers, at least in terms of class.  For my grandmother’s generation (era highlighted in film), I wonder about those white women and children dragging bushel sacks in the fields, sharecropping alongside black families, locked together in the cycle of poverty, and at the mercy of rich white
    landowners? And where in “the Help” are the black men who served as caretakers to the homes if rich whites in the movie? they’re the persons most likely charged with the indignifying task of constructing the “separate but equal”
    bathrooms. 
    On the bright side: the film is prompting great dialogue — discourse! — and just
    may challenge those ignorant Southern whites to question their prejudices, and at least ask, “who was Medgar Evers?”

  141. Lala says:

    The truth of the matter is that, only black people will be able to judge whether it is offensive or not. It is simply ridiculous for anyone not of colour to really add to the debate, as was rightly stated in the article.
    I’m sure that the writer meant for racism to be seen as wrong, and not in any way sweeten what these women suffered, having not read the book nor watch the film. I am afraid that I too cannot comment on the film or book

  142. Marianne says:

    @Lala: I think it’s ridiculous that you think only black people should be able to judge whether its offensive or not. As you can see (if you read any of the comments) that even some non black folk found it offensive. You’re really saying that their opinions are not valid because of the colour of their skin? Who’s segregating who now?

    And what’s up with using the term of phrase “People of colour” anyway? Last time I checked even white people are a colour. Nobody is transparent. We are all humans. Simple as that.

  143. LAK says:

    For everyone on here saying that a light hearted film can not be made of a serious emotive subject, I give you LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL starring Roberto Benigni which came out in 1997.

    Billed as a comedy set in concentration camp during World war 2, It tells the story of an italian jew who together with his family is sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis,and his attempts to keep his 8 yr old son”s innocence in the face of the reality of the camp> It doesn”t shy away from the brutality, sadism, death, disease, starvation etc of the camp.

    @rhymswithsilver There was a TV movie on Josephine baker in the 1990s starring Lynn Whitfield but perhaps we need a proper movie tocelebrate her.

  144. Cheyenne says:

    @sauvage: your comment shows an ability not just to sympathize, but to empathize with people who aren’t like you, that is rare in people of any color. Thank you.

  145. Seal Team 6 says:

    Summerlink said, “On the bright side: the film is prompting great dialogue — discourse! — and just may challenge those ignorant Southern whites to question their prejudices, and at least ask, “who was Medgar Evers?”

    No, I’m not targeting Summerlink, just commenting on what they said. I think you will probably find more pure racism in other parts of the country than the South.

    i lived in the NE for several years, and have NEVER been subjected to such vile racist comments as in that part of the country, including at work. I have never seen such segregated neighborhoods as up there. I have never been sneered at for being out with friends of color or for having friends of color as when i lived there. It was crazy. A good friend of mine’s brother moved from NC to RI for a job, stayed there for a year and came home, because he said he had never been called the “n word” in his life, or pulled over for DWB, until he moved North.

    Many parts of the Mid West are much worse than the majority of the South, including in terms of Klan activity.

    It’s just easier to think about Southerners being the big ole racists in the US, when that is certainly not true.

    Again, not picking on Summerlink — i have had this very think said to my face many times.

  146. Seal Team 6 says:

    To clarify some of my posts about “dialect” from earlier: I don’t have any problem with accents or dialect in the movie, it’s generally well done, although Stone’s accent is a bit weak. I have a problem with the book’s use of dialect, because it is only used for the Blacks, and is very GWTW Shore ‘Nuf Massa! on the offensive level.

  147. Seal Team 6 says:

    @Marianne –

    have you honestly never heard the phrase “people of color?” or know what it means??? Or are you just being disingenuous? It is a perfectly normal and nonoffensive term.

  148. Marianne says:

    @SEal Team : Yes I have heard the phrase. I’m just saying everybody is technically a colour. Why the need to use it. At the end of the day we’re all humans.

  149. Seal Team 6 says:

    @ Lala

    “The truth of the matter is that, only black people will be able to judge whether it is offensive or not. It is simply ridiculous for anyone not of colour to really add to the debate.”

    No, you are wrong. Other people can certainly judge if something is offensive, although no one has a right to tell someone Black they shouldn’t be offended. Just as someone straight has no right to tell someone LGBT to get over it, or a man to tell a woman to lighten up about a “joke.”

    And, people who are NOT Black have a right and a DUTY to add to the dialogue. I think Dr. King would very much disagree with you on that. I get from your spelling that you are not American, so your experience IS different from people of all races in this country.

    The only way to be united is to work on this together. Look at who marched with Dr. King. He knew this.

  150. curleque says:

    Just because a book has been published does not mean it a good work of fiction. It only means it is marketable and will make $$$. That said, most books today which are being picked up by major publishing houses are utter crap. The ideas are poorly executed. The writing is awful. The editing is bad. One of the worst books I have ever read is the often-mentioned “Secret Life of Bees.” Interesting story poorly executed with poor writing.

    I have not read “The Help.” I have not seen this movie. As far as I know the writer is not an historian. It was published to make money. It was made into a film to make money, without regard for historical accuracy. I do wonder what Toni Morrison makes of this book.

    A little off topic: Has anyone here visited the South? I went on a tour of a plantation in SC. The guide actually said that the slaves there were treated well and wanted to be there. Now, the tour guide was a white woman in her 60s, and I do believe that she truly believes this. I think that people who employed black domestic servants also believe they treated the help well, just like the writer of “The Help” thinks that she represented black women well.

  151. Stacia says:

    So tired of seeing these types of movies. I’m not going to get all political about this but as a person of color one gets tired of seeing this crap spawn up every so many years. Yes things like that happend but let’s get beyond that, especially since this is a fictionalized account.

  152. Mari says:

    @ Curleque- I am from Jackson,MS born and raised. Most of my family is from the Delta, Tunica to be exact. And what you say is true. My great-grandparents owned a handful of slaves, and from what my grandmother says, they were treated well. They all lived in the same house, ate the same food, and they all, black and white, worked the fields together. This has been coorborated by many documents including the US Census. I’ve seen all the movies depicting the vicous plantation owners brutally beating their slaves, and all I can say is this was the exception in the Delta, not the rule of thumb. Cotton labor was grueling work. By 1859 MS was exporting over 550 million lbs of it. The bulk of the labor required strong men, not men who were weakened from beatings and lashings. That’s not to say it didn’t happen, though. I’ve heard stories about a slave owner in Louisianna, who by today’s standards would be forced into a mental instituion I’m sure, ruled with sheer ruthlessness. I must also mention the Northern Slave traders and owners. Yes, the North had slaves. French Canada, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania to name a few. The slave population in NY at one point made up a little over 12% of NY’s total population. It was never the “Good North” verses the “Bad South”. Truth is, the North failed to develop large-scale agrarian slavery, such as later arose in the Deep South through it’s worldwide cotton trade, but that had little to do with morality and much to do with climate and economy. One of the many reasons the North rid slavery quicker than the South is the British. The British enhabited the North much longer than the South and as a result the Northern governments offered freedom in exchange for fighting the Brits. That war was the real liberator of Northern Slaves. Also, the Northern governements unitedly feared a growing and expanding black population and wrote state constitutions encouraging emancipated slaves to settle elsewhere. I say this because almost every time I read comments about Mississippi, slavery is brought up. I never hear anything about Northern slave owners, or the Portugese and Spanish who brought slaves to America while bound, shackeled and branded, or the continuing Arab slave trade, or the slavery that still exists in Africa today- Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Uganda, Congo, Niger, Ghana, Togo, and the children slave trade in Benin and Nigeria to name a few. It’s just as important to bring to the forefront that slavery is continuing to survive and linger in the rest of the world as it is to openly discuss what happened in our nation’s past. The South, in general, has a big red stain on it’s history, and rightfully so, but I wanted to illustrate that slavery is still very much prevailent in the world.
    Oh, and I truly hope you enjoyed your visit to the South. We have many attractions, superbly friendly people and beautiful landscape, albeit a little hot and muggy. :)

  153. Cheyenne says:

    @Mari: Slaves on small plantations like your great-grandparents were sometimes treated fairly well. For slaves on large plantations it was something else again. The masters didn’t care how brutally the overseers treated the slaves as long as the crops were harvested on time. The life expectancy of an adult slave on a sugar cane plantation in the 1830s was between seven and twelve years, during which time they were worked and/or whipped to death.

  154. original kate says:

    “How come Hollywood doesn’t get that?”

    @ nah nah & nah: i think they do, actually, but just don’t care as long as they keep making money. maybe if hollywood wasn’t run by wealthy, middle aged white men we would see more interesting portrayals of all people of color, women and gays instead of the tired stereotypes we always see (sassy black woman! bitchy gay guy! fat girl eating all the time!).

    then again, we are the public who goes to see crappy movies (“paul blart, mall cop” anyone?), which just encourages hollywood to make more pablum.

  155. mln76 says:

    The idea that people who could be shot on sight if they left their masters homes and had no compensation outside of food for there work and could be separated from their family and sold off were treated well is ridiculous. Slavery as an institution is by it’s nature is evil whether in Ancient Rome, the Antebellum South, Massechusetts, or the instances of slavery that still exist to this day.

  156. Jeannified says:

    As someone who was raised in South Carolina and had the same maid forever (her family lived on a farm that my father owned), there are a lot of things that ring true in this movie…the dialect, the fact that the same person worked for one family for a long time, etc. I don’t recall my family EVER mistreating Vera Becolt, but then again, maybe I just didn’t see it, but I think I would have been aware as I grew older. I don’t think this book is racist at all. I simply think it is written by a woman who grew up in the south and experienced being partially raised by someone who was employed by her family, just like I experienced. I thought the book was great and I have the upmost respect for Abeline and Minnie in the book…way more so than for the white folks in the book.

  157. Mari says:

    @mln76- “Treated well” is certainly an old adage and a sign of those disparaging times. I hope you didn’t take that as me using it by today’s standards, for I assure you I was not and I apologize if it came off that way. That was not my intention at all. I should have put it in quotes since I was using someone else’s words. And, since I know my grandmother, I’m sure she was using it as more of a ‘in those days’ context or ‘compared to others’. My intent was to invite more broad, worldly dialogue on the subject.

    @Cheyenne- I agree 100%. MS had very few sugar plantations, in fact, I can only recall one off the top of my head. “Sugar Hill Plantation.” Not to say there weren’t more, I’m just not aware of them. British Jamaica and French Saint-Domingue, however, had plantations mapping the islands. They were some of the most brutal slave owners in the region and the death rate was exceedingly higher than the birthrate. But interestingly enough, Trinidad was the first British colony to abolish slavery.

  158. mln76 says:

    @Mari thanks for the clarification BTW I heard a Fresh Air interview which talked about the connection between malaria and slavery in America. According to the interview the reason why indentured servitude thrived in the North is because there was no malaria and indentured servants were more likely to survive whereas in the South the only workers who survived were African slaves who were much more resistant to it. In fact according to the author the line of malaria infection in the US during colonialism coincides perfectly to the Mason-Dixon line…Food for thought right?

  159. Dirty Martini says:

    Its a novel. Made up. Its no more an accurate depiction of black domestic workers in the south in the 1950w, than Sex and the City was of the typical single working woman in Nyc. Yet I dont recall NOW issuing statements about SAtc.

    Some people need to get over themselves and quit taking everything so darn seriously and pesonally.

    Its entertainment people.

  160. Mari says:

    @mln76 Wow, that’s really interesting. I love Fresh Air. I’ll see if I can find a transcript of the interview.

  161. Cheyenne says:

    @mln: You are absolutely correct and I should have clarified my statement by saying compared to the treatment of slaves on large plantations, many smaller plantations treated their slaves, if not well, at least not brutally. It was in their interest to keep their slaves whole and healthy. On the large plantation where the master spent all his time in the Big House and left his field hands to the mercy of the overseer, it was different. The master on a big plantation usually didn’t care how many of his slaves died from overwork, malnutrition or mistreatment because the money he made from his crops was worth more than the slaves the overseer killed. He could always go to the slave market and buy replacements as needed.

  162. Cheyenne says:

    Dirty Martini: Some people need to get over themselves
    ==============================================

    Starting with you.

  163. XYZ says:

    @ Dirty Martini

    Are women in NYC a minority group that has been historically enslaved, repressed, or frequently misrepresented in media and in books? Since we can all agree that this is not the case, how on earth does your argument apply logically to the ABWH’s criticism of The Help? Apples and oranges, sweetheart. And though The Help is fiction, it is historical fiction, a genre that demands an author pay as much attention to the historical context of her novel as character development and plot.

    You see, it’s easy to attack, throw out random alternative arguments that hold no weight. Doing so reminds me of a tactic my nephew uses when he doesn’t want to engage. He sticks his fingers in his ears and sings at the top of his lungs. He’s five.

    Assuming you are not (haven’t yet met a kindergartner with an affinity for dirty martinis), I implore you to see the movie, read the novel, if you haven’t done both already, and then re-read the above statement. Hell, if you’ve got some more free time, read Freedom Riders, a book out this year that goes into great detail about the conditions of Mississippi during this time. Then, for the love of god, come up with an informed opinion, be it for or against the ABWH’s statement. I’m sure you’ll find that this is harder than simply attacking with meaningless arguments and phrases like “Get over it,” but at least then you might have learned something.

  164. KaySouth says:

    XYZ: My point is that when I was thought to be a different color, my statement was considered racist. But when she found me to be my true heritage of Mexican she laughed and said oh sorry yeshe is lazy sometimes. If a WHITE author writes astory (The Help) it’s wrong or racist or incomplete but what would happen if a brown person wrote the story. What would the reaction be from professor? THAT’S my point.

    Also I did not say ALL BLACK men are lazy & take money from whites, etc. I told him that HE was lazy and took my money, and his mom was enraged and called me white this and that on Facebook. When his mom thought I was white, SHE went on Facebook and SHE changed my words completely, saying “oh you are saying all black men do is take money from whites” because she thought me white. When she found out I am mexican she apolgized and laughed and said yes he’s lazy. I have a right to call a man lazy in a relationship no matter what color he is, and tell him that I am unhappy about him taking my cash. I feel many black people do this to whites. That is my OPINION.

  165. Dirty Martini says:

    Apparently I touched a nerve. People who don’t bow down to political correctness and are comfortable stating uncomfortable truths generally do. For the record: I read the book, and I enjoyed the book. I also have read plenty of other books, and am as educated as anyone here on the historical south.

    The Help is a work of fiction. Entertainment, Critique its historical accuracy all you want. I completely concur it isnt. You didn’t purchase it in the history or autobiographical section of Barnes & Noble. And neither did i. plenty of novels have been written that don’t accurately reflect their their times. But somehow the PC police are out in troves on this one,

    Go figure. I look forward to enjoying the movie. I also look forward to enjoying Cowboys and Aliens. But I’m pretty sure monsters didn’t fall from the sky in 1875 New Mexico territory. I’ll be waiting for the state of New Mexico to issue an open letter taking the movie to task for it’s historical inaccuracy.

  166. XYZ says:

    Yes, KaySouth, you do have the right to call any man that you have dated anything you wish. However, this is what you wrote:

    “Then on Facebook his mother calls me white bitch racist for saying black men do not work and sleep all day and take whites money.”

    To me, it sounded like you were restating your own words, not his mother’s. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    Regardless, we don’t know what these professors would say if a black person wrote The Help. I imagine that if it was written exactly as it is now, chock-full of what some perceive as historical inaccuracies and the “white savior” motif, it would have been attacked as well.

    Please note that The Color Purple, written by a black woman, was attacked by black men for what some felt was a stereotypical and hurtful depiction of them in the book (and in the film). Push (a novel made into a movie called Precious) was also written by a black woman; the motion picture was directed by a black man. Black people, including journalists and scholars, attacked both for what they felt was a stereotypical and degrading portrayal of an impoverished black girl.

    I think it’s safe to say that black people don’t only come after white artists.

  167. Sandrine says:

    All this is is more professional grievance-airers stirring turds. The word “racist” is starting to lose all power as it has been completely devalued by every person of color wielding it as a weapon when evil whitey doesn’t apologize or abase themselves enough at the altar of political correctness. Sad because there is real racism that gets overlooked because everyone just assumes its another huckster looking for attention or a quick buck. I personally just ignore it completely as, being white, I will always be the evil enemy no matter how much I bow, scrape and cry. So why even bother? Sorry for them and all but I certainly won’t go out of my way for people who make no secret of their hatred for me based on MY skin color. If you want to be judged by the content of your character instead of skin color then perhaps you should practice what you’re preaching. Just a thought!

  168. SJ says:

    @ Sandrine:

    The only grievance-stirring turd I see here is you. These women have not accused Stockett of racism, nor have they called her a racist. They are historians and as such pointed out what they see as severe HISTORICAL inaccuracies in a work of HISTORICAL fiction. And yet you have used this comment section twice now to twist what they’re saying to wield the ax you are so intent to grind:

    “Black people always play the race card.”

    “You are white and you won’t bow down to the blacks who so desperately want you to do so.”

    “Black people hate you because of the color of your skin.”

    And so on, and so forth. We get it. You group all black people together as one monolithic group. Then you accuse the lot of them of racism toward you and all whites based on your own limited experiences. Sound familiar? Congratulations. You’ve just played the race card.

  169. lrm says:

    yea, we all get stereotyped in hollywood movies-i’ve never seen a white character female that looks or acts or thinks anything like I do-[as a white female from the USA]….
    honestly-do they ever portray my irish/scottish american immigrant backgrund correctly, or at all?
    NO.
    Entertainment and good stories, where ocassionally we can relate to some part of it, is all we can expect from hollywood. I dont want my ‘programming’ any more controlled and programmed than it already is.

    It DOES Program people. that is it’s point-and i think rather than try t change this and ‘oh let’s make a vehicle of enlightenment’ we should not organize en masse but rather continue to make or write individual pieces, such as this letter, that are relevant and find their appropriate audience.
    but no, i dont think we should ban or limit the ability to make cheesy, tacky and historically inaccurate movies. I just won’t see them, but I wholly expect that people are responsible for their own choices, as adults, and I do not wish to program their reality for them with any further PC indoctrination.

    Oh, and we will never ‘heal and come together’ b/c each ‘group’ is full of people who are no alike except by skin color, and often do not get along either. It’s humanity; it’s diverse, and sadly, many wear their racial injustice like a suit of armor at this point, and do not wish to move on, either. it is indeed a two way street.

    As someone else said, it’s the author’s interpretation in the book, noone else’s. I certainly hope adults can and do realize that this movie is not the definition of that period in history. Who interprets reality based on one hollywoody summer movie, anyway? Are people living in a vacuum and not aware? Well, yes, many people are, and many stereotypes build up over time into a belief system, of course….
    BUT, I won’t be saving anyone-that is up t each person to do for him/herself-to access more information than mainstream movies and t.v. and their text messaging allows them. If they don’t,well frankly I have a life to live and would like my children to grow up experiencing joy and fulfilling their potential, not constantly being told they should feel shame or guilt about other’s actions.

  170. overit says:

    Two words…White Chicks. Put a sock in it!

  171. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    If this all about ‘fiction’ and how ‘only fiction’ has no importance, why claim that you’re being brutalized by it? Did your postman go postal after having watched Roots? Did Obama burn down the White House after having watched Birth of a Nation? Were you pelted with bean pies after having watched X, banned from watching Mahagony after seeing Star Wars, get sprayed with a syrup hose by Aunt Jemima enthusiasts, find yourself trapped in a blaxploitation film after accidentally touching an afro pick, experience a 19-year drought after switching off Stormy Weather? Did you slip on one of Josephine Baker’s bananas? If they’re only stories, how then have they just up and walked into the real world with no intent but to personally harm you? In what way has your life been so diminished by people getting uppity and discussion their portrayal in film and literature? They have university degrees in that–it must mean something, no? I would be very interested in hearing all of these specific stories wherein you have to apologize for being white, or it that when focus shifts away from the pre-ordained idols, however slightly and disingenuously and minute in time expanse, it just registeres as a slap in the face? Order people through insults to stop what they’re doing and try to get them feel contrite for having the gall to speak freely amongst themselves about things other than how better to venerate you if you must, but if you expect people to follow (as that’s how it’s ‘done’), but start replenishing your fluids now, because you’ll be crying all the way home on that. I pray you aren’t accosted by Bill Cosby and Lola Falana with a list of perpetual, meaningless and debasing demands.

  172. Shaishai says:

    I’m late to the party but I’ve only seen 1 person on this thread address what I think is the main issue with this book/movie. It’s not so much that it’s racist or inaccurate (what else do we expect from a beach book turned Disney film?).
    The biggest problem is the number of readers/viewers who declare “this book changed my life.” Unfortunately the majority of people who feel this way ARE white and that muddies the waters. Because if this book changed your life and your perspective on race relations then you’ve been living in a bubble of ignorance. And I suspect those whose lives have been changed by this book will also be happy to stay as ignorant as they already are since they have swallowed the happily ever after message it promotes.
    I have no issue with anything that’s seen as pure entertainment, but I also recall the “this changed my life” crap when Waiting to Exhale came out and white women were falling over themselves to find kinship with their black sisters not taking into account the book/film was filled with superficial and financially privileged black women.

  173. Sumeria says:

    @ Sandrine:

    “People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The only thing your post proves is that you lack empathy, feel guilty about your privilage and are walling disempowering in apathy – a part of the problem rather than the solution.

    You asked why bother? I bother every day, because of all those who came before me, who bothered, so that I may live a better life. I bother so that my children and grand children will have the knowledge they need to move the great wheel of change – a challenge worthy of Sisyphus, given they have to drag dead weight like you along.

  174. sauvage says:

    @ Cheyenne: Sorry, I just re-read the threat. Thank you very much for your kind words.

  175. John Wayne Lives says:

    @ Kaiser…” Overall, I don’t find either the book or the movie to be overly offensive towards blacks, but my opinion in this matter doesn’t hold much credence for the simple fact that I’m not black.”

    I kinda feel the same way. But just about the book. I did enjoy the book, but I haven’t seen the movie yet. But I will also say I have zero personal knowledge of black/white racism and, being raised the way I was, still just DO NOT get how one group of people can claim superiority based on their skin color. It’s so ignorant and racists just embarass themselves.

    @Marianne..Great comment
    @Seal Team 6.. you make a great point about the assumptions of racism in the south as opposed to anywhere else. When I moved to Colorado, I was Shocked at the open racism.
    @Cheyenne.. Thank you for your comments.

  176. Fabulous says:

    Wow – this thread has been really interesting and I’ve learnt a lot.

    As a white woman from Britain I hadn’t thought of the book as racist apart from the actual subject matter.

    While The Help may not be historically accurate it gives a flavour of the times. I gave it to my 12 year old daughter to read and she was appalled, she couldn’t believe how badly the black women were treated. And it was great for us because we could talk about the injustice of it and how it relates to today.

    So I guess my point is that if new generations are learning about what has happened in the past, even if it is not the full picture, then surely some good will have come out of it?

  177. Ivan Cohen says:

    After it has made the rounds here in America, The Help will go to overseas markets. Some versions will be dubbed in the language of that particular country. When it gets to the military bases courtesy of the Army-Air Force theater system and shown in English because having been in the service and stationed in Korea, we got exactly what was shown in the states. Who will explain to the nationals in the community surrounding the base that this a work of fiction and does not reflect real life? No one! I mention this because single American GI’s do get acquainted with the local girls and they bring them to the base to watch a movie. These girls/women are very impressionable. Some servicemembers are not going to take the time to set the record straight. Variety magazine will have the grosses for this movie, both domestic and overseas. I just hope Kathyrn Stockett won’t write a sequel.

  178. dr.bombay says:

    @Ivan: Well, what will happen is the *same thing* that will with any other work of non-sci fi fiction…they will probably believe it. Should we pull all fiction off the shelves for this fear?

  179. Janet says:

    “In america, we cannot discuss racism because no matter what is said will be labeled as being politically incorrect by someone or some organization.”

    What is more likely is people will make inane comments like this attempting to minimalize racism wherever it is found because it is beyond the pale of their experience.

    “@Ivan: Well, what will happen is the *same thing* that will with any other work of non-sci fi fiction…they will probably believe it. Should we pull all fiction off the shelves for this fear?”

    No, but America needs to make a conscious effort to stop mass-marketing the “happy darky” stereotype to the international community. The Gone with the Wind fantasy is a mental poison and a dangerous thing.

  180. Phung Gazaille says:

    I didn’t say that they “should.” I think that they will though. Remember, Sep was a 4th round pick. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar thing happen.

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