This past week I went to watch the recently released movie The Help, based on a novel by Katherine Stockett of the same title. The whole experience made me uneasy, to say the least. I went for a matinee with my Mom and 15-year-old niece. From the onset we were surrounded by young, but mostly, middle-aged white women.
That fact struck me as odd, and I couldn’t really put my finger on it. I mean I know Stockett is a white woman, and just as Blacks do Tyler Perry, I imagined they were there to support her work. But still, it just felt highly taboo.
This is the South, after all, and for whites and (few) Blacks to be in the movie theater watching the same movie, one that is loosely based on the happenings in 1960s’ Mississippi, just seemed odd. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps we all were getting, or supporting, different messages of the movie.
Although I enjoyed the book (and I acknowledge the criticism of it), I found the film problematic, of course. Oh yes, it served its purpose along the lines of a “Blind Side”-type film: it evoked feelings of communality among the two races, there was a hero(ine) who happened to be white, and it was very sentimental. I even cried several times, but if you know me and movies, you’re probably saying what else is new. LOL
Key incidents of the book were cut from the movie and replaced with more “common” racial incidents, in my opinion, to not be so political or to not scare the good white patrons away. Like the omitted part of Louvenia’s grandson who is maliciously beaten and consequently blinded because he mistakenly uses a “whites-only” toilet. Or the desegregation of Ole Miss.
After reading the book, the movie just didn’t mesh right for me. Key background information was suspiciously missing. The white Mrs. Celia’s attentiveness to the maid Minny’s bruises, which were given by her abusive alcoholic husband, was depicted, yet where was the scene where Minny put her life on the line to protect her white boss from a lunatic home-intruder?
Another thing I did not like was the “sore” that appeared on Hilly‘s lip after rumors started flying about her eating Minny’s special pie. Correct me if I’m wrong (because I did step out of the theater for a min to answer a call), but I got the impression that the sore was to seem like a disease or some infection that she received from Minny’s feces??? This is not too far off since Hilly was the one who proposed the Bathroom Initiative because “Nigras have different diseases from white people”. After completing the book, I’m clear that the original storyline is that Hilly breaks out with a cold sore when she is really worried/stressed, but I don’t feel that that was made clear in the movie. And perhaps that was the intention: to leave it ambiguous. The main character’s mother even says something to the effect of “get out of here before we all catch that disgusting thing!” What did you make of the sore on Hilly’s lip?
The movie version of The Help was too docile and suspect of ulterior motives. And I still can’t shake the pondering of what the white audience were getting out of the movie? I suppose they could want to know the same thing about the black audience in attendance that day.
Peace, Blessings, and Prosperity.
- ‘The Help’ Ends Up Being Less Revealing Than Self-Righteous (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Review: Hollywood outdoes itself with adaptation of ‘The Help’ (ctv.ca)
- Review: ‘The Help’ Doesn’t Need Any (abcnews.go.com)
- ‘The Help': ’60s Racism in Black and White (online.wsj.com)
- ‘The Help': A feel-good flick that sugar-coats segregation (macleans.ca)