Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help (2011)

Y’all Really Watching The Help Right Now? Seriously?

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Everyone is getting their “how to be a good white ally” reading on, and I’m not going to knock anyone for that. You have to start somewhere, and at least there are plenty of books by Black authors and by anti-racist white educators that have been vetted that people can check out. In terms of streaming, I thought maybe people would check out I’m Not Your Negro, 13th, Selma, or even just watch something uplifting by a Black person, like Black Panther, but no, y’all choose The Help.

The Help is a 2011 comedy-drama based on the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett about three women: Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Aibileen and Minny are Black American domestic workers during the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, and Skeeter is the spunky, awkward white woman who is going to use their stories to make a point about the Southern femme society that she hates. And it is now one of the top movies in the nation on Netflix.

What makes this choice so especially jarring is it highlights the gap between those who want to listen to Black people and those who are listening to Black people. The Help has long been torn apart by Black critics, who found it held very little reality about the experience of Black domestic workers.

As Roxane Gay so aptly put it: “[T]here’s an ignorance of the severity of Jim Crow laws and how those laws would have prevented a great deal of the novel from actually taking place. And then there’s also the idea that a young white girl just out of college would be the one to help “the help” find their voices and articulate their lives. The book ends up being insulting to everyone.”

Stockett’s story—and, by extension, the film—is written to emotionally pull at the heartstrings of white audiences who enjoy a placid, toothless exploration of the Civil Rights era conflict that puts them front and center. You get good white people like Skeeter and Celia Rae Foote that you can cheer for, and shake your head solemnly at the cartoonish Daughters of America’s Southern racism. I mean, this is a movie that asks you to believe that a Black woman would not be punished for baking a shit pie and having a white woman eat it.

It is a farce, and it is a farce for the entertainment of white people by turning African-Americans into figureheads rather than people, in a way that is similar to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but at least Harriet Beecher Stowe was trying to activate white women into a movement to help abolish slavery. The Help is just a mammy exploitation flick that got turned into a great meme.

When Viola Davis was asked if there was a role she regretted taking, it was her Oscar-nominated role in The Help:

“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” Davis said. “I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, ‘I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it,’ I never heard that in the course of the movie.”

I mean, it is bittersweet that once again, the film that people turn to in order to teach them about racial inequality is a feel-good-ish film written by a white woman, directed by a white man, and that even one of the stars has come out and acknowledged is not a good representation of Black domestic workers.

(via L.A. Times, image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.