I HATED The HELP: A Review
After much public debate, reading the book, and even posting about my anxiety about the film, my LS and I braved Atlanta’s Midtown Arts Cinema over the weekend to view The Help, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. How a story about demeaning racist employment, Jim Crow’s human indecency, and ties of friendship in the midst of immense struggle can turn into a “feel-good” film, is beyond me. Several points throughout the film left me physically uncomfortable (to the point I considered leaving) and did not mimic the feel or outcome in the book.
Acting by Octavia Spencer (Minnie), Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly), Allison Chaney (Skeeter’s Mama) and Sissy Spacek (Miss Walters) was worthy of recognition – they worked the hell out of their screen time. Over-hyped and underwhelming were Emma Stone (SO much better in Easy A) and Viola Davis (too boring/middle-aged Cicely Tyson) Skeeter and Aibileene. Central character development was most compelling about the book, as it explored their individual circumstances attempting to correlate like bonds in the midst of oppressing times. An amateur screenplay however, sought laughs and jokes at times clearly inappropriate, scenes when the focus should have been on historical accuracy (or clarity?!) so audiences sans book or history lesson could gain an honest understanding of racial tension in the story’s setting. Instead the focus was on Skeeter’s social awkwardness and ostracization instead of the mistreatment of the Black maids, or race relations in Jackson, MS, (notorious for terrorist activities against Blacks).
Cicely Tyson reprised yet another slave/help/Great-Grandmother time role, shuffling across the screen with drinking gourd in-hand, (well, not really a drinking gourd). As the “beloved maid Constantine” Cicely did slave-shuffle, uttered (6) broken-English lines, and followed with her epic non-verbal acting when cast out of Skeeter’s household *rolls eyes*. Yule May Crookle, the intelligent maid jailed for stealing from Hilly Holbrook, was shown “vindicated” from jail as she reads excerpts from the published book to her cell mates (all Black women) and they cackle uncontrollably. From jail. *Fingers To Temple* Aibileen’s character was shown walking off into the sunset (still clad in maid uniform) post-firing lamenting about being a “writer in the family,” an ending completely different from the book. Where is the closure/evolution in that?!?!?!
One of the most crucial events in the book, the murder of Medgar Evans, was reduced to a punchline opportunity for Minny?!? Treelore’s murder, the unspoken motivation for Aibileen’s quiet strength, and misplaced monologue at the end was glazed over with a wide-eye stare from Skeeter. Minny’s abusive relationship dynamic with her husband was received with white woman pity, the promise her maid job would be available for life…if she wants it, and a freshly prepared dinner spread (careful NOT to burn the chicken). The scene ended with Minny’s Kool-Aid smile and seating to smash some chicken. Smdh. #WhatTheJoeJacksonHell
It was past frustrating that Black actors portrayed Jim Crow segregation/oppression with little character development; the word “nigger” was used less than 5 times in spite of the setting being Jackson, MS during the height of Jim Crow’s enforcement. By choosing to muffle the facts, or omit the countless extremist acts by the KKK, the book’s greater message was lost, and a shallow film vying for box office domination played on white guilt and privilege for majority white audiences. After the showing in Midtown (we were 2 of 8 Blacks counted in the sold-out theatre) whites began applauding. APPLAUDING?!?! Who would have applauded at the close of Schindler’s List?!?!
Last week, the racist murder of a man right outside of Jackson, MS was reported barely holding national attention from media or citizens. How ironic that a film based on three women overcoming racist oppression during Jim Crow was given the Disney treatment, careful not to offend white Americans. White guilt wouldn’t let a real story be told, and more fitting would be a documentary about Black maids from the perception of the generations of workers/families impacted. The Help was the worst depiction of a Black stereotypical, one-dimensional, media script, the Mammy, since Gone With The Wind. Yea, I said it. Perhaps because WE weren’t responsible for the story, its production nor marketing, the movie was such a racist FAIL, but nonetheless… total bullshyt. Save your money or risk rioting.
What did you think??
*Further examples Americans are uncomfortable honestly discussing race relations: Note the US Book Cover vs. the UK Book Cover. Don’t worry… I’ll wait.*