Saturday, June 20, 2020

Overheard at Table 4: The Help (2011)

It was a hit when it came out and it is a hit again in 2020, immersed as we are in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.   The Help is a period piece set in Mississippi in 1963, a dark year in a dark state. 

PLOT: Rich white girl writes the stories of poor black women, who are maids in the houses of rich white women.   POINT: Slavery never really went away.

A mere nine years ago, the movie was widely seen as exposing the conditions of African Americans; now, through a different lens, the white girl writer is seen as the now-despised "white savior" who is the only way to give blacks a voice.

This may be true, but one could argue that in 1963 Mississippi there really was very little access that a housemaid had to obtain publication.  This is not to say that it was impossible, it is merely to say that the rich white girl telling their stories is the more PROBABLE.  It makes more reasonable sense.

Now, the question that one reviewer I heard recently was very apt: he asked, "Do the black characters in such movies stand on their own, or are they just vehicles for the white characters?"

Most likely, one could say, that in the case of The Help, the answer is YES.  Most of the story centers around the power play of two former friends: the writer and the social leader (who is the consummate "Mean Girl") and how they relate to the ditsy blonde with the heart of gold.

Personally, I found that not only the black characters were stereotypes, the white characters were also stereotypes.  Nobody in this film was fully fleshed.  The Mean Girl was pure caricature and so was the ditsy blonde.   Straight out an Archie's comic book.  Rather laughable. 

The black characters as well, the two housemaids who lived together, with one of them finally emancipating herself and her five children from an abusive husband which we never saw but only heard about, even they, at the end, have a moment that seems to indicate that they were in a romantic union.   The idea of two black women who fall in love with each other, in 1963 Mississippi, dealing with how to raise children in a world that actively wants to murder their sons and rape their daughters, fighting not only white supremacy but also misogyny and black male dominance as well .... now THAT would have been a story that the rich white girl could have only DREAMED of telling.

So, if anyone out there wants to write a sequel, set in 1968, focused solely on the black cast and these two women, during the year that both Bobby Kennedy and MLK Jr were shot, well, I just gave you the idea.   Go have fun with it!

Make us a movie worth watching!

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