“The Help” and other elephants in the room.

Cover of "The Help"

Cover of The Help

I started to write this as a review of the film “The Help”  then I remembered that I’m not a film critic.  I’m an artist with an opinion. That’s it.  I can share it.  You can agree, or not. It truly does not matter. What I share here then will be observations made while watching the film “The Help”.
Now that my pre-amble is over…

The Help.  There was a lot of talk about the film.  I tried to avoid most of it so I could form my own opinion.  Overall, the film to me was “good”, whatever that means.  It addresses the almost exclusive American entity, the Mammy, more directly than any film has in a while. What I think happens after the proverbial horse is lead to the water though, is that it’s only allowed to sip when it really needs to drink the entire body. The general ugliness of the life of the black laborer is looked at, but then the films falls back into the “but it wasn’t THAT bad” trap by presenting the “good redeeming white folks” who have some how jumped out of a southern conservative womb without being in the least way prejudiced. I died, just a little after seeing that they’d drug Cicely Tyson out of Tyler Perry’s closet to play an endearing old Mammy, and of course, during  the “I love fried chicken” scene.  Sigh.

Another opportunity missed while squandering time on an irrelevant boyfriend character and the white trash girl with a heart of gold, was the chance to take an honest look at white privilege.  The stakes were never really that high for the the story’s main character Skeeter. What did she have to lose?  She was already ostracized in her southern bell world. The maids stood to lose their freedom, and possible their lives by telling their stories in such a  public format.  Skeeter gets to head off to New York and begin a bustling writing career.  Aibileen, in turn, loses her job, loses the ability to get another job in her city, and will more than likely end up staying in the same town that allowed for the veritable murder of her son. At least her story is out…right?  At film’s end Skeeter still holds on to the advantages afforded to her by her white heritage and Aibileen is still saddled with her plight as a black female in an America of the crux of a bloody civil rights movement.

Here we are in post civil rights America and cinema, one of the remaining viable means to reach the masses, fails time and time again to take the risk to tell the truth. The whole truth. I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising considering so many are pretending that the out right disrespect of a sitting American President and this sudden burning desire for social conservatism and it’s bastard child the Tea Party has nothing to do with race. Sigh…again.

Dr. King is quoted as saying  “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I’ve always believed the function of the artist was to speak up about the things that mattered boldly and truthfully. Change is brought about through audacious bravery,  not cowering timidity. We cannot afford to worry about polarizing our audience. Sometimes that’s what the truth does.  Sometimes we have to “fall slap out” as my Nana would say, in order to fall back in. The Help shoots itself in the foot  in my eyes by bringing the lion to battle and at the last minute substituting the lamb.

This is only my opinion though. You know what those are supposed to be like right?

Peace y’all,


Dying to be born again.

My nephews and I Easter c. 1992

Easter in the  Pioneer Homes, the north Jersey housing project where I grew up, was always a special event.  The Friday and Saturday before were always spent in deep preparation. Bus rides to downtown Newark to find just the right pair of kicks to go with your stiffy Levi jeans. Hair fried to perfection and stacked into the highest level of freeze curls. The right bamboo earrings, the right name belt buckle the right everything was of utmost importance for Sunday’s big reveal.

Sunday morning saw men, women, children, “crews” would filter out of the steel front door of their respective buildings. Ooo’s an Aaa’s were exchanged. Unmitigated shame was felt by the kids whose family wouldn’t (or simply couldn’t) get them anything. Not too much would be seen or heard from these kids that day (unless of course they were flinging dirt at the clothing of the kids with new duds).

Easter Sunday provided a kind of ghetto rebirth.  We guffawed at our means. We were children of plenty in a self-made land of milk and honey. For a day. Monday morning the workers would head back to work, the dealers headed back to the corner, and the children all stood on equal footing again hair styles mussed, clothing soiled and/or torn.

The meaning of Easter, for me, is a world away from the materialistic one I held all those years ago. While I tend to shy away from literal interpretations and guilt ridden declarations that Jesus died for my sins; I do have a great deal of appreciation and respect for what Jesus’ walk meant and try apply the principles of his existence to my life. Jesus’ life (based on what we know about it) was spent reaching out to those no one else would, enduring persecution, and eventually dying for what he believed in. We don’t have to look far for modern-day examples of lives lived this way either (see:

Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Mohandas Gandhi)

The truth is we all die a little for our “sins” everyday. Most of these deaths are tiny suicides consisting of the things we do that go against our well-being. The beauty is we can be re-born at any given time by choosing to do something different. These days I work more on spiffing up my insides that I might die a little less each day. There is much work involved which I’m finding is a hell of a lot more uncomfortable than sitting under a dryer waiting for my doobie to dry as I had a many an Easter Saturday past. The pay off for enduring my growing pains, however is a life truly worth living and increasing respect for myself. Quite an upgrade from the temporary satisfaction of believing I had the dopest a symmetrical do in my hood for one day.