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?
- Race, class, and Hollywood gloss (boston.com)
- ‘The Help’ Ends Up Being Less Revealing Than Self-Righteous (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Marlynn Snyder: Revisiting Our Nation’s Legacy of Race Relations in The Help (huffingtonpost.com)