Association of Black Women Historians Objects to The Help in Open Letter

thehelp_rev_featurebar.jpgLooks like not everyone gave The Help a pleased-as-punch A+ CinemaScore rating; in an open letter released this week, The Association of Black Women Historians decried the film and Kathryn Stockett's source novel of the same name, citing what they describe as "widespread stereotyping" in the film's depiction of the black experience in the Jim Crow South.

"Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers," reads the statement. Among their complaints, the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) name the exaggerated "black" dialogue, the narrow depiction of African-American men, the lack of recognition of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the reduction of the region's most terrible racists to a bunch of society women instead of, for example, members of the Ku Klux Klan.

[Read Stephanie Zacharek's review here.]

With The Help now in theaters, audiences have had a chance to weigh the criticisms long lobbied at both the book and film. The ABWH's complaints aren't without merit, but consider the film's focus: It's a film about women -- rich, poor, white, black, older, younger, working women and housewives and women who want careers -- whose lives intersect in 1960s Mississippi. Should/could the world of The Help have been enriched by the inclusion of more male characters, or by a KKK-related subplot? (For the record, there are male figures on the periphery who remain, refreshingly IMO, out of the spotlight and also represent a spectrum, from vile to admirable to realistically indifferent.)

And whether or not you have a problem with, say, the dialects in the film as written by Stockett, even star Viola Davis acknowledged that it gave her pause before the strength of her character as written won her over. Is that a fair trade-off in justifying that at least a movie about this subject matter was even made?

Granted, I've been outraged myself in similar cases; "Memoirs" and "Geisha" are like killing words to me. I'd argue that The Help isn't quite as offensive or misguided as that film, but it's unquestionably questionable on at least a few levels. Read the full ABWH statement here and weigh in below.

An Open Statement to Fans of 'The Help' [Association of Black Women Historians via EW]


  • KevyB says:

    Considering the maids in the movie are based on real people, it sounds to me that the ABWH is doing a little rewriting of history themselves. And one must question if there would be such a backlash if the book and movie had both been created by black people. I don't recall them asking where the KKK was in all the movies Tyler Perry has made. Yes, there are probably things that could have been done better, but this isn't a movie about the KKK. It's a movie about a small microcosm of a world where the KKK existed, but didn't necessarily touch everyone's lives.

  • befree1619 says:

    @ KEVYB
    If it had been written by black people the white woman would not be the savior of the "po black maids". Sorry this film is not different than the Blindside, Blood Diamond, Green Mile ect. The white savior movie is tired.

  • Tommy Marx says:

    I have to disagree with you. The white woman doesn't save anyone, at least not in the book. If anything, she hides away from life until she finally finds the strength to follow her dream. Hell, she doesn't even stand up to her bigoted friends until the toilet incident, and even then she refuses to admit she did it. I do not think this was anything like Blind Side or Green Mile.
    I do think it's sad that yet again a story focusing on black women has to be told partly through a white woman's eyes to receive attention. Roots, The Color Purple, and the 645 Tyler Perry movies released each year prove that device is not necessary, and yet it continues.
    Maybe it's because I'm white, grew up in the South, and not only had many black friends but also saw how casually evil prejudice could be, but when I read the book, to me it felt like the story of a white woman who finally opens her eyes and sees the world around her. She's not a savior, she's a spoiled, self-centered brat who finally realizes that there's a hell of a lot more to the world than just her doting nanny that she took ridiculously for granted.

  • Jilly says:

    I resent being told that black people should support this film because it has two substantial roles in it for African American women and that failure to support the film will mean even less work for black actresses.
    Oh please. Stop with the attempts to guilt me into paying to see this movie.
    I don't like the Hollywood practice of doing movies about the civil rights movement only if there is a prominent white character in the story.

  • Elle says:

    Jen, your own aversion to films that have perverted/misrepresented (presumably) your culture should stop you from being so quick to judge someone else's. How do you rationalize the statement that The Help isn't as bad as "Memoirs"? In my view, the latter increases Western ignorance about Eastern culture in typical Oriental fashion. The former, however, is a misguided, minimized attempt to show things "the way they were." The result is that people still don't know, or care to know the horrors of the Jim Crow South, and then they write articles dismissing the concerns of a Historical society that is actually educated about the time period. Your judgment is confusing.

  • Ryan Peace says:

    This movie, “The Help”, pales by comparison to a little known powerful novel written from the perspective of a black man, Max A. Malloy: “Black Maids Pass Our Mops to Ms. Ann”. This book depicts revengeful African American Housemaids retaliating against their white female oppressors and plot to extracts African American women from domestic employment.

  • Anonymous says:

    Perhaps The Help is drawing "ire" because it's not "important" enough---sad, if that's the case. What happens in the kitchen and the nursery still seems to be unimportant. So the arguments about The Help turn to: "why weren't there more men in it" to "it's trivial and doesn't include enough KKK stuff" and so on. The Help in no way tries to cover the entire Civil Rights movement. It's about domestic life---black maids and their relationships with their employers and the children of their employers.
    As a female who was in elementary school during this particular time and in a very small town in South Carolina--- domestically---The Help rings true. I agree with the author of this review---pay attention to what The Help focuses on, not what it doesn't. And, by the way, if you haven't seen the movie, consider paying attention to the final lines of the movie---they tell the tale. And for those who have seen it, try to maybe recall those last lines.

  • ben pin wang says:

    My reality check:
    1. Hollywood is white people making white people movies. 2. As a Chinese, I don't want to see movies about decades ago when the Chinese are hired by white people as coolies, or in modern days, the laundry men/women. Let's make more movies in which the Chinese are the up-scale citizens of the U.S., not domestic servants or prostitutes. 3. When you put one Chinese person who have difficulty speaking proper English in a Hollywood movie as the main supporting character, it becomes an insult to all Chinese-Americans who speak English perfectly. Of course they will feel offended.
    All in all: things are changing, but very very slowly. Just like the interracial marriages, how many people don't mind seeing it happen, but will never do it themselves? The reason?--They don't have to.

  • Brenda says:

    I think what the maid did to the food of her employer was out-right criminal. You would think that that white woman got her just do, but it was almost unbelievable. The white woman should have died from food poisoning to the nth degree not just a visible cold sore.

  • Sarah says:

    Blacks do say,"You is" and call God "the Lawd." Not all of them, but many do. Just like many Southerners have their own dialects and customs that earn them the label "dumb" or "white trash." Not speaking the King's English at all times doesn't make you stupid or less of a person--it's only people's ignorance that have caused those things to be used against groups of people. I think upon learning of Ever's killing ANYONE would be frightened given the circumstances. Having them band together with torches and sit-ins at the beginning of his murder would have been unrealistic. I do understand the sentiment however, because I think if a bunch of New Yorkers got together to write a story about the South, I would be sensitive to how they depicted Southerners or if a group of men got together to write about women's rights I would feel the same. It's tough. I think the author and producers of the movie did sincerely attempt to portray an accurate depiction without being offensive but in the end when you proceed with this type of project, someone will be offended and it's understandable.

  • Sarah says:

    I would also like to add that I've never heard anyone say any of this stuff about Tyler Perry's movies, which could be just as offensive with the exception that he's black himself. Maybe they have and I just don't know about it but there will always be that double standard for many issues involving any number of minorities.

  • Madison says:

    Firstly, I actually liked what Aaron Manley and Chloe Moretz bought thus to their roles as Kick Butt and Reach Girl respectively, but most of the rest of the film ended up being forgettable.

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