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