An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was unsettling about The Help. I read the the book about a year ago, and it was a good read. There’s just something about a white woman telling the story of black women that doesn’t sit right. It felt trite or simplistic or something. Similar to The Blind Side, it seemed white people were the ones doing the saving, and black people had no part, no agency in their own story. Is that overstated? I’d love to hear thoughts from others…

ABC sent me this article tonight with a thoughtful perspective from The Association of Black Women Historians. You can find the entire article HERE. But here’s a snapshot…

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel versionofTheHelp. The book has sold over three million copies,and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. 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. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism…

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

We’re going to see the movie this week, and we’ll let you know what we think…

3 responses to “An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help

  1. Moxie, thanks for the food for thought. I saw The Help last night and read it a year ago. In response to the article you quoted, I feel like every movie (not just The Help), “distorts, ignores and trivializes” whatever issue/event is being highlighted in that movie. It’s Hollywood, not history.
    I think that in The Help, both the white and black characters display agency and power within the confines of their setting. I agree with you, Moxie, that The Blindside is very much about a white family “saving” a black boy, but I do think that The Help is more complex than that. Sure, I would prefer if a black author had written it but I don’t think that Kathryn Stockett should be blamed or accused for her creativity and her attempt to make history more personal. I think there could be a lot of stories written about domestic workers and their experiences, just like there are many perspectives on any event/situation.
    I hope you enjoy the film!

  2. Betsy,
    Thanks so much for your thoughts. I think that is a very valid point. I agree with you that TH is much more complex and nuanced than The Blindside. However, I am particularly caught up by the idea that the book/movie would not have been as popular were it written by a black woman.
    Black women did not have the agency to tell their stories in 1960’s Miss., but shouldn’t they have it now??
    Eagerly anticipating the film…

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