Will ‘The Help’ Get Your Ticket Money? [Reader Forum]

Readers discuss the new movie The Help, and whether the lackluster racial representation is worth their $12.50.

By Channing Kennedy Aug 15, 2011

Akiba Solomon, our Gender Matters columnist, sparked a big discussion this past week with her non-review of The Help, the book-turned-movie that’s reviving questions about what it would take for Hollywood to make a movie about racism without a white protagonist. Akiba did her research, analyzing the early reviews from trusted sources, and concluded that "the trailer alone features way too many group hugs to be trusted."

Some of our readers reported back on what they saw — and it wasn’t monolithically negative. And some of our readers, like Akiba, chose to save their $12.50 for a sure thing. Here’s what you had to say.

Lena Boxton:

One of the things that came out from the real life story of the young black man in ‘The Blind Side’ is that Hollywood made him look worse off educationally than he really was. So how did the decision to "dumb him down" come about and why?

These are the kinds of questions I would ask about any film where the white person is portrayed as the central character who comes to the aid of blacks. How different would the story be if it were told from the eyes of the black maids with the white woman reporter as a supporting character? I also have to get past this jaded feeling that there exists and has existed for a long time, a need to counteract the stories about white racism and assuage the resulting "white guilt" about the effects of this racism by showing uplifting stories of whites who were supportive in the civil rights struggle.

I am just waiting on a Hollywood Katrina movie which will undoubtedly center on a white hero or heroine while totally ignoring the plethora of black men and women who performed countless heroic deeds and who were central to the recovery efforts. I predict that those blacks portraying positive roles (as opposed to looters) will play secondary roles in support of the white hero/heroine.

Mary Lou Buell:

Please give "The Help" a chance! I love that we are all having this discussion, and yes, the film and book (while better) are not perfect, but it is refreshing to see a story that even raises these questions in a serious way. Most movies and television shows today are pure garbage! Octavia Spencer is brilliant! Such expression to her acting, I hope and pray this film opens wonderful doors for her!

I took my daughters on opening night and we left the theater in tears…you don’t "feel good" at the end by any means…and my girls (8 and 10) had lots of questions about the Civil Rights Movement, so the film was a great conversation starter. They then saw "Remember the Titans" at a neighborhood outdoor movie event. Talk about stereotypes!

Margaret Sequeira:

I begin by saying that I am a white, non-southern, educated, queer woman who currently lives in Virginia. We saw the movie last night and found it powerful particularly after just coming back from the King Center in Atlanta. The reviews have merit and some of the criticisms are fair.

On the other hand I don’t think they downplayed the threat and the violence – both physical, emotional and psychological violence. I think they did a decent job of setting the story of the maids against the larger national backdrop of civil rights. I was also touched by how the author’s story was a part of the maid’s story… she was raised by a maid, felt more love from her and more shaped by her than her mother. I felt that the movie touched on the complexity of relationships. In one way this is another "white savior" story and on the other hand it is more complex than that.


The white hero in Hollywood movies that portray non-whites brings to mind "Dances with Wolves." Kevin Costner was portrayed as the white hero of the Lakotas. It won a number of Oscars and the people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (home of the Lakotas) cheered with tear-filled eyes when it won those Academy Awards. There was so much that was wonderful about that film: Lakotas actually cast in roles speaking the Lakota language, portraying how white MEN screwed all the indigenous people. A balanced perspective is called for.

Eugena Jenkins Brooks points out that Hollywood overlooks meaningful stories of white contrbutions to civil rights:

I feel you, as I also know that there have always been white people that didn’t abide by the bigotry, racism and prejudice that was/is going on in this country. i.e. Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo (April 11, 1925-March 25, 1965), a Unitarian Universalist committed to work for education and economic justice, gave her life for the cause of civil rights. The 39-year-old mother of five was murdered by white supremacists after her participation in the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. No one ever gives up credit for these truths which makes it as bad as those guilty of the oppression she stood against.


My decision on whether to see the movie or not came yesterday, when Melissa Harris-Perry tweeted (from inside the movie theatre!) that she’d timed events in the movie, and Skeeter’s date and the murder of Medgar Evers merited exactly the same amount of screen time.

And as our publisher Rinku Sen wrote in this week’s Movement Notes, the disparities in labor conditions for "the help" still break down along racial lines, even in 2011. Reader Virtue Bajurny tells us about what she’s witnessed in the field:

Having worked as a nanny for 10 years here in Canada, the class and race politics are pretty astounding. There’s no job security. I had hours and pay cut abruptly. I had places where I wasn’t allowed to eat in the same space as the family. i had other places where i worked 14+ hour days. A mom approached me to work for her: she had a lovely nanny (as far as I and her kids were concerned), but she said she’d rather have me "because you know what those Jamaican nannies are like." And most of the time you don’t talk back or speak up, because if you lose your job you lose everything. One employer spreading the idea that you are a crappy worker means you don’t get work again… and even in all this, I know that I had a fair amount of privilege. Under the caregiver program in Canada, women come from other countries and are forced to live with the families of whom they take care. Many times this works out, but I’ve met nannies that were raped, or forced to pretty much work 24/7… anyway, this is a round-about way of saying thanks for the post ?

?(ps- I had awesome families in all the work i did as well, but the rampant abuse/insecurity in the field is unjust.)

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