Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Help Protects the Legacy of Institutional Racism and Historical Inaccuracy in Hollywood

Over the summer I have been spending an inordinate amount of time in the library and state archives with my daughter. This past week I was there to find out if a book I had requested, Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate by Juan Williams had arrived. Upon finding out it had not come yet, I passed a little blue Book called the Help – the 2009 Novel by Kathryn Stockett.

After reading the book I could not see what was all the fuss. The two words I would use to describe it are quick and unimpressed. So unimpressed that I wanted to see why folks were marketing the Movie as if it were the Ten Commandments. And thankful to all that is available on the internet, I did not have to pay to see it. I hope people do not take this as a history lesson, but I am afraid many, who do not remember their being only four television channels or when there was no such thing as a self-service gas station probably will. Both the book and the movie gave me the same feeling I got as a child watching Tarzan, running Africa like a king over all the black folk there as a single white man. Or like I did when I first saw Mississippi Burning, and was so vehemently upset because the portrayed the FBI as helping the civil Rights movement when history and fact states FBI under J. Edgar Hoover regarded the movement as public enemy number one: The book although supposedly written during civil rights struggle, barely mentions Edgar Evers assignation, the 16th street bombing or other issues that were daily occurrences in Mississippi. The help needs major help. It the kind of book and movie that make white folk feel good about themselves and black folk mad at the fabrications being presented. In the book, all the attention is on Skeeter as the narrator but in the movie it is one of the maids (Aibileen). *In fact, given the time period, there was only one mention of violence in the story and that involved domestic black on black crime between one of the maids and her man. Although lynching’s were as frequent as the post man delivered mail. Hollywood as usual has sugar-coated the daily impact of racial discrimination and prejudice in America as if the truth is too painful. As a most movies about race (the legend of Baggar Vance comes to mind) white Hollywood need to create white super heroes who are made to be more involved in the struggle against racial oppression than whites. Nelson George described this as “the magic negro” phenomena, where the black character is simple a mirror for the white man character to see themselves. The films of Hollywood especially that deal with race reflect the institutional racism common place to movie industry itself. To shine a real light on racism would be too show the real Hollywood. The Help is another in this tradition of having white folk tell the story of discrimination and racial hatred as if they lived it, while playing down the experiences of those who actually did.


Rastajan said...

Thanks for your insightful analysis. It is unfortunate that at this point in time the best that hollywood can do is to replicate racism rather than to honestly unpack element of it as lived expereinces from the perspective of those who expereince it firsthand. i'll be returning to your blog as I'd love to see you take on Juan Williams.

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