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Mississippi Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Filed By "The Help" Against Author Of "The Help"

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 16, 2011 12:47 PM
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I'm sure this will give some folks even more of a reason to despise her and her bestselling novel turned film.

Recall when, much earlier this year, it was revealed that Ablene Cooper, the 60-year-old woman and long-time "help" of Kathryn Stockett’s brother and sister-in-law, had filed a lawsuit against Ms Stockett, claiming that one of the novel’s main characters, Aibileen Clark (the character Viola Davis plays in the film adaptation), was an unauthorized appropriation of her name and image by Stockett.

She sued for $75,000 in damages.

Given how much loot Stockett had already made (at the time) and stood to make from the film adaptation (which opened strong this past weekend), I figured that the lawsuit would be settled very quickly, out of court, with Stockett paying the $75,000, or some other agreed upon figure.

Well, that didn't happen, because, as soon after the lawsuit was announced, Stockett fired back saying, in short, that the character "Aibileen Clark" in The Help is a fictional character, and isn't intended to depict the real life Ablene Cooper.

So, it was clear that Ms Stockett was planning to fight the suit; and she's probably glad she made that decision, because it was announced earlier today that a judge tossed out the lawsuit filed against Kathryn Stockett in Mississippi.

Judge Tomie Green's reasons for doing so were because Ablene Cooper "failed to file the lawsuit within the 1-year statute of limitations, said the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.

Apparently, Ablene Cooper acknowledged that she did receive a copy of Stockett's novel in January 2009, a full month before it was published, so that she could read it, but she didn't read the book until a year later, which is around the time she filed her claim. The movie adaptation was already underway by then.

According to The Clarion-Ledger, after receiving the bad news, Ablene Cooper left the courthouse today, screaming, "She lied. She lied." (Photo of Clark above with her son, leaving courthouse).

I'm no attorney, so I have no idea what her next cause of action might be, assuming she's willing to continue pursuing it. Although, she does have representation.

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  • Lynn | January 5, 2012 7:37 PMReply

    I feel that "The Help" movie told half trruth of the real story of black maids. Both of my Grandmothers were The Help" the author did not mention how black maids were raped. And or forced to have sex. I feel the Documentry Keep Your Eyes On The Prize explains things in more detail. I dont feel the Author meant any harm, I just think she should have done more research. And not be limited to south black maids. They were even in California.

  • Tamara | August 18, 2011 1:33 AMReply

    @ CareyCarey & Charles,

    Thank you for your responses.

    I was ... on another planet thinking the 'matrix' reference of White People are Stealing Our Stories through lines. In cases like The Matrix

    *waves from Pluto*

  • Charles Judson | August 17, 2011 10:48 AMReply

    I tried boiling my thoughts down to something quick and dirty, but there are too many points I want to touch on.

    It's not that I don't think other folks telling our stories badly and incorrectly is not an issue that has merit.

    It's when you, for example look at the 25th anniversary of SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, and we've yet to see a robust cinematic revolution ala the Harlem Renaissance, that's a problem.

    When we have 15 years plus of Urban Lit, but very few stories set in the South that aren't just redo's of THE COLOR PURPLE, and rarely occur after the 1970s, that's a problem. (Seriously, where's my New South novel set in contemporary Atlanta ala Colson Whitehead???)

    S&A does it as much as they can, promoting new voices. However, collectively we can be doing much, much better.

    THE HELP has gotten a helluva a lot of promotion, just from the controversy. Just think if for every 5 articles written, just one name of a novel or novelist had been dropped included as someone to check out instead or in addition too?

    I partially do what I do because I enjoy the process of discovery and don't particularly enjoy getting mired down in talking about one author or one creator, if isn't actually about the creative process, at ad nauseam. Especially, when it starts to feel like the same conversation I've already had multiple times over the last 20 plus years. And when I know another THE HELP is inevitable, but more Black writers writing novels about the South in new and interesting ways isn't, it just makes it all depressing.

    With digital technology, we could be in the midst of a movement that could rival the Harlem Renaissance or the French New Wave.

    That's why do this. That's what I'm interested in. Everything else is just noise to me.

  • CareyCarey | August 17, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    Tamara, if I can take a stab at Charle's meaning. I believe he is saying loud and clear, that in the movie The Matrix (which I just watched "again" the other day), the matrix was a fictional world. So, when Charles said he is tired of the argument that White People are Stealing Our Stories, I believe he said that to say (in his opinion) that that argument has little or no merit. or at the very least, he's tired of hearing it.

    True or not, he ended by saying... "“You have to build the culture you want to see, you have to build the culture you want to work in. I say our response is to add to what’s out there and to not just critique. Otherwise all we’re going to have is more articles and blog posts, but still few—or no—stories. Creating and sharing more should be our reaction".

  • CareyCarey | August 17, 2011 9:00 AMReply

    I just saw The Help (on bootleg) and- it-was-a-very enjoyable-moviet!

  • Tamara | August 17, 2011 8:15 AMReply

    However, I’m also kind of tired of the White People are Stealing Our Stories through lines.In cases like The Matrix, it’s pure fiction, yet it keeps getting repeated as if it’s fact.

    @ Charles,

    What's this about? Can you explain in brief what you mean with this reference? Is it what I 'think' it is?

  • Charles Judson | August 17, 2011 8:01 AMReply

    I'm also not understanding how neither Stockett's Brother or Sister-In-Law couldn't have brought up the resemblance sooner as they're supporting Cooper. Did no one in the family read the book till a year later either? The book was a huge hit before the film and it's strange that didn't trigger a lawsuit or questions sooner. It all doesn't add up.

    I'm not denying Cooper has a very legitimate grievance, but you've got to do your due diligence. Writers and artists can genuinely believe they've created a unique character or story without recognizing just how much they've taken from real life.

    Of course, the details that have come out make that HIGHLY unlikely in this case--gold tooth, a dead son, nearly same name and skin complexion, etc.

    It would have been interesting to see the response if Cooper had confronted Stockett before the book was a success and the film was in production.

    However, I'm also kind of tired of the White People are Stealing Our Stories through lines. In cases like The Matrix, it's pure fiction, yet it keeps getting repeated as if it's fact.

    While in instances such as this I'd like to see more people give alternatives. Simply pointing out the inconsistencies and misrepresentations isn't going to fill the void. So point out who we should be reading, the writers we should be championing and what films we should be watching.

    I asked on my Facebook page for names and suggested a friend of mine who is a well respected poet (M. Ayodele Heath is the name if you're interested) and has been documenting life in the South in his own unique way for years. Besides my own offering, I didn't get one response. Not one.

    One of my mantras is this quote from a filmmaker, unfortunately I can't remember their name: "You have to build the culture you want to see, you have to build the culture you want to work in."

    I say our response is to add to what's out there and to not just critique. Otherwise all we're going to have is more articles and blog posts, but still few--or no-- stories. Creating and sharing more should be our reaction.

    Another writer to check out is Tayari Jones and her novel Leaving Atlanta. I'm hoping the resulting movie not only gets produced, but is as good as the book.

  • Tamara | August 17, 2011 7:03 AMReply

    Correct me if I'm wrong but in the book, didn't the author write Abilene as a woman who not only "wrote down her prayers" every night but also checked out books from the library....i.e. was an avid reader. If that Abilene was the same as the real life Ablene, the real life Ablene not reading a novel inspired from her life just befuddles me. Apprehension to read about oneself or no, it still doesn't measure up. Now if the author is incorrect, Ablene isn't actually a reader (unlike her fictitious counterpart "Abilene") then maybe some leeway should be given as to why she didn't read her "tale"... I just... I'm not understanding 'not reading' about 'you'!???!

    Again, good luck to her.

  • BluTopaz | August 17, 2011 6:39 AMReply

    @minnie-- And you are a perfect example of ignorant people who rely on stereotypes

  • ShebaBaby | August 17, 2011 5:41 AMReply

    **Shakes Head*** No Comment.

  • JMac | August 17, 2011 5:38 AMReply

    Legal loophole? What are you smoking? That's Civil Procedure 101. I guess if someone decides to pay his rent late and he gets evicted as a result, that's a legal loophole.
    Unfortunately, the fail was all on this woman.

    Good luck with her appeal.

  • minnie | August 17, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    This is a perfect example of a black people who don't read. She should have read the book earlier! SMDH

  • BluTopaz | August 17, 2011 5:19 AMReply

    I'm guessing Ms. Cooper had no idea her story influenced the main character, and she probably had no previous interest in the book until maybe someone pulled her coat tail. In any event until we hear differently I'm not jumping on the 'blacks don't read' bandwagon.

  • Xi | August 17, 2011 4:39 AMReply


    I was thinking the same thing...well sort of. In a perfect world, Ms. Cooper would be front and center on The View and in one of those many slots the national news networks use up on "off the topic of relevance" stories, but I have a feeling we may only see it on the blog-sphere.

    On the flipside, I'm sure there are quite a few people out there interested in telling her story.

  • AccidentalVisitor | August 17, 2011 4:09 AMReply

    {{{ Go call Tyler Perry or find some black director and do a film or documentary about HER version of what happened during that time period.


    Goodness. The same Tyler that told all of his flock to go out and support the film "The Help" because he saw it and liked it a whole lot? Come on now. Let's get real.

  • chiguy | August 17, 2011 4:04 AMReply

    This whole thing reeks of fail. Fail on the author for not giving the woman compensation for taking her story, fail on the legal system for its legal loop holes, and the biggest fail lies on Ablene Cooper. It took her a year to read the book? Black people, reading is still fundamental!

  • Tamara | August 17, 2011 3:37 AMReply

    She waited...a year to read the book?

    Apparently, Ablene Cooper acknowledged that she did receive a copy of Stockett’s novel in January 2009, a full month before it was published, so that she could read it, but she didn’t read the book until a year later, which is around the time she filed her claim. The movie adaptation was already underway by then.

    A novel about ME written by someone else who decided to share BEFORE the novel was published would have been read within the hour(s) of receiving!

    Surely, if the Abilene depicted in the film is of the same character-strength and/or "like to read books" strength (as stated in the book, but not shown in the movie) I would think she would have read a novel inspired about her life, lickety-split! I would have!

    With that said,

    Ablene/"Abilene", Stockett really stretched her character-naming skills, didn't she? Not.

    Ablene, I wish her well as she sets out on a new litigious path...if she appeals. I wish she would have read the book de imediato and agreed/disagreed with Stockett's interpretations (or whatever) of her BEFORE the book went to press. 75K is nothing in the face of what Stockett will earn (has earned). But a call to action should have occurred before now! Don't you think? I think so. Should have happened after she read the first paragraph....and not a year later, reading the first paragraph.

  • Dena | August 17, 2011 3:10 AMReply

    I Think Its Sickening How So Many People These Days R Trying 2 Find A Reason 2 Sue Someone Just 2 Get Some Money...The Author Is The OneWho Did All The Work, Developed The Storyline, Created Characters, And Made It Interesting Reading...And She Owes This Maid Money 4 What Reason???The Maid Should Be Flattered That She Used A Simular Name To Give Her A Shout-Out In The Book/Movie...Every Author Who Has Ever Written A Book Of Someone Else... Told A Story Knows SOMEONE..And Everyone They Kno Should Get Money, Because The Storyteller Mentioned A Like Or Simular Character 2 Them?? No One Would B Able 2 Tell A Story!!!...This Maid Is Owed Nothing!! She Is Greedy, And Viscious Based On Her Ranting After The Dismissal. She Should Be Ashamed Of Herself...Let Her Put In The Work 2 Write Her Own Book Instead Of Trying 2 Ride The Coatails Of Someone Else......Congrats 2 The Author 4 All Her Hard Work Finally Paying Off....

  • Zeus | August 17, 2011 2:57 AMReply

    I can't tell you how much I am going to continue to avoid this movie.

  • Ghost | August 17, 2011 2:38 AMReply

    Her next action???

    Go call Tyler Perry or find some black director and do a film or documentary about HER version of what happened during that time period.

    If the book isn't based on her, the author can't sue.

  • RB | August 17, 2011 2:23 AMReply

    Really??? That is sad, making money off the backs of hard working folk.

  • JMac | August 17, 2011 2:20 AMReply

    She can appeal but I doubt anything will come of it. There's no extenuating circumstances that prevented her from discovering about the material in the book. You can't sit around and wait to file causes of actions when you feel like it. Maybe if she can file another suit [amended complaint?] on a different basis that has a longer SOL - probably won't work either.

    Regardless of the technicality, I had a feeling she wouldn't have succeeded but I don't blame her for trying.

    Did she even have an attorney?

  • Oh Well | August 17, 2011 2:19 AMReply

    Sounds like CP strikes again...meh

  • Cynthia | August 17, 2011 1:28 AMReply

    This shit does not sit right with all!

  • Mecca | August 17, 2011 1:28 AMReply

    This is a really disappointing story to read. Stockett has been doing TV interview rounds w/ the cast of "The Help" , attending Hollywood premieres and having the NAACP as one of her many supporters.

    I hope this can be a lesson for some Black folks they get really acquainted w/ white people sometimes and before you know it. They are writing stories about you receiving many praises from the press while, your ass is still broke, poor losing all your money filing legal documents while the whites go free with no worries.

    Ignore any typos I type fast sometimes.

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