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Review - "The Help" (Well... It's Certainly Not "Black Girl;" Though It's Not Trying To be)

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 12, 2011 1:48 AM
52 Comments
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It opened on Wednesday, the 10th, though I suspect most interested in seeing it will be seeing it over the weekend. In light of that, and the spirited discussion that continues, I figured I'd re-post my review of it.

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I’m tired.

At least, I think maybe that would help explain the numbness I felt after seeing The Help a week or two ago; tired from the 12 months of often rigorous debate about the film, its content, the alleged agenda of those who produced it, the actresses who chose to star in it and their reasons for doing so, the motivations of the author of the novel the film is based on, and much more.

Not just on this website; across the web. And, as it’s in my job description to ensure that I’m kept abreast of conversations that matter, escaping the noise really wasn’t, and still isn’t an option for me.

So, I summarized my lack of any immediate strong reactions to the film (whether endearment or repulsion) to fatigue – intellectual and emotional; but not from actually watching the movie, despite its almost 2 ½ hour length. The numbness likely already existed before I walked into the screening room.

But it could quite possibly be that my apathy may actually be a good thing in this case, because it allows for a more clinical critique of the film. Not that I’m completely detached from the experience, as there were a few scattered moments during the screening that actually elicited an immediate reaction from me; but overall, I just shrugged at it all.

And despite waiting for over a week to put my thoughts down, little changed. I still feel the same way about it as I did immediately after I saw it. Not much…

I think most of you probably expect to be enraged by the film, given your comments on it thus far – from the vehemently rebuffed depictions of black maids in Civil Rights era southern USA, in subservient roles to their racist white female employers, to the lament that this is yet another story supposedly about black people told by a Caucasian and from that POV, to the rejection of the black maids’ inability to collect and revolt, independent of the gentle encouraging hand of a white liberator, and more.

But for those who do end up seeing it, expecting to be incensed by it, you might actually find it easier to dismiss the film, given just how frivolous and shallow it is. Although I’d say that I really don’t think the producers of the film were particularly interested in making something momentous or transgressive. I believe they call it "entertainment."

This isn’t Ousmane Sembene’s seminal 1966 film Black Girl (La Noire de...) – a film that centered on a character in a somewhat similar predicament as those played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help, but with a far richer, complex, interior life. That film is really all about her interior life. The Help unfortunately is not.

In seeing the film, as was the case when I read the book, I didn’t expect some revolutionary text, knowing what I knew about the author, what I’d heard about the book, and given past stories about the experiences of black people, told from a non-black person’s POV.

But for a book of its nature and origins, I appreciated the author’s attempts to actually give these characters (the black maids specifically) their own lives and thoughts. They may not be fully realized characters, but they aren’t what I’d call 2-dimensional cardboard cut-outs either, or just background fodder.

As an aside, I will also add that the depiction of the class/race struggle on screen is most often framed as one that exists almost solely between men; rarely is that tale reflected from the perspective of women protagonists/antagonists. So this was a welcomed jolt of estrogen.

It’s just unfortunate that it comes in this particularly blithe package, especially when one considers the dearth of films in cinema history that have closely examined the tenuously symbiotic, if strained relationship between black maids and their white employers (particularly those told from the maid's POV), which goes back centuries and crosses borders.

However, I’m sure many will get exactly what they want from the experience of seeing it – entertainment; as long as you’re willing to overlook certain undesirable memes.

So you have to ask yourself what exactly you’re expecting to get out of the film, and go into it fully aware of those expectations; they just might be met.

I already mentioned just how innocuous The Help is, despite the subject matter and the unsettled perilous period in which it takes place. The pleasantville-like atmosphere the characters exist in is devoid of any real tension, painting a picture that’s far less damning than it needs to be, and thus incomplete, in order to feel authentic. It just doesn’t dig deep enough. It’s as if the filmmakers were willing to go only so far with the ugliness and the, dare I say, realness of the period and the relationships. I’m not sure if it was intentional, in that the goal was to produce something with commercial/crossover value (it was based on a New York Times bestseller), or if they were just oblivious. But it severely lacks edge, and is far too safe given the story it wants to tell and the era in which it lives.

It was common for moments of gravity to be quickly countered with comedy.

And while it’s a film that takes place during the late 50s to late 60s Civil Rights years, it largely avoids the movement itself, considering that the southern region in which the film takes place was in the thick of it. But as I already noted, The Help isn’t interested in that story; it’s just not that kind of movie. You have to decide whether it’s your kind of movie.

An interesting item here is that the antagonists in the story (the white sorority of middle, to upper class whites) are actually thinly drawn, compared to the protagonists (the black maids, the ones we’re supposed to feel sympathy for, and the single white heroine of the story depicted by Emma Stone).

The villain of the story, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (whom I actually feel was miscast in the role) is so ridiculously 2-dimensional. You’re supposed to hate her; you really have no choice but to; there isn’t an ounce of good in this woman, and her lack of depth and complexity makes her so absurd that it negates any real dread or disgust one is supposed to feel whenever she’s on screen. You may actually laugh at her instead, making the character easy to dismiss. And once that happens with a story’s main antagonist, how is the rest of the film supposed to keep an audience engaged? Part of the thrill in movies like this in which good and bad are so clearly defined is the eventual showdown one expects will come at some point in the film, usually towards the end, during which the bad gets their comeuppance. And once that thrill is gone, it becomes a matter of waiting until the film reaches its denouement. Boredom sets in; Boredom that might lead to apathy.

And, in way, that’s one of the unfortunate things about all this; that the author of the novel, Kathryn Stockett, seemed to really want to paint a *positive* image of the black maids, making a clear distinction between them and their *evil* white employers (except for the one rebel – the writer with big city dreams; the artist; because, as we all know, being a creative means you’re likely more free-spirited, open, aware and tolerant of diversity than others). Stockett wants us to commiserate with the black maids, giving them as much (if not more) exposure as their white counterparts, showing the duality of the lives they live in the homes of their employers, and in their own homes.

But it’s all-too neatly-packed into this rather bland tale set in America’s turbulent, racially-charged past (which you never truly feel the weight and essence of), told specifically from a white person’s perspective.

I honestly don’t believe that white women who see the film, and who happen to have black maids at home will suddenly feel like they have any real insight into the minds and lives of the women who take care of their children, cook their meals and clean their houses.

The harshest and most earnest of the employer-to-maid stories were relegated to written or verbal recollections by the maids during their interviews with our heroine, Skeeter Phelan, played well enough by Emma Stone. So we hear about them, but don’t actually get to see these moments play out on screen, which would have been far more affecting I think than listening to snips of memoirs.

And I just couldn’t ignore the fact that, given the tumultuous, violent era in which the film takes place, especially if you were black, the only scene of violence that exists in the film is between a black man and a black woman. Specifically, the character Octavia Spencer plays is married to an abusive husband – though we never get to actually see this husband in the flesh. He’s just a voice – an angry voice that strikes fear in his wife, who we do see, as she cowers in fear against a wall, on his approach towards her, after bursting through the door leading into their home, and then beats her, as we hear her cries, and later, see her badly bruised eye.

It all seemed completely unnecessary. I understand the sequence was supposed to act as motivation for other occurrences, but it really wouldn’t have made much difference at all if the abusive husband wasn’t in the story. It’s just a lazy plot device – one that, as I already said, wasn’t necessary. The motivation was all already there, and I’d question Stockett’s decision to write this character and the scene into the story.

The only other substantial black male presence in this is David Oyelowo’s pastor. And he’s barely on screen, in a church scene, doing what pastors usually do.

About halfway through the film, we learn that Medgar Evers is shot and killed; his death, and its effects on those who cherished him, is handled rather unceremoniously and quickly. I found myself asking what the point was in even including it. Yet another lazy, ill-conceived plot device that exists strictly to help push the story forward.

On the other side of the aisle, there are a few white men in this, who are, by comparison, mostly pleasant and even compassionate actually, though they are mostly relegated to the periphery.

This is a film that many have praised for its performances above all else, and, as I’ve said already, it represents what I believe will be the best possibility of an Oscar nomination for a black actor/actress this year, in Viola Davis and/or Octavia Spencer. And I won’t at all be surprised to see both of them nominated, and one of them walking away with the trophy in the Best Supporting Actress category – Viola Davis especially, since she’s the better-known of the two.

I can’t say that I won’t be happy for her if that were to happen; she does a decent job with the material she’s given; however, one thing that struck me about her performance was just how caged she seemed. By that I mean, she felt contained, like an explosion waiting to happen that just never quite does, because she isn’t allowed to. It’s just not that kind of role. For all her ability, Viola Davis isn’t meant to play subdued, subservient roles like this. Her presence demands she be out, front and center, bold, brash, dangerous and leading; not meek and cowering. She plays a similar kind of character here that she played in Doubt, which got her Academy Award attention for the first time, via a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category. And I expect she’ll be blessed with the same honor next year, and may even win this time, whether we like it or not.

*Sigh*… that being more-so because, as I write this, I realize that I’m starting to feel something other than fatigue or numbness. I feel deflated. Here’s another studio picture – the 1 widely released black drama that we get annually that’s not a Tyler Perry product, that’s been, and will likely continue to be debated, dissected, chewed up, spit out, protested, etc. And I’m just really exhausted from all that.

I’m sometimes asked why I don’t participate much in the debates that often happen in the comments section on this site, and my answer is because, again, I’m fatigued from all the conversation. I’ve been doing this for about 4 years now (which doesn’t seem like a long time, though in Internet years it's a lifetime), and have been involved in almost every debate/discussion that we continue to have on this site about the lack of variety in portrayals, and representation behind the curtain; and, quite frankly, I’m all talked out!

I’m much more interested in doing what needs to be done to get us where we want to be. And until there’s some collective movement (not-so unlike Ava DuVernay’s AFFRM, but replicated on the production side) intent on shifting the conversation to action, the story just won’t change. Instead the same debates and discussions will continue to happen every year.

Without me though; like I said, I’m tired.

At the end of the film, our shero, Skeeter Phelan, gets to leave the small Mississippi town she’s created havoc in with her book, as she heads to the bright lights of New York City to follow her dreams of becoming a professional writer. She gets to leave, as our black maids gladly support her decision to do so. I can imagine the conversation that wasn't shown... “Go,” they say, “we’ll deal with all the fallout from our little experiment, because that’s just what we do, and we don’t seem to have much of any other choice but to stay; some of us are in prison, some have lost our jobs, some will forever be blacklisted; but it doesn’t matter; we don’t mind sacrificing ourselves for your happiness, because that’s just what we do. That’s all we can do. You come back and visit us some time now, hear? We’ll still be here… hopefully…

I’d say that its ending is maybe its most sincere moment, given how limited and shallow the rest of the film looks and feels.

Oh well… at least we have Django Unchained to look forward to in 2012, right? The black Basterd is coming… Oh, but wait a minute… nevermind.

It's just entertainment.

Now we wait patiently to read what Armond White has to say about it :)

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52 Comments

  • spitfire27 | December 27, 2012 8:34 PMReply

    The messages of this incredibly sexist, racist, classist movie: 1) Racism stems from upper middle class white women. Their husbands are kind men who are too consumed by their jobs to notice if their wives are treating the help badly. Either that or the husbands are henpecked. 2) Black women get revenge by doing something so disgusting that to be sympathetic to them would be to degrade oneself. (3) White upper middle class men must not be the ones wearing white sheets, raping the help, signing judicial orders that sent civil rights workers to prison, etc. etc. (4) Black domestics weren't involved in the civil rights movement.

  • JMac | August 16, 2011 7:43 AMReply

    You mean you weren't my friend before? Well dayum. Everybody here is my friend. Agreeing with me has never been a requirement.

    Since you're in a better mood, you go make up with Blu. Ya'll been smacking each other around like a couple who's been married for 60 years.

  • BluTopaz | August 15, 2011 9:05 AMReply

    @ Carey

    I've bulleted, outlined and given you the cliff notes about my EXACT problems with this flick. If you still don't get what I am referring to, then you're simply being willfully dense.

  • CareyCarey | August 14, 2011 10:28 AMReply

    Damn JMac, that must have taken you 4 hours to comprise. That thang was dope to the 10th degree. It was so insightful and “fair”. You got your roll out on that one!

    Okay, I guess I can be your friend again... if that’s alright with you. **big smile and a hug**

  • Farouche | August 14, 2011 6:06 AMReply

    I work in the film industry and one conversation that I've had is about why is it that Hollywood loves to make movies about World War II but none about the Civil War? Because in WWII the White people are heroes, that's why. None of those messy slavery issues to deal with.

    I saw an interview with Emma Stone about the Help and she says her knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement boiled down to MLK and Rosa Parks and nothing else. She had no idea what life was like during that time period and she had never really thought about it until making this movie. I have to imagine she isn't the only one White or Black that suffers from this kind of uninformed ignorance.

    These kinds of films may not be ideal, they may even be repugnant to many however we need to not let it be forgotten the terrorism experienced by our community in this country. If we can make more films like this and get people get used to the discomfort, then we can slowly build toward real truth. And tell our stories more boldly and more raw. As silly as this movie is the point that we have led a painful existence at the hands of Whites in this country was not lost on me. I saw it through all the fluff. I would imagine other did too. But then I know my history.

  • JMac | August 14, 2011 5:58 AMReply

    I understood your last post but just thinking back on all the arguments I've read about this film all over the blogosphere the main theme I keep reading is "if this film was adapted from a book by a black woman, it'd be okay." Some may be pissed solely because it is a black maid movie - others however are more upset that it's 2011 and America is still making films about black people from a white perspective esp. films taking place in the civil rights era or earlier.

    The only light I see in the arguments is that people are sharing information about their favorite black authors who write about similar themes but whose stories have more "meat" and truthfulness albeit less attention. That's mostly why I would champion Case Depart sight unseen (still want to see that eventually) over Django (not looking forward to that film).

    Experience is the greatest teacher and the sad part about that is the younger generation doesn't have it and run to films like this to find it. Can't put all the blame on them. Understandably many older folks would rather forget about the past and shelter their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters from it. Took me years to get my dad to talk about his childhood in 1940s Alabama. I can't imagine walking to school on a dirt road, look up and find one of your friends hanging dead from a tree. Yet the scene is so familiar you just keep on walking w/o comment or reaction. Frankly I'm surprised he and others were able to come through that period and still be able to work with whites to correct and alleviate the evils of the past. But I and others who don't have that direct experience but still hold some personal knowledge on the subject can't help but be mad as hell of revisionist history - fictional or not. Seems every few decades or so some major piece of film pops up and says "yeah it was a bad period - but not too bad. Just look at how happy the darkies are." Thank god for documentaries. However, I'm still worried that when the civil rights generation have gone home what will happen to our history without them safeguarding it. We've already seen how little blacks want to study or explore slavery when many of us are just two to three generations away from it. People are so eager for feel good movies (and blacks to feel better about their previous sub-human status) , it doesn't matter if there's a million documentaries, those real stories will rarely see the light of day.

    So yes, in the end this movie is a drop in the bucket that doesn't mean anything yet that is the danger. I could see or hear about racist movies but run to my parents to get the real scoop. The further we go, the less access we have to the black community's social consciousness. And with the increased pressure to be "post-racial" and eliminate black studies courses after so many students protested to have them instituted just 40 years ago, I don't have much faith in what the future will bring.

  • CareyCarey | August 13, 2011 11:02 AMReply

    JMac said: "CC you’re all over the place on this topic. If you’re trying to give an ass beating, you’re only hitting air at this point"


    Well JMac, I don’t know what you mean by an ass-whoopin, and your posts are always on topic and on point, but since much of the arguments on The Help and the subtle and overt messages it may project, my last comment was more akin to me suggesting black people should read more, and white their/our own stories.

    RE; Michelle’s teaching tool. Well I don’t listen to any and everybody b/c although they may have “credentials” and letter of higher learning in front of there name, that does not speak to who they are, nor if they are wise to the ways of the word. You know, like where's the meat and common sense. But Michelle was bringing it... loud and clear!

    Well, there’s no shame in my game and I’ll tell you why I feel that way.... since nobody is reading this except me and you. And all of it - maybe unfortunately - is true. Now don’t run and/or clutch your purse, but I’ve often said that a person can learn their ABC’s, read the bible, or learn all there is to know about quantum physics, and who shot John, however, those sources of information - alone - pales in comparison with the rewards of “going through” ones struggles/ EXPERIENCE!

    To that point, I’ve paid my dues. Now, I am not proud of many of the things I’m about to share with you guys, but they are the bases, foundation, stepping stones to who I’ve become. My new motto is “What About A Time Called NOW!

    So again, get ready, I’m about to throw a little of my dirty laundry on the floor and it’s all true. They are the foundations behind this man called CareyCarey. First, I’ve discovered how important it is to say... “I was wrong, “I don’t know”, “I am sorry” and “I love You”, by looking back at all my indiscretions and the rewards of admitting and accepting my guilt/faults.

    Okay, short snips of my life. I was a father at the age of 18. I once had 2 families in 2 states... at the same time. Each not knowing about each other. I am a Viet Nam era veteran. I once worked as a high voltage power lineman, yep, climbed 100ft poles and all the scary mess (saw a man killed who was close by me from electrocution... it wasn’t a pretty sight. His body was reduced to a clump of wet matter. All his bones were exposed). I went to jail for bank robbery. I was a pimp and a drug smuggler.. smuggling drugs from Southeast Asia. I once was a city councilman and a little league baseball coach and president. I’ve visited every state in the USA and have traveled to many countries. I’ve been shot at and death has occurred in my home. I was raised in the black church (and in the projects)and have held many position within the church. One of my first jobs was riding on the back of a garbage truck (yes, a garbage man). I have published poems and a book. I’ve had 3 great love affairs (now that’s a learning process) . I was married for over 25 years (my wife has passed away). One of my uncles is the late and great Kingfish from the old television series Amos n Andy. I was considered a gifted child, so I’ve been formally educated, but my main source of knowledge and wisdom has come auto-didactically by “going through” and engaging in several walks in life. And, I’ve been on stage with James Brown. And more....

    So my friend from Tennesse and those who may be lurking, you don’t have to hug me like you love me - in the morning - but this old school fool has paid his dues to run his mouth, and stand behind them, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my past. This old black cat had 9 lives but now I am down to one and a half. *Big Smile*

    The Help and the issues surrounding it. is like the smallest of molecules of an elephant's ass.

    Now, do you or any lurker want to dance with me? I have stories and I promise to make you laugh :-)

  • JMac | August 13, 2011 6:40 AMReply

    Thanks for the review Tamara.

    CC you're all over the place on this topic. If you're trying to give an ass beating, you're only hitting air at this point.

    Only thing I agree with is that this movie will fade and people will forget. Funny I was looking for something online and came across an old LA Times article where the NAACP in Beverly Hills protested the movie Soul Man. I remember watching that when I was a kid but I wasn't aware there was any controversy about it. Thinking back I think it was a waste of time considering how stupid and light and ultimately non-racist that movie was. Am wondering why they thought that film was a smack in the face but not The Help. I guess to them it's easier to support racist elements in a period piece than be confronted with it in the present.


    Interesting comment from the Association of Black Female Historians.

  • Tamara | August 13, 2011 4:21 AMReply

    @ The Help,

    I felt the movie was at its strongest in the latter second act, beginning third. I saw the "seams" of the packaging; where they changed/deleted/ignored parts of the book that were really central and key.

    I disliked how they made it Skeeter's story. I felt Abilene/Minnie were not 'as' present in the film or rounded as characters. It's like the filmmaker/script put the maids on a spoon...we see them, can guess/infer maybe what they're about/their story, etc. ...they put the spoon to our mouths to taste...we hesitate, taste a bit, begin to reject but they force it past our teeth anyway.

    If this had really been Abilene and Minnie's tale, folk would not have been so cheery, raucous with laughter, applauding and such, so much. The film only really scratched the surface with those characters as there was more (but not much) complexity and layering in the book.

    My mom thought it was okay; my sister thought it was okay, my niece was highly frustrated to the point she couldn't really say she liked it. That's three generations viewing. It was just so-so with everyone, myself included. I felt it a bit of a chore---maybe because I went in prepared to analyze it. Oscar-worthy? Oscar-worthy performances? Eh, no.

    Two things:

    1) Nelsan Ellis...OMG I think is just so handsome. *crushing hard* About the only male presence that stuck with me. *nods* And that brief clip of Medgar Evers. The Kennedy thing seemed kind of thrown in. I didn't get the 'feel' of so much time passing. What was it like two months or SIX? Each scene felt like the next day.

    2) I asked my family how those character representation compares to say a Tyler Perry cast. Sis said Tyler shows Black characters in a more positive light in higher positions of authority and power. Translation: in a more positive light. *flails* LOL Don't mean to stir a hornet's nest but my fam are fans of TP films and I just wanted to gauge their perception of 'us' on screen via the two channels of TP-TV and Hollyweird via YT satellites.LOL It's all in the packaging, isn't it? *sighs**kanye shrugs**harlem shuffles*

    @Tambay

    Your review is on point and like I'm in agreement with everything and I'm tired, too...mainly because it's nearing midnight and I had a long day, but also because this movie should have been titled "Skeeter's Moves on Up to the North and the East Side" instead of "The Help". Or something. I don't know. G'nite, folks.

  • Ghost | August 13, 2011 3:01 AMReply

    What exactly can Black students learn from this flick, and btw why is it only Black people who are being pushed to see it?
    -------------------------------------------------

    What are kids going to learn? That we needed white folks to help us.

    The sad thign about this film is that it will make its way into the schools via the school library.

    Just like Freedom Riders and any other movie where someone of another race is helping us.

    They get into the schools and pop up for showing during Black History month.

    Yet stuff by Dwayne McDuffie, Gill Scott Heron and other stuff that supports blacks taking care of thier business doesn't.

  • Mecca | August 13, 2011 2:40 AMReply

    A lot of you are talking about Black screenwriters and why aren't they writing more scripts?

    There is a film titled "Odessa" which follows the story of a father and daughter migrating from town to town, escaping a "program" which performed experiments on them.

    It is directed by Al Thompson It is a sci-fi/drama. I found it on the NYTVF website.

    http://www.nytvf.com/2011_ipc_selections.htm

  • Michelle | August 12, 2011 10:25 AMReply

    CareyCarey,

    You are killing me! Thanks for the support and encouragement.

  • CareyCarey | August 12, 2011 9:19 AMReply

    Stick’em up... this is a hi-jack. Tamara, get that money, but leave the small bills behind.

    Well, maybe it’s not hi-jacking because this topic-book-movie-issue has crossed many boundaries. This movie has generated over 300 comments from various viewpoints.

    Now, someone on an earlier post equated “The Help” with “To Kill A Mockingbird“. I see her point and I have something to say along those lines.

    **To Kill A Mockingbird and Nigger Jim: Great American Classics My Ass!**

    It always amazes me how some topics like The Help” can be the big news of the day, filled with heated debates, but yet, frequently, they fade into the background while the beat goes on. Gil Scott Heron has died and his voice might die with him.

    But check this, I do have a few questions about Gil Scott Heron

    No folks, not Jill Scott, Gil Scott Heron. What, you haven't read about this? I bet you've heard of Nigger Jim, Edgar Allen Poe and The Help.

    Well, I know you've seen - or heard - of Sex In The City, but what about Black Thighs?
    Huh, what, don't tell me you've never read Black Thighs?

    Surely you've read The Night Before Christmas - but what about - Before The White Man Came? Yep, you've seen Message In A Bottle, but what about Message To The Messengers? Who wrote the words to that poem and what was the message? Hint: It was a message to rappers by the Godfather. Nope, not James Brown nor "Don" Vito Corleone.

    Okay, maybe this is not fair. Maybe all of your novels and books of poetry were stolen be Nigger Jim or the “man”, or got lost in the washing machine or in the brainwash. But I'm just saying, I am sure you've heard about Broke Back Mountain, but what about On Coming From A Broken Home, huh? Have you read that? Surely you've heard of Hill Street Blues, but what about The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues? Come on now folks, Woman Are From Venus And Men Are From Mars - right. Okay, let me hear it, Whitey On The Moon... answers, questions, give me a line or two?

    Damn, don't take this ass whoopin personally but sing along with me, I know you know the song... "home home on the range, where the dear and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are all sunny all day". Okay, do you know the words to "Home Is Where The Hatred Is"?

    Well, if you've been stumped, it's gimme time. I mean, who hasn't seen "Waiting To Exhale", but what about "Waiting For The Ax"? Come on, I know you've heard about the old negro and his Uncle Tom's Cabin, but what about the words from "The Klan".... huh, have you read them?


    I am so sorry, how could I have been so careless. I should have made this a black thang. Okay, here we go. Er'body has danced to the Sooooul Train, but what about Your Soul And Mine. I mean, have you heard of that? But wait, who can forget Denzel Washington's performance in Walter Moseley's Devil In A Blue Dress, but do you know anything about "Me & The Devil"? Huh, have you heard of that?

    Oh lawd, I am crying because this ass whoopin is hurting me more than it's hurting you, but I can't stop this train. No, not the soul train, this train of thought.

    Listen, instead of Oprah reaching out to William Faulkner (his 4th), I think she would be the greatest black woman that has ever walked this earth if her next three books were by Gil Scott Heron, The Last Poets and Paul Mooney.

    Hey, if a lying white dude can get on Oprah's list, why can't she give the drummer some... a black drummer leader... Gil Scott Heron

    Why is Harper Lee(the author of To Kill A Mockingbird) book considered an American Classic? Is it because her book championed the thought that it's the American way of life - (always has been) - that white folks are superior to black folks. And, from what I read, the messages is... it's standard procedure to mistreat po colored folk?

    I don't know why the caged bird sings but I know every closed eye ain't sleep. My eyes have seen the glory... what about you? Pick out and pickup a few good books and read them to - and with - your children.

  • BHarlan | August 12, 2011 7:52 AMReply

    Even before I read the book and heard the reviews I decied not to read it. But, I teach my kids judge for yourself. Dont speculate on what someone else thinks or feel. Evaluate yourself. I did that and I LOVED the book. Of course some of the portraits,characters,speech and prejudice bother me. Although, if anyone was to write a book we will have to become, black,hispanic,white etc characters. Tyler Perry always become another race. And some of his film I truly dont like how it protray me as a Black woman. To me a great deal of his film stereo type cast us. I read the previous reviews: sugar coat and not enough controversy or violence. Would we be happy if the White author made this a "angry maids" movie? Then its presented WE are always angry/not happy. Kinda darn if you do...darn if you dont!

  • ShebaBaby | August 12, 2011 6:56 AMReply

    Thank God these women are speaking out. I really can't believe the NAACP has gotten behind the movie the way that they have. It's really an embarrassment and is gonna end up hurting black cinema more than helping.

    Several publications, including Entertainment Weekly, have picked up the statement below from the Association of Black Women Historians for their websites.

    http://www.abwh.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2:open-statement-the-help&catid=1:latest-news

  • Orville | August 12, 2011 6:21 AMReply

    I will not see this movie although I am sure it will be a hit. although I won't support the film. I am not interested in watching a movie about civil rights through a white lens. I also am not interested in seeing another white saviour movie.

    The dilemma for Hollywood is, how does a studio make a movie about race but also not make white people look too bad? Sure, the Help talks about a bit about race but it doesn't really go into depth. The Hollywood forumla is to appeal to a white audience first and that's the focal point of the marketing. I think the reason some black people don't like The Help is because of the anger, resentment, and also I think feelings of sadness about what the older generation of blacks had to go through. The 1960s wasn't that long ago and just the injustice black domestics experienced their stories need to be told.
    I doubt Hollywood would want to make a film about black domestics and being raped by white men because that's what really went on in those Southern houses.

    I thought Wesley Morris at the Boston Globe wrote a similar good review to Tambay's. Wesley's piece covered much of the same issues that Tambay wrote about.



    The movie is a bit too fuzzy and feel good. But this movie is entertainment not about dealing with the real issues under the surface. According to boxofficemojo the movie made $5 million on Wednesday that's pretty good. I think The Help is a safe movie it doesn't upset white people and Emma Stone is the protagonist. Hollywood isn't interested in depicting the civil rights era honestly so I don't know why people are surprised?

  • CareyCarey | August 12, 2011 4:13 AMReply

    AGAIN, stomping my feet, snapping my fingers and clapping for Michelle. If that gets some folks up upset, sue me and catch a clue. *BIG SMILE*

    I’d take that woman to a bar fight - with me. Did she answer the two... my friends... “women” or what!? And she did so in such an intelligent way (in her following comment). I hope they don’t come back and vent on me, cuz my name is Bennett and I ain’t in it. But I can’t wait to hear their retort.

    Damn, I think I am falling in love with Michelle. I love me SOME intelligent, concise and bright and strong willed black woman, who show no fear when addressing controversy

  • Tamara | August 12, 2011 3:27 AMReply

    I've peeped your review and these comments. I'm going to see it tonight with my mom and sis and niece. Gonna gauge their reactions, have a lil' discussion about it, formulate my thoughts, then return here to either rip it to shreds, praise it, or kanye-shrug the 'meh' out of it.

    I will concede that so much discussion (that I may or may not have taken part in) has wearied me, too. I think it's because I'm going into it with the mindset of "how does it compare to the book" rather than "race and representation" and "who can tell our tales". I'm gonna analyze book vs. film first; then I'll kick in with commentary on the rest.

  • JMac | August 12, 2011 3:09 AMReply

    I didn't say I had a problem with requiring students to read the book. How many of us read Mein Kampf for its historical value? Don't put words in my mouth. My issue is in requiring them to see the movie which would add to the profit it will make. Doesn't make sense to criticize something for "white supremacist" themes and have them support it financially at the same time. If they're invited to see the movie for free - cool.

  • reg | August 12, 2011 3:03 AMReply

    haven't seen the movie and, thanks to yr review, am confirmed in my decision to wait for cable.
    but i did want to compare your review favorably to armond white's, which seemed to be a review of every other movie with black female actors in it EXCEPT this one.

  • Michelle | August 12, 2011 1:54 AMReply

    JMac,

    I should point out that in order for Melissa Harris-Perry to make the wonderful critique that she does of "The Help," she had to *see it.* I appreciate your link to the snob--I love her blog--but it underscores the importance of engagement with texts as being essential to substantive remarks about them. Danielle Belton admits on her blog that she has not read the novel or seen the film but in order to talk about it with any credibility, I want to point out that she needed to reference someone who had in light of her own deficit. One way of reading your link in light of your critique of my approach is that Belton needed the education because she was unprepared on her own to offer an original reading of something she had not seen. I am preparing my students to make the Harris-Perry argument, so they have to at least read the work.

  • Michelle | August 12, 2011 1:38 AMReply

    Blu,

    I laughed out loud at those of you who think the students should not be required to buy this book or pay to view the film: my colleagues roundly agree with you! I wish I could get it to them for free, but alas...It is important, however, to make sure that our critiques are well-formed. I could not expect my students to be prepared to do important cultural criticism if I only taught the books that I liked our were canon approved. In fact, that would be more indoctrination than teaching. When I teach Stockett, I first teach Tera Hunter's "To Joy My Freedom," which offers a history of black women domestics in Atlanta. I also teach Alice Childress's "Like One of the Family," and Jamaica Kincaid's "Lucy." I do several units on visual representations like that wonderful Richard S. Roberts photograph of the black woman domestic in and out of uniform; and of course Gordon Parks's work on Ella Watson.

    Brooke Newman has a memoir entitled "Jennie Mae and James: A Memoir in Black and White." This is another work that I think is seriously troubling. Newman writes about a night when Jennie Mae gets raped by a bus driver and becomes pregnant. She eventually has the child. Newman never acknowledges in the work that she obtained Jennie Mae's permission to tell this story. This raises important ethical issues because we don't know what she may have told her daughter about her conception (or her biological father)! Though I find the work incredibly troubling, I think it's important to teach it because of the ethical concerns that it raises about telling stories. Where do we draw the line between my story and your story when you play a central role in my life? You don't always teach what you think is *good.* Quite often, you teach texts that help underscore important issues or raise important questions.

    What I plan on doing this semester is engaging all matters related to Stockett in the opening sessions before going into the other material. I will then ask the students to re-evaluate the work in light of what they have engaged in the course throughout the semester. Last time, despite the historical stuff, many of the students still thought "The Help" was good. I was shocked! What I came to learn was that many of them only thought that professors taught what they thought was good and they didn't want to offend me or they simply thought they were telling me what I wanted to hear. It was hard to get at what they actually thought but I was certainly pleased that they left with a richer bibliography than when they came in.

    I'm thinking of having a class blog about the course. If so, I'll make it open to those of you who are interested. I would love to extend the dialogue.

  • CareyCarey | August 11, 2011 7:41 AMReply

    OPPS, I forgot to include one of Blu's comments that was straightup B.S.

    Here it goes, and I talk about it being stankin' gator-aid bullshit. "Carey, in that other thread you were all
    flummoxed about 2 Black actors (who are not considered A list, according to you and others) messing up a revered stage play-not because of their race, you just don’t feel they are talented enough. That’s fair. But you show up in every freaking thread tooting this White woman’s story as “the truth”

    Excuse me Ms Blu, I believe I said she was a fine actor. And, "I"? I was tooting this woman's story as "the truth"? The truth, what truth? And please Blu, if you're going to quote me, don't put bullsh*t in my mouth. NOw continue reading and find exactly what I said. Geezzzz, come straight or...

  • CareyCarey | August 11, 2011 7:26 AMReply

    Slow your roll Blu, don't be putting words in my mouth.

    First, rhetoric is a good thing, it leads to further discussions, and every discussion (as you know, when you move outside yourself and your emotions) leads to another discussion. And THAT'S the point I am championing in regards to Michelle's decision to use this book as a teaching tool. You, she or whomever may not agree with the "details" of the book, book again, open discussions as we are having here, can lead to further enlightenment. Hey, in fact, you might want to sign up for her class

    re: negative, now let me explain my words, not YOUR words. And since you referenced another post, I'll follow your lead. The following is my view, my position on negative comments. And before I go there, your following comment is straight up - excuse me - BULLSHIT, tht again is putting your words and your understanding in my mouth, so stop with the jokes, please. The truth, what truth? Blu, come on, miss me with that b.s.

    Now, again, following your lead... my words on negativity:

    Now it’s time cuz some of our black friends coughmeccacough and others have GONE STONE COLD WILD, and have lost their rabid childish minds.

    And I ask, who are the coons and what’s the qualities of a coon? Was “For Colored Girls” coonery, and by extention, all the actors coons. If I am not mistaken, most of what some consider as A-line black actors have been in Tyler’s movies. Is a coon productive, or is he one who sits back and spews non-productive insanities at our leading actors and filmmakers. Is a coon a person who works their craft to the best of their ability or one who talks shit as if he or she is sitting at a game of spades with other drunk negroes…. talking shit?

    I know people have the right to voice their opinions but I have an analogy. At a book website - similar to this movie blog - the same types of “discussions take place, but with one distinct difference… porous and unsubstantiated opinions are seldom directed at the authors. Granted, there are disagreements on “good” “bad” and “quality”, but again, those discussion seldom if ever are directed at the authors of the books in question. For instance, one post “what are you reading now” asked viewers to champion the books they are reading and why? The post received over 8000 hits/views and several comments, and not one focused on what’s wrong with this or that author. Some folks comments - here - spend way to much time in “negative land”. Is that being coon-toon-ish, childish, a damn fool or what? Are they productive?

    Side bar: Many people can’t get with E Lynn Harris, Zane, street lit authors, or even the writing styles of Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison (too many metaphors), however, most adults do not spend their time berating the authors. They champion what they like and leave the rest for those that love them.


    That reminds me, are Tyler’s actors dragging their lips off the ground - with a smile on their face - while someone pokes them in their ass, and they say “Give me some mo boss”? Or do many of his movies make people laugh, cry, sing and have fun.? Are coons laughing along - at coons? I don’t think so.

    Yep, it’s time. It’s time for some folks to take off their fake-ass raised black glove that will expose their sparkly Michael Jackson glove. You know, that glove that glitters but does not sing a word that anyone can take to the bank.

    **waving @ Blu. how you like me now** Negativity comes in all flavors. If a person does not desire to see the other movie you mentioned, cool, that's their perogative and they said why. **

    But I am yet to find the beef in all your rethoric (venting). You've chastized me, but you been coming with that same ol same ol' and you've yet to clearly define what has your panites in such a bunch. I mean, is it the movie, the book, the white woman, me or WTH is really going on.

  • BluTopaz | August 11, 2011 5:58 AMReply

    @ Carey, Why don't you explain how this movie has accomplished all those noble feats? My neighbor who sat through it told me in the flick, the White ingenue shared her profits with several of the maids. With all your rhetoric, do you not see the irony with that little plot twist and the actual lawsuit, where the real life maid also said she was insulted her stolen character refers to her own skin color to a cockroach. What exactly can Black students learn from this flick, and btw why is it only Black people who are being pushed to see it? It's American history, not just Blacks but we are the only ones who are being sold on it so hard, as if we need to celebrate Black History Month early by swallowing this flick.

    It's pathetic that you persist in referring to this whole scenario as "seeking to understand"--what exactly? And for some odd reason you want to believe the critics are dismissing this aspect of our history. In that other thread about the movie Wench, some people are saying they are not interested in seeing it because of the subject matter. What you won't see are others calling them negative, dismissive, opinionated, etc. See the difference?

    And also explain this: in that other thread you were all
    flummoxed about 2 Black actors (who are not considered A list, according to you and others) messing up a revered stage play-not because of their race, you just don't feel they are talented enough. That's fair. But you show up in every freaking thread tooting this White woman's story as "the truth"
    (while disregarding the back story)and apparently self hating Blacks keep running from it. Talk about ass backwards.

  • CareyCarey | August 11, 2011 5:19 AMReply

    *** Standing and giving a resounding applaush for Michelle ***

    Now THAT woman is a deep critical thinker. She’s not running from the “issue(S)” , nor dismissing it because she had a few problems associated with “it“. She is in essence moving herself out of the way and seeking first to understand. She’s embracing all the complexities of this thang called life - racial issues included - and what the overall messages mean to her and “us”. Then she has taken it upon herself to pass said messages to her students by way of an open and honest discussions that are - hopefully - undeterred/HINDERED by the negative opinions of those adults who are so entrenched in their own opinions that they will never budge nor let new ideas and concepts enter their realm of thinking.

    BIG HAT TIP TO, Michelle!

    Do your thang girl, inquiring minds do what to know "all" the truth and not stay stuck in their own limited source of information and quicksand.

  • JMac | August 11, 2011 5:16 AMReply

    Here's some better education.

    http://blacksnob.com/snob_blog/2011/8/11/melissa-harris-perry-hates-her-some-help.html

  • JMac | August 11, 2011 3:42 AMReply

    Knew I should've gone to bed but....

    If your students are being required to watch the film, they better get free admission (no money coming from anyone's pockets to support this "troubl[ing] film) or else that is the most ass backwards teaching exercise I've ever heard of.

  • BluTopaz | August 11, 2011 3:40 AMReply

    It's ass backwards and LAZY on the surface. If she thought the book was "troubling", why would she require her students to read it and watch the movie? Unless the purpose is to highlight Hollywood's one sided depictions of these stories, then I can understand.

    I talked with my neighbor last night who saw it with her church group and they looooved it--they cried, laughed and got angry and regarded it all as a teaching moment. I don't get it. Watch Eyes on The Prize if you need a reminder of how we have been treated in this country, not a White woman's account where one maid crows proudly "white babies love to hug up on some meat" (guess this is why Viola was required to gain 25 lbs, cuz there has never been a slender Black mammy ever) and in the book another maid compares her own dark complextion to a cock roach. Yeah that's educational.

  • Michelle | August 11, 2011 3:05 AMReply

    Dear Tambay,

    This is an excellent review. I loved the thoughtfulness that you brought to your evaluation of "The Help." I have taught the novel and I plan on requiring students to see the film and to read the book this semester in a course that engages the representations of black women domestics in various cultural texts. We'll see how it goes.

    I will see the film soon. Though I am quite troubled by the book because of its general failure to imagine black women's interior lives in any interesting way, I think it is very important to take measure of what thrives in our culture at a particular moment in time. To this end, I think that your notion of entertainment is worth pursuing. In "Only Entertainment," Richard Dyer outlines the questions that the "responsible voice in mass entertainment" raises. These are: "How do you distract people from the horrors of everyday life? What is strong enough to shut it out for a while? How do you bring a little sparkle into the drabness? and also, How can you get on their side, not alienate them with art or education?" I think the importance of you catching your breath and continuing doing the fine work that you do here involves just these questions. As long as we remain critically, thoughtfully, and imaginatively engaged in reviewing/criticizing these films we resist the unchecked reign of white supremacist violence in all its forms; especially when cloaked as entertainment.

    I love the criticism/conversation that I've read here and elsewhere concerning the film and the novel because it means that black folk can still take a break from life's difficulties and yet not be seduced into complicity by those pretending to be on our side. One of my complaints about the film, given the trailers that I have seen on the NYT site, involves the moment depicted when Skeeter asks Aibileen if she knew she would always be a maid. The *be* made my blood boil. My grandmother *worked* as a domestic, but that is not who or what she *was.* For me, this line from the film marks the kind of laziness that you describe in your review of certain moments throughout the film. I mean, come on! The sanitation workers striking in Memphis in 1968 did not carry signs that read, "I AM A SANITATION WORKER." Good grief. "I AM A MAN," is what they said.

    Anyway, thanks again for the review. Catch your breath. And then please continue doing this important work.

  • filmkzp | August 11, 2011 1:56 AMReply

    Great review. I too get the tired (read frustrated) at Hollywood's lack of artistry. There is, however, a simple fix: make your own films. It's hard, but not impossible. Knock the gatekeepers out of the way and tell the story(ies) you want to tell that won't get told. Write your script(s), shoot it(them), and get it (them) to your niche audience(s). And there is always a niche audience. Don't make one film. Make 2, 5, 20, 100. Don't let anyone tell you (us) it can't be done. Do it without thinking about it. It's going to take a while, but it's going to change the world.

    http://aswingintrio.com/

  • JMac | August 10, 2011 12:35 PMReply

    @Other song - You actually know at least two black script writers if not more: Cynthia and Sergio. There have been a small handful of black Nicholl winners. Just have to go to the site: http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/fellows/25thyearbook.html

    Al Carpenter - 2006
    Stephanie Lord - 2006
    Annmarie Morais- 1999

    I know of at least one black writer who either won or made it as a top 10 finalist in the Fox NYTVF sitcom contest in the past. Don't know about this year.

    It would be nice to have a popular one stop shop to learn about or connect with black writers like they do with black engineers, black lawyers, black doctors, etc... There is obswriter.com but that site doesn't look very good. Somebody who's really interested in this should create a nice website about it... hint hint. :D

    The WGA has a lot of links concerning diversity. You could always contact them and get info on it's members or stalk popular screenwriting contests.

  • other song | August 10, 2011 11:12 AMReply

    it's 2011. It's so weird to me that I don't know a single Black writer who's doing it in the spec game or shopping a script around. Getting reads. Opinions or something.

    Meanwhile, I can find out instantly about any other writer (usually White male) who's got a script floating around, even if it hasn't been optioned or purchased. I can find out what they write, get an idea of their style, the types of stories and genres that people are writing these days etc.

    Where are we? do we make the Black list? do we make the Nicholl?

  • Ghost | August 10, 2011 10:48 AMReply

    @ other songs-

    Yes those scripts are out there. The websites you listed feature scripts someone took the time to type and post online.

    We won't take the time to do that for movies like The Wood or Boys in the Hood.
    How many black scripts are in book form that can be bought in stores?
    I can't go to the store and buy scripts of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I can't do that for Cosby Show, Good Times or Static Shock.

    "Good question: where are the"good” scripts that feature lead black characters? Not being recognized by the “right” folks who could get the script optioned/sold or produced, just like the thousands of scripts that feature white leads."

    Because unlike white scripts-there is no crying of this script isn't white enough or coonish enough. Or there is hate for who stars in it.

    We have too many folks that think we ALL live like Precious and Tyler Perry movies. So when something comes along to disprove that-white folks LOVE it and we don't support it.

    We can get decent scripts made if we hate who gets casted in films because said actor/actress hasn't made a career of doing only black films.

    We can't get decent scripts made if we don't support VARIETY. If you don't have variety you end up with trouble.

    Think about it-

    Why is the girl raised by a single father-smart and a virgin?
    Why does the single black mother always have the horny, out of control, gang happy or/and wanabe thug son?
    Why is the nerdy black boy never has black friends ? He is always around whtie kids?
    Why is the black boy in married family stupid or slow?
    Why are black boys adopted by white families and black girls are never adopted?
    Why does the nerdy black have to go to a white school to make it?

    If this is all you are showcasing to black folks. When a black writer tried to buck the system. They can't get any support.

    If you go by Hollywood standards-
    Black men don't raise black boys by themselves.
    Black nerds don't live in the hood.
    White folks have to save us
    White folks can write about US but we can't write about them.

  • CareyCarey | August 10, 2011 8:49 AMReply

    @ Donella, I have also read Barbera Neely (holding Blanche Among The Talented Tenth" in my hand). It was a very delightful read.

    But you know what, from what I've been reading from the compliants of "The Help" by many black folks, they wouldn't be satisfied with Barara's book's either. I mean, if their basic issue/complaint is that a white woman wrote The Help, then maybe they would embrace it. But of the more "serious" issues they longed for or thought were missing in The Help are not deeply examined in any of Ms Neely's book -either.

    Reminder: Tambay said: "This isn’t Ousmane Sembene’s seminal 1966 film Black Girl (La Noire de…) – a film that centered on a character in a somewhat similar predicament as those played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help, but with a far richer, complex, interior life. That film is really all about her interior life. The Help unfortunately is not"

    Yes... unfortunate for some.... but it is, and was, what it was intended to be. It was not intended to be a study, nor portrait of civil rights in "that era". It was not a case study of the life and times of maids... of "that" time period. For some, I believe their basic complaint was the image of a maid. I think it's safe to say this movie was not a White Savior flick, and Barbara Neely's Blanche (who is a maid) is not a down trotten whipped dog who epitomizes all the ills of the po' black women of "that" period. Her story and this story are simply not that kind of party. And some folks will never be satisfied.

    Look, there are wonderful stories written by black authors, on every topic one can think of. The following is a link to the worlds largest African American online book store/club. This link alone will send you to a page that lists 1000 black authors (past & present, and their profiles ). The home page will introduce you to another whole slew of new, old, and upcoming black authors, along with hundreds of reviews. Take a look and then lets talk about black stories and the absence of black writers.

    http://aalbc.com/authors/author1.htm

  • Donella | August 10, 2011 6:50 AMReply

    Blanche on the Lam is part of the "Blanche" series by Barbara Neeley. In it, a black maid in the South solves crimes and comments in thorough, humorous, and perceptive detail on the behavior of her white employers. I love the series and communicated with the author to tell her so. I wondered whether the book had been optioned because it would make an excellent movie. I learned that Queen Latifah had expressed interest, but I am not clear of the status of the project today.

    Also, with The Help, I did read the book and learned that the author actually did have a maid growing up whose name is similar to the fictional maid. The author's former maid, according to either Ebony or Essence, launched a lawsuit against the author's publisher for defamation and exploitation. The author's former maid mentioned she was not asked for permission for her story and that she received no compensation. She also didn't appreciate the skin of her fictionalized character being compared to a cockroach.

    So, while I've read the book, I didn't see the movie. I still have an issue with the persistence of white perspectives of black life dominating the conversation. Plus, with the more sinister aspects of Jim Crow life being erased--rapes, lynching, land-taking and swindling--it serves to make people wonder "why are they so angry?" it wasn't all THAT bad. Just a couple of Cruella de Villes here and there.

    For instance, will we ever know the true story of Strom Thurmond's relationship with his family's black maid and how that relationship came about--intimidation, threats, dominance, or love? A more powerful,courageious story would be told by the black female who lived it rather than the white female who observed it.

  • Kia | August 10, 2011 5:55 AMReply

    Tambay, thank you for that honest review based on what the story lacked as just a "film". I wasn't going to see it anyway, but I appreciate you amazingly written review,

    Kudos.

  • Kia | August 10, 2011 5:54 AMReply

    @ other song

    Good question: where are the"good" scripts that feature lead black characters? Not being recognized by the "right" folks who could get the script optioned/sold or produced, just like the thousands of scripts that feature white leads.

    I'm an emerging writer/producer, all those venues you mentioned and I'll include some other heavyweights: Tribeca All Access, Urban World, Sundance and IFP are extremely competitive. I know writers, who've gone through Tribeca and IFP, but the problem lies in not who the writer, director or producer is and what have they done prior to even getting in those programs, but how will you as the writer or writer/director piggy back off of that opportunity. If you get accepted and expect some producer to do all the work--not happening.

    I do agree with Writer about what makes money gets produced faster, but I'm all in favor of having a annual list" to highlight those spec scripts written by poc and women (b/c we don't get enough shine-- have plenty of good ones).

    Another option would be to follow the lead of some of the filmmakers that have been mentioned on S & A: Find a producing partner and make your own damn feature, which is what I've decided to do.

  • CareyCarey | August 10, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    Damn, I see some folks are still not tired/done. Mecca please, all closed eyes and closed mouths are not sleep. You said you agreed with Tambay 100%, but your comment spoke differently, plus, all you previous "venting" on this movie had absolutely little or no resemblance to what you're "agreeing" to now.

    Serioously, if you're agreeing (100%) with Tambay, did you coughpurposelycough miss the parts "However, I’m sure many will get exactly what they want from the experience of seeing it – entertainment; as long as you’re willing to overlook certain undesirable memes"

    "So you have to ask yourself what exactly you’re expecting to get out of the film, and go into it fully aware of those expectations; they just might be met"

    "This is a film that many have praised for its performances above all else, and, as I’ve said already, it represents what I believe will be the best possibility of an Oscar nomination for a black actor/actress this year, in Viola Davis and/or Octavia Spencer. And I won’t at all be surprised to see both of them nominated, and one of them walking away with the trophy in the Best Supporting Actress category – Viola Davis "

    "But for a book of its nature and origins, I appreciated the author’s attempts to actually give these characters (the black maids specifically) their own lives and thoughts. They may not be fully realized characters, but they aren’t what I’d call 2-dimensional cardboard cut-outs either, or just background fodder"

    And while you're coughing on Orville (and others), did you coughseecoughthecoughcoughmovie? If not, then how can you agree with anything? And if you did see the movie... why? Did you get what you were looking for?

  • JMac | August 10, 2011 5:20 AMReply

    Great review although when I saw the headline I thought "God not another Help post." I'm ready for the film to show and go. Tiredness to the umpteenth percent.

  • Mecca | August 10, 2011 4:39 AMReply

    Wow! This is a great review Tambay I co-sign w/ 100% I am kinda surprised that everyone agrees w/ you I know we had some "Help" movie supporters who had no problem w/ the film and it's message. I guess they are not all out yet *coughs* Orville & others.

    The entire review was right on! Especially, the part when you said, "The pleasantville-like atmosphere the characters exist in is devoid of any real tension, painting a picture that’s far less damning than it needs to be, and thus incomplete, in order to feel authentic.

    It just doesn’t dig deep enough. It’s as if the filmmakers were willing to go only so far with the ugliness and the, dare I say, realness of the period and the relationships. I’m not sure if it was intentional, in that the goal was to produce something with commercial/crossover value (it was based on a New York Times bestseller), or if they were just oblivious.

    But it severely lacks edge, and is far too safe given the story it wants to tell and the era in which it lives."

    I felt the same exact way about "The Help" it was too sugar coated and incomplete it was not examining the lives of Black maids in the deep South of Mississippi in the troubling times dealing w/ different class spectrum between whites vs. Blacks in the same community. It was not authentic it was just another Hollywood created film w/ a vague message not capturing the era of the Civil Rights era.

    Hmm, I am not going to be surprised when this sh*t fest gets a Oscar nom. Hollywood loves white savior films w/ a dash of Black folks seeking "help" from white folks.

    I wonder what Spike Lee thinks about "The Help" *pondering*

  • CC | August 10, 2011 3:53 AMReply

    YES!! Thank you for this review, Tambay. I saw "the Help" about a month ago now, and I've been trying to articulate my thoughts and feelings about the film. I didn't hate it, but I felt...something else, and you nailed it:

    **the lack of historical context

    **the only violence we see in the movie is between a black man and black woman

    **the superficiality of the entire film

    **the 2-dimensional villain

    **something just...missing from the Viola Davis character. She's way too subdued, and, as you put it, "contained"... Viola is an AMAZING actress, but this role contained her power as an actor

    This movie did nothing for me. It didn't evoke any visceral reaction for me at all. It's just unfortunate this is the only movie coming out of Hollywood this summer with black protagonists...

  • Donnie Leapheart | August 10, 2011 3:48 AMReply

    ....The burden of representation....

  • other song | August 10, 2011 3:26 AMReply

    @Writer, where is "out there?"

    That's what I'm trying to figure out. A concrete location, not some abstract sentiment.

    Where are these scripts? What are the genres?

    There are sites like Scriptshadow that review all the scripts circulating in the game. I don't think I've ever seen ONE reviewed that had a Black protag.

    Are these Black scripts on trackingb? Have these scripts won any major screenwriting competition? What happens to all the scripts that come out Cosby's screenwriting program?

    I've been wanting to ask this question for a long time. Can someone do a serious write-up/podcast about "the state of the African American spec market?"

    We can't keep bitching about roles and portrayal when we don't even know whether Black writers exist and what they're writing. It begins with story.

    If we're not writing good enough scripts, then lets step our game up. If we have some AMAZING scripts collecting dust, then let's make noise about it.

    like Tambay, I'm just tired.

  • Lisa | August 10, 2011 3:19 AMReply

    Well said! I thought it was just because I read the book already that I missed the tension and mystery (i.e, what was the "terrible awful" or when and how Celia's husband would find out about Minny). It's disappointing that our community and many women are looking forward to this movie only to be disappointed. I'm very curious about how it will turn out.

  • rennie_davis | August 10, 2011 3:19 AMReply

    What do we (AA community) get for supporting these types of films?
    According to boxofficemojo, Buena vista (sp) is the company behind this movie.
    Let's say we black folks go in mass to see this film, will producers then make quality films about Fannie Lou Hamer, M. McCloud-Bethune, Anna Julia Cooper, I could go on. No, filmmakers will just keep making the same old junk. I'm really beginning to think that when we support this type of entertainment we are working against our own self-interests. I love V. Davis . . . saw her and Denzel in the revival of Fences, (outstanding): but I will have to pass on this.
    To me, Winfrey's, Sophia, in the Color Purple showed me all I want to see about our foremothers' lives as domestics.

  • BluTopaz | August 10, 2011 3:12 AMReply

    "given how limited and shallow the rest of the film looks and feels"

    ...but, but, we NEED our stories told no matter how disingenuous, so we can LEARN about the struggles of our ancestors cuz them self hating Black people blah blah

    Great review, and interesting comparison with Black Girl.

  • writer | August 10, 2011 3:03 AMReply

    The scripts are out there. Nobody is really interested in making them.

    After all, when well reviewed movies like TALK TO ME tank at the BO and Madea makes millions, the studios and folks with money are not going to risk their capital.

  • other song | August 10, 2011 2:58 AMReply

    I feel you tambay. I think a lot of us are deflated.

    I'm curious - what are some of the good Black spec scripts floating around? We always hear about specs that are circulating; some that are about to circulate after winning or qualifying for the Nicholl, Page, etc.

    Where are the Black scripts?

  • Tanya | August 10, 2011 2:55 AMReply

    Great review Tambay!

    I agree with you 100%, I too am exhausted.

    "shifting the conversation to action" -- YES!!!!

  • Vanessa Martinez | August 10, 2011 2:37 AMReply

    aaaahhhhh...this was a good read! Great candid review. I'm definitely seeing it for the performances.

  • Ashley Clark | August 10, 2011 2:23 AMReply

    Wow. Very good piece, from the heart.

    I have just finished reading Ed Guerrero's Framing Blackness for the nth time, and in the light of The Help, the innocuous, well-intentioned The Help, the passage about The Color Purple just knocked me for six.

    I know exactly how you feel about almost not being bothered to enter these wearying discussions all over again...

    Ash
    http://permanentplastichelmet.com

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