Sunday, August 14, 2011

why I don't like 'the help'

I was expecting to not like The Help (the movie about African American domestic workers in 1960s Mississippi) very much, but I liked it a little bit better than that. I came away with mixed feelings. As any review of the movie will tell you, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who play the two main characters, are exceptional. Between them they carry the movie. The rest of the cast is pretty two-dimensional, with the exception of Allison Janney, who portrays a cancer stricken woman in her 50s, who admits to not having been a very courageous white person in 1950s and 1960s Mississippi.

To me that was refreshing to hear. Most people who live through difficult times are not courageous. I think we all like to think that had we been Germans during Hitler's time, things would have turned out differently because we would have stood up for our Jewish neighbors, and the Nazis wouldn't have been able to do what they did. We like to think that had we been white in the segregated South the civil rights movement would have had an easier time, because we would have stood up for the Blacks.

The truth is that we, most people, would have done exactly what most people always do: Nothing. We wouldn't have been brave, we wouldn't have wanted to risk our jobs, or our family's safety. We would have been more concerned with appearances than with politics.

What I dislike about movies like The Help is that they make it look easy. As white Americans we can watch that movie and imagine ourselves being the young writer, the young woman who takes it upon herself to tell the stories of the Black domestic workers. We don't imagine ourselves where most of us would have been: playing bridge in the front room, wearing pearls, heels, and fake smiles, while our Black maids raise our children for us.

If you don't agree with me, if you think that you are an exception, and that you would have been brave in the 1960s, let me ask you this: Who are you standing up for now? How do you show bravery today?


Katie H said...

I most totally agree with you (rather than just certainly!)! I thought about this when I was in Colorado, and people were protesting the illegal detentions in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, or now, with Bradley Manning... so I click the links for Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, etc., I educate my family and friends about what's going on, but I don't have money to lend, or a house to sell in order to help anyone. I ponder whether I could make a difference becoming a new Rachel Corrie and stand in front of a tank, but in reality, the heroes of yesterday are those who made continuous effort to stay engaged, stay informed, work together, and fight injustices all the way. It's not like they're hard to find, those injustices. C'mon, just look at the preferential treatment visual learners get in our society, to name one. Most grades are based on testing through visual learning, as in reading and writing - that excludes 2/3 of the population who learn better through auditory or kinesthetic means, who then go on to lower paid jobs. And that's around us every day. Did I stand up for Troy Davis? No. Do I speak out against peoples ignorance regarding sexual assault? Yes, but not every time I hear it. Do I fight politician's wages being thrice that of an average workers? Nope, not that either... though I know it sucks. But every once in a while, I remind myself that I do carry someone's groceries for them, I do reach out a hand to pat a stranger on the back when they might need it, and I do recycle. The rest, I am working on.

Lotta K said...

I'm glad you so most totally agree!!

We also forget, at least I do, that the heroes of yesterday were well organized. Rosa Parks had had great training, and had a network of support. That's usually were I fail. I hate meetings... On the other hand, we teach, and that's a pretty good place to be too.