SPOILER ALERT: I may divulge details of the film in this post. POST SPOILER ALERT: I am not a fan of The Help.
I came out of The Help feeling almost angry at the audience’s emotional reaction to the film. The people around me seemed to accept this fiction as an authentic tale of a white girl’s victory over racism and left the theater feeling moved and full of hope. Many people with whom I discussed the film were surprised to hear that it was not a true story and was in fact written by a white woman. The movie was pretty upbeat throughout considering the subject matter and ended on a very happy note leaving white movie-goers secure in the knowledge that racism is behind us and that we can somehow feel proud that we now acknowledge black people as our equals.
I’ve been told that I am, just maybe, being a bit dramatic about all this and that it’s great to see a commercially successful film offering lead roles to black actresses. The fact that we are somehow cheered by some half-decent roles just underscores the persistence of racism in our collective consciousness. I am also completely baffled by Octavia Spencer’s Oscar nomination and her SAG and Golden Globe wins. Her character, Mini, is a sterotypical sassy mammy who seems satisfied that her opression has been reconciled by putting a bit of poop in someone’s pie. While I appreciated Viola Davis’ more subtle performance, her character feels flat and inauthentic when compared to the conflicted Mrs. Miller in Doubt. For Viola’s thoughts on the matter, check out The Hollywood Reporter’s Actress Roundtable here.
I acknowledge that the film contains some positive messages, like the importance of courageously standing alone against the majority, but The Help simplifies the issue of racism beyond recognition. I would love to see a movie one day that gives a voice to second class citizens and portrays a stereotyped group as complex individuals, but this was not that film.
Now go read The Color Purple or something.