I saw the previews for the movie "The Help" created from the book by Kathryn Stockett. We made it a girl's night. K stayed home and put the girls to bed, while I headed to the movie with my aunt and step mom. Why I thought a movie about black maids in a white suburban neighborhood in the middle of the civil rights movement was going to be light hearted and funny escapes me now, but that is the impression I had going in.
As I sat in the theater I realized how wrong I was. Before I get into it any further I should say that I am not an expert in racial matters by any stretch... I often think that if people made less of a big deal over race, racism would be extinguished more quickly. I don't see color, and judge people on their merits as humans... not the color of their skin. My husband is West Indian, and my babies are what I would call mulatto, though I'm not sure if that is even an acceptable term or not. I won't call them mixed... dogs are mixed, my babies are not. I suppose bi-racial would be the most appropriate term. To sum it up, I don't profess to know much at all about stereotypes, but I know that movie was one HUGE pile of stereotypes that hurt blacks and whites alike.
I loved the sentiment and feeling behind the line "You is kind. You is smart. You is important". I felt bad for the little girl who lacked mommy's attention because mommy was too busy and important to play. I liked that the maid took such good care of her... but the same feeling could have been accomplished with proper grammar. I don't recall any other part of the movie where the grammar was so obviously poor.
My beef really is the fact that the overall feeling in the movie is that somehow because these maids told a few stories about their bosses, and 'took down' Miss Hillie, the Queen B, it was some kind of retribution for a lifetime of horrendous treatment. That's right, we told the whole world that you have a mark on your table. That definitely makes up for making me use an outhouse because "they carry different diseases". Somehow these abused maids were vindicated because of one little book, and yet the story ends with Abby essentially losing her job, never to work again?
It also seemed that any white person who didn't treat their maid badly was portrayed as being slow witted or naive. Even the main character Skeeter was not like the rest. She was lanky and not very pretty (at least in the book) and silly for wanting to work. But somehow this shy gawky character grew enough of a backbone to write book that could have gotten her in a lot of trouble. This character who was the only one to stand up to Hillie, desperately sought the approval of the big time editor. This character who walked out on her date because he drank too much, burped at the table and put women down, cried when he left her when he found out she wrote the book. I say if you're going to write a strong character, then write a strong character.
Celia, the slutty woman from the wrong side of the tracks is gracious with her maid, Minny. She sits down to have lunch with her at the same table despite Minny's requests not to. Celia is not accepted into the group, she is not invited to the bridge club, or asked to participate in the local fund raising. Secondly, the mother of Hillie who is kind with her maid. Laughs when Hillie 'eats Minny's shit'. Is then sent off to a home. Once again, clearly not of sound mind, and not wanted around.
I sat rather rigidly uncomfortable through the movie, not knowing if I wanted to laugh or walk out. Thinking that I would have rung the neck of any person who dared to speak to my husband or my children in that manner, I'm glad I was born in this decade! I felt angry for those maids, I felt sad for them, and then I felt stupidly vindicated... at least I did until I thought about it.
Now I just feel like this movie is one big racial slur in a dress. It's pretty on the outside, with lots of laughs... until you look a little deeper.
I hope I have not unintentionally offended anybody. I find it difficult to be eloquent when I'm this annoyed.
For further reading about racialization in this book and movie see the following links.
The Association of Black Women Historians
A Critical Review of the Novel The Help