But it's clear that the main concern for this group and for most of the African Americans who have taken issue with the book and film is centered around the protagonist of the film itself. This is evidenced in the concluding paragraph of The Association Of Black Woman's Historians statement:
In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainmentIn other words many African Americans see this as yet another film championing The Great White Hope. They're pissed that Hollywood (and, in this case, the literary world as well) is using their civil rights movement to pimp a white character, suggesting that people of color not only need a brave, progressive white individual to lead them into action but to convince them to take any action at all. The good whites save minorities from their bad white oppressors. This feels both insulting and inaccurate to minorities. To quote one blogger, "When it came to the civil rights movement, whites were the help."
I understand the criticism. In fact I relate to it so much that I didn't read the book until someone lent it to me and don't plan to see the movie until it's free on demand.
And yet I actually don't have a problem with the book or the movie as an individual entity. For me the problem is the individual movies that are not being shown.
You see I do believe that when one group of people are deprived of basic civil rights it's not just a problem for the group that's being discriminated against. It's also a problem for the entire society in which they live. Minorities in this country have been playing an extremely difficult game of catch up ever since the civil rights act was passed. Since our grandparents were frequently deprived of the right to an education that was on par to their white peers our parents were not able to turn to them for academic or career guidance and obviously there were no family homes or farms to inherit and often not enough money to provide a stable home environment conducive to learning. And of course the passage of the civil rights act didn't actually erase racism or the discrimination that held so many back. It wasn't until the late 1990s and early 2000s that a large percentage of minority families began to find themselves in the position to buy property and those minorities were often steered toward those toxic mortgages even when they had strong income or credit. In fact studies show that blacks were five times more likely to be guided toward a high interest subprime mortgage loan then their white counterparts who had equal and lower income. Many of those same black families were later forced into foreclosure that contributed to the housing crisis. We all know that the housing crisis was NOT simply a black problem. It was an EVERYBODY problem. It screwed up our whole economy in the same way that surging minority unemployment is adding to our nation's overall financial struggles now. It's a perfect example of how whites have a vested interest in ensuring that EVERYONE is given equal access to good information, opportunity and education and are treated fairly. That's just sound economic policy.
It's also the moral thing to do. Prejudice against any group brings hate into a society. It builds fear, resentment and insecurity within both the group that is being discriminated against AND the those who are surrounded by peers who are trying to victimize that minority group. Prejudice weakens our society and all the individuals within that society. Therefore the oppression of African-Americans isn't a "black story," it's an American story. If Stockett wanted to create a protagonist who was able to find herself by taking part in what is a human struggle I don't begrudge her that. There were many white Americans who did exactly that during the height of the civil rights movement. They defied their peers and fought for what was right. And yes, sometimes they acted as motivators for some of the minorities they had the opportunity to speak with.
That's part of this American story and it needs to be told.
But it's not the whole story. In fact it's really just a small fraction of it. Because for the most part the civil rights movement really was a grassroots movement within the black community. It was Rosa Parks who decided she would no longer move to the back of the bus. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who inspired us. It was Malcom X who told us our anger was justified and needed to be acted on. Regardless of what you may think of these leaders they, and many others like them, were the leaders of this movement. And they were black.
But Hollywood has barely given them as much as a nod since the beginning of the 21st century.
Mississippi Burning. It was about two white FBI agents investigating the murder of civil rights workers. None of the main characters in the film were black. Some in the black community objected to that but personally I liked the movie. It spoke to the atmosphere in the country during a turning point in our history and it spoke to the conflicts that existed within the white community about the changes that were taking place. Again, it's a story that needs to be told.
It also debuted in the same decade as The Color Purple, Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, Gandhi (a movie about East Indians standing up for East Indians), The Last Emperor (a movie about the changing society of China as seen through a CHINESE perspective) and so on. In that environment movies like Mississippi Burning seemed to fill in an overall narrative that was being told. In fact the 80s were ushered in by the mini-series Roots and by the time the decade had reached its last year Malcolm X was already in production.
Similarly, in the literary world, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou were big names and their work was being marketed to everyone.
I hope this trend is going to change because I honestly don't think that Sockett or Michael Lewis (who wrote the book The Blind Side was based on) deserve the wrath of the black community.
The problem is not the books and movies that are being marketed and fed to the public. The problem is the books and movies that we're not being given a chance to experience.
And that's not a black problem, it's an American one.
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SO MUCH FOR MY HAPPY ENDING