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A Dissenting view of THE HELP


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In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 9:08:22 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011, 12:41:04 PM PDT
I agree J., because I also feel very comfortable in commenting about the movie, if only in part because I've followed the oft given advice of reviewers as to other films not deemed very worthy of attendance: if you've seen the preview, you've actually seen the best scenes so you don't have to bother seeing the movie. In The Help's case, I was so turned off by the previews with their over the top screams and jumping up and down and phony look of the white characters plus what appeared to be treacly sentimentality that I couldn't imagine sitting through it.

The MSNBC review mentioning "loves" of fried chicken was more than enough warning.

Perhaps when the DVD comes out, I could see it at home and fast forward scenes, but what's the point? Even if the church gospel music and newsreel type footage on civil rights added to the book, as it appeared to do, and even if the scenes leading up to the preview punch lines were more nuanced that it appeared, I've seen enough. I know the premise and heartily agree with the caustic comment on Jon Stewart's show: Aren't white people amazing?

I don't want to see a "feel good" movie about this subject, regardless of how good Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are--and I've heard they're excellent. After actor Wendell Pierce posted his less than favorable comments about the movie, particularly his mother's angry reaction to it, he took pains to go back and say he thought it was "well made." He said that Davis and Spencer and some of the other black actors are his friends. He said he's happy of course that they have an opportunity to show their acting abilities, even though he found the movie less than admirable.

.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 9:43:55 AM PDT
Kim Stewart says:
Point well taken. I just have a problem with criticizing the content of the movie without seeing it.

Concerning your post about the tendency to become someone online that we're not in person - is that the truth. I was particularly sarcastic in one of my posts some time ago, and I realized it as soon as I got blasted for it. It's almost a universal tendency online - to express emotion, especially negative emotions, when your identity is not front and center.

I give credit to Bmack for admitting she had not read the book. That admission was her choice.

This blog is a serious discussion, where thoughtful commentary is presented with care. You can tell this without reading the comments. Just scan the comments, not for content, but for typographical errors. With a rare exception here and there, there aren't any. That is certainly not the norm for many other blogs I've seen on the web.

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 11:37:32 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011, 11:43:31 AM PDT
Onyx says:
Hello All,

Dang but you ladies have such good conversations. I wish Christina Bucher would come back :(

I have a plan though. I will ask that she return each week and maybe she will (if anyone knows her, can you give her the message?)

Anyway, time for some nice juicey gossip.

The lawsuit is back on. What lawsuit you say?
Well, the one where Ablene Cooper who IS Aibileen Clark in physical description and part of the back story anyway, imho.

Now, during the hearing info on whether the statute of limitations had expired (it had) there was a note that Stockett wrote to Ablene Cooper with a copy of the book gifted to her a month before it was published.

Yet in interviews Stockett says "I don't know this person"

So why would you gift them with a copy of your novel and a lovely note thanking her for watching your brothers kids ( a girl and boy - hmmm. could they be the inspiration for Mae Mobley and Lil' Ross?)

The plaintiff's lawyer did not have a copy of the note when the judge asked to see it. The case was dismissed because Cooper should have read the book back in 2010 at the latest and filed in 2010, but she waited until 2011.

Would you believe somehow the lawyer came up with a copy of the note AFTER THE VERDICT and an appeal has been filed.

I mean, this thing keeps getting wackier and wackier. So my guess as far as who had the note and still has the original in a safe place?

Stockett's brother Robert. And he could blow the lid off all the secrecy if he'd just hook Ablene Cooper up with more info.

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 11:53:39 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011, 11:57:31 AM PDT
Onyx says:
Okay, here's more about the note which is looking more like a letter:

". . . Sanders submitted to the court a copy of the handwritten letter along with his request that the judge reconsider her ruling.

In the letter, Stockett says she only met Cooper a few times, but was thankful she worked for the writer's brother because his kids love her so much. The letter was sent to Cooper with a copy of The Help, according to court records.

`One of the main characters, and my favorite character, is an African American child named Aibileen,' the letter said. `Although the spelling is different from yours, and the character was born in 1911, I felt I needed to reach out and tell you that the character isn't based on you in any way.'

The letter goes on to say the book is `purely fiction' and inspired by Stockett's relationship with `Demetrie, who looked after us and we loved dearly.' The letter is referring to Demetrie McLorn, the Stockett family's housekeeper, who died when the author was a teenager.

An affidavit that accompanies the letter said Cooper knows Stockett, has kept her child before, and had no reason not to trust her.

Stockett, however, has said she doesn't know Cooper and was living in New York the whole time Cooper worked for Stockett's brother.

`If you add up the number of secconds where we've seen each other, it would be maybe 10 or 15,' Stockett said during a panel discussion following a screening of the movie at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia earlier this month. `I met her twice . . .' "

Link: http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20110820/NEWS/108200336/Reinstatement-sought-Help-lawsuit

******
I think there's a transcription error on the part of the paper, because it says "child" when Aibileen is an adult.

Demetrie Mc Lorn didn't have any children. Demetrie is a much lighter complexioned woman than Aibleen Cooper and a lot heavier. Aibileen Cooper has a gold tooth, lost an adult son prior to coming to work for Stockett's brother.

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 11:56:48 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011, 11:58:07 AM PDT
Could it be the pie blackmail in reality?? What's something worse than eating s_ _ t? Having the whole world think you're a sh_ _y mother (and an absent father??)...Dollars to doughnuts Ms. Robert sews slip covers! Literally and/or figuratively...

I'm just going out on a limb here...really, I'm full of nonsense :)

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 12:04:24 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011, 12:25:15 PM PDT
Onyx says:
Julia,

Now it makes sense what Stockett's dad reportedly stated. ABC.com reported that Stockett's dad said he would have changed some factual things in the novel. I'll find the quote and post it.

Edited to include quote:

Excerpt:
"The author's father, Robert Stockett Jr. of Jackson Miss., told ABCNews.com that he is "neutral" in the division between his son and daughter, but agreed that plenty of people are profiting, especially filmmakers who plan to release a movie version of the book this year.

`Sure, I liked the book. It's fiction. They didn't give me the critics' copy until it was too late,` he said. `I would have got some factual things changed. But I'm low down the totem pole . . .' "

Link: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/lawsuit-black-maid-ablene-cooper-sues-author-kathryn/story?id=12968562&page=1

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 3:18:45 PM PDT
Chitown Lady says:
Hello Onyx,
As most of the writers on your post, I was appalled by Ms. Stockett's comment. Furthermore, I'm tired of the in considerate Big Wigs in Hollywood who disregard our (blacks) plight in American History. Also, I'm disgusted from the readers who think we just need to, "get over it" because to them it's fiction and it's funny. There's nothing funny about portraying stereotypes or people who have suffered from oppression PERIOD. I can't help but wonder how would Hollywood producers/film makers feel if a movie with the Holocast as its theme be made with a comedic flair.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 3:55:57 PM PDT
Mariah says:
Amen - and I am not black. There needs to be a boycott or letter-writing campaign to Dreamworks and Voltage. Dreamworks should have been far more aware.

Why aren't there real films about black people's lives? Because American is actually still so segregated (from Boston to Miami to Los Angeles County) that Americans only want fairy tales?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 4:46:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011, 4:51:26 PM PDT
Dear Chitown Lady,
Thank you for your comments. I'm in total agreement.

By the way, a film with "comedic flair" WAS made about the Holocaust. It was called The Boy With the Striped Pajamas. In it, a little boy who had been sent to the camps with his family sat at the edge of barbed wire and struck up a friendship with a German boy who was living with his Nazi family on the other side of the wire. That the boy in the striped pajamas (concentration camp issue) looked well fed and normal and that these two boys would be able to play together in the first place seemed ludicrous fantasy...as well as being manipulative. The dramatic highpoint suddenly switched to tragedy when the German boy, who somehow got inside the camp more than once to be with his little friend, did not come out. His mother discovered his absence and realized that he had gone to the gas chambers with his friend.

Another such Holocaust film was the light and breezy, attempting to be charming, A Beautiful Life starring an Italian actor playing a camp victim who carves out a magical life for his son by making it all a game, rather than letting him know what was actually happening to them in the camps. I did not find this film charming.

I wonder what would have happened if the African American actresses had refused to be cast in The Help, or if these same actresses, one supposedly a great friend of Stockett's, had not gone around with her, apparently joined at the hip in gladhanding the book and the movie.

But I'm expecting too much. We all want to make a living and be recognized for our abilities. Serious roles are few and far between for any women, for any women of a "certain" age, and for African American women. Stockett had them where she wanted them: would they turn down this film when it was an opportunity to shine and possibly be nominated for an Academy Award? Hattie McDaniel faced a similar dilemma, only at that time the only roles for African Americans were in servile positions. She won an Academy Award for playing a maid in Gone With the Wind. The year was 1939.

Has that much changed?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 4:57:43 PM PDT
I agree, Mariah.

The studio marketing campaign has already tried to preempt any objection by a sentence here and there saying that some African Americans objected to the story, but, etc. etc. The Entertainment Weekly article about the film went on for pages about how some might be disastisfied but that the film was wonderful, with wonderful performances. As a token, they gave a sidebar to an African American woman to voice her objections. The underlying message was that only "black people" (obviously thnose getting all in a snit, came the implication, about a white person writing about black people) objected.

The rest of us should speak out wherever we can. Maybe Entertainment Weekly deserves a letter or two. Certainly Dreamworks should be contacted, as you suggested.

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 6:00:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011, 6:09:12 PM PDT
Onyx says:
There's a couple of things here.

First, The Help novel and movie are basically no different than the films that used to come out during segregation.

Some people love them (book or movie) because it appears Stockett took them into a "World" they never knew existed or were not privy to.

But what does that say when people don't bother to know American History? Because the civil rights movement was American History, as it documented one of the greatest struggles ever for human rights.

Yet you have some readers more invested in Skeeter getting fictional maids together for a fictional novel, all while the maids behave stereotypically, and some people claim its a beautiful story.

I find that whole thing ironic.
The novel and the movie simply put Delilah from Imitation of Life and Mammy (though she's younger) from Gone With The Wind in the same movie. Oh, and Constantine is simply Ethel Waters, thrown in for another caricature.

Since Stockett graduated with a degree in English and Creative Writing she had to know about these previous books, and their controversy.

Part of the problem is the book and the movie have tapped into a nostalgia that some think is lovely because it didn't make them uncomfortable ("they did show how bad the blacks had it! They had a scene on Medgar Evers death" and other comments)

Unfortunately,
All the maids are either without a significant other by the end of the movie, like the book which is par for the course in other movies created with African American females as maids during segregation.

While the book was offensive in how it portrayed the absentee males of Constantine and Aibileen, the movie stuck with the loathsome Leroy, omitting Connor and Clyde.

From what I read, Constantine and Aibileen are alone, just because. And no one wonders why. This is similar to Delilah and Annie in both versions of Imitation of Life, Granny Johnson in Pinky, Mammy in Gone With The Wind, and a few other books I have to recall.

It seems for some authors (like Stockett) black women are either asexual after a certain age (though the real life Demetrie was married up until her death) or we're having way too many kids (people seem to miss the hints Stockett left in the book of Aibileen's two sisters having 18 kids between the two of them).

And Minny, with a sixth child on the way though I don't believe the movie has her with that many kids. I don't see Kindra in the cast listing.

Some of the counter opinions on the novel need to make the distinction that its not the domestic profession that's the issue (otherwise it reads like the writer is dissing domestics and those who love Stockett's take are jumping all over this)

The issue is Stockett using known stereotypes to make her characters "admirable" and "Funny" and what these characters all have in common is their devotion/loyalty to the main protag.

Which was another requirement of the films with blacks in them during segregation. That was the only way a minority could be considered "Good"

Sidney Poitier tried saving Tony Curtis when they were both running for a moving train. Sidney could have escaped, yet in that moment when Tony Curtis' character pulled him (accidently) off the train, Poitier became "good" in the film The Defiant Ones.

There was another film where Sidney fought a guy on behalf of Nick Cassevettes character, and Sidney's character died. Willing to step in and fight on behalf of his friend, Sidney was again "good".

Same thing with Aibileen, Minny and Constantine. Skeeter is the lead character. They are "good" only because they assist her and in Minny's case, because she's funny. They're "good" because they're loyal to the kids they raise (Mae Mobley, Lil Man, Celia, whose an infantile adult)

Some people are responding to the stereotypes and don't even realize it.

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 6:28:26 PM PDT
Great post!! Oh, and Minny earns another 'good' badge by saving Celia from Freaky Naked Dude

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 7:15:02 PM PDT
http://www.mediaite.com/tv/melissa-harris-perry-breaks-down-the-help-ahistorical-and-deeply-troubling/

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 8:29:51 PM PDT
Kim Stewart says:
Hi Sarah,

I read the Entertainment Weekly sidebar by a black woman writer, and I didn't think it was a token handout. Martha Southgate presented a strong critique of the book and movie, and she eloquently represented a point that has been a major theme on this blog - that white people weren't the key activists in the Civil Rights movement as Hollywood would have you think. Here's a segment of her essay and the link follows:

"...Even more troubling, though, is how the structure of narratives like The Help underscores the failure of pop culture to acknowledge a central truth: Within the civil rights movement, white people were the help.

The architects, visionaries, prime movers, and most of the on-the-ground laborers of the civil rights movement were African-American. Many white Americans stood beside them, and some even died beside them, but it was not their fight - and more important, it was not their idea.

Implicit in The Help and a number of other popular works that deal with the civil rights era is the notion that a white character is somehow crucial or even necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation. What's more, to imply that what the maids Aibileen and Minny are working against is simply a refusal on everyone's part to believe that ''we're all the same underneath'' is to simplify the horrors of Jim Crow to a truly damaging degree.

This isn't the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. Most Hollywood civil rights movies feature white characters in central, sometimes nearly solo, roles. My favorite (not!) is Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning, which gives us two white FBI agents as heroes of the movement. FBI agents! Given that J. Edgar Hoover did everything short of shoot Martin Luther King Jr. himself in order to damage or discredit the movement, that goes from troubling to appalling.

Why is it ever thus? Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That's a shame. The continued impulse to reduce the black women and men of the civil rights movement to bit players in the most extraordinary step toward justice that this nation has ever known is infuriating, to say the least. Minny and Aibileen are heroines, but they didn't need Skeeter to guide them to the light. They fought their way out of the darkness on their own - and they brought the nation with them."

Link: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20516492,00.html

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 8:40:24 PM PDT
Perhaps the wrong word was my "token," but that had nothing to do with her contribution. It was eloquent. I wasn't diminishing it. Instead, I was talking about the SPACE granted by EW. A sidebar does not an article make, so that to me made it token. She should have been given more space, because she had much more to say that the puff PR glib pages about The Help. Do people read sidebars? Not so much.

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 8:49:34 PM PDT
Kim Stewart says:
Sarah,

Well, let's agree to disagree a bit on this one. You bet, compared to the entire 'Help' coverage, Ms. Southgate's essay was not long at all. But EW was careful to give it the prime placement on the page (according to marketing research, at least): the upper left hand corner, the spot where our eyes first land when looking at a page (out of habit, I guess).

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 9:04:16 PM PDT
Chitown Lady says:
Hi Sarah,

Thanks for educating me on that. I always learn something from these post. I have one more comment about Ms. Stockett's comment about, "making that s*** up. Do you think she would have made a comment like that in front of a room full of white journalist? My common sense tells me that she would've value her journalistic skills in a higher regard and gave quite an intelligent response about her writing skills.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 9:16:41 PM PDT
Yes, I do grant you that--it was well placed, so I'd perhaps not conclude that it wasn't read. I just objected to the length and blatant public relations piece for The Help, but then again, that's the way magazines operate--especially EW. They made up their editorial minds that they would support The Help and everything else followed.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 9:26:02 PM PDT
I agree that Stockett's "making that s*** up" comment was demeaning in all respects--particularly to her audience. (That's why the applause revolts me.) Was she trying to get cozy with them? That adds to her condescension. I don't think for one moment that she would have spoken so "off the cuff" with off color language to people she considered a serious audience...worthy of respectfully esoteric words.

Such self-depreciation happens often in real life but we need to examine the context and intent as to the message. For example, the elegantly well dressed woman who rushes to assure someone that the beautiful clothes were all purchased at a thrift shop for $5.99 may be (or is) providing a message: I'll tell you because I don't care about impressing you and can afford to let my hair down to be "just folks."

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 11:21:53 PM PDT
Mariah says:
The comments on the distorted view of the black family and the absence of black men in The Help made me curious. Stockett is way off, and a simple Goggle search (1 minute) could have provided a more realistic view. In 1960, 74% of black households were composed of married couples. Only 22% were "female householder," women living alone.

http://www.census.gov/apsd/www/statbrief/sb93_2.pdf

Posted on Aug 31, 2011, 11:36:28 PM PDT
Mariah,
Precisely.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011, 11:53:56 PM PDT
Thank you, Mariah for some facts. I don't believe that Stockett is too concerned with them. She has her suppositions and stereotypes to stand in for any research. She doesn't appear to have done much soul searching. In my book group, the book was often described as "shallow." From what I've read--transcripts of her at various interviews-- I'd say that word fits her public face. Does she have a private one?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2011, 6:05:16 AM PDT
Kim Stewart says:
You bet, that's EW's mindset. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a negative piece that's the issue's cover story. It's all very upbeat and breezy.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2011, 6:12:29 AM PDT
C. Pugh says:
Absolutely true--the Civil Rights Movement was not the idea of white protesters and to say they were in the minority would be a huge understatement. In the sense of "ownership," right again--whites had no claim. But to say it wasn't their movement obscures an underlying truth, best expressed by one Freedom Rider in the recent documentary of that name. When asked why he felt it was HIS responsibility, as a white person, to participate, he said eloquently: "It's everyone's responsibility. It's just that some people are more aware of that than others." We are in this sinking boat together.

That the Movement was everyone's fight isn't supported merely by the truism that if one person isn't free, we all aren't free. It's supported by current economic and political realities. True, Latinos and African Americans are bearing the brunt of the current crisis. One estimate is that between 94 and 97, they have lost approximately half of their collective wealth while white Americans have lost only 17%. On the basis of that obscene disparity, it would seem reason to assert that the battle for economic justice isn't a "white battle." But poor and even many formerly middle class whites ARE losing their homes and their jobs and, no doubt given the government focus on the deficit, more will be joining them. In other words, although statistically, white suffering is minor compared to that of Americans of color, white suffering stems from the same enemies. Racism in the South kept poor whites in thrall to a system that oppressed them. It's a vicious aspect of human nature that, stripped of dignity, the average human being will look for some neck to step on.

In the same way, oppressed groups often pit themselves against others, not the enemy. I was uncomfortable with the question about how "Hollywood" would feel if the Holocaust were portrayed as lightly as The Help portrays racist Mississippi. Since Hollywood doesn't give a rat's behind about anything but profits, I understood the question as code for how would Jews feel.

Again, African Americans, of course, were the target of racist practices and whites were not. African Americans populated and led the fight against racism in the 60s and whites certainly were merely The Help. But all of us are impoverished by a culture rooted in bigotry. It is a fight we all need to wage. The only question is who will/did lead, and the answer from the publishing and film industries has always been a lie.

Posted on Sep 1, 2011, 8:51:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 1, 2011, 8:51:36 AM PDT
Onyx says:
CHRISTINA!!!!!!! YEAH! Welcome back. Thanks for the link.

Very cool facts being given here, thanks Mariah for the stats.

Honestly, I think there's a double standard here. Stockett being allowed to skate when a male (like William Styron) was roasted.

Shoddy research, and statements that make me smh (shake my head)

I think some critics don't want to rock the boat because they believe no matter how flawed, its an important issue that needs to be covered.

True enough, but not with a highly polarizing book and now movie like The Help.

I can see a broadway musical, much like the Scottsboro boys coming up.
In fact, here's a poster I created for the premiere:

http://goo.gl/8eAxU
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Initial post:  Jan 17, 2010
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The Help
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Paperback - 2010)
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