‘The Help’: Inspiring or ahistorical portrayal?

Dale Robinette AP In this film publicity image released by DreamWorks Pictures, Emma Stone portrays Skeeter Phelan, left, and Viola … Continued

Dale Robinette


In this film publicity image released by DreamWorks Pictures, Emma Stone portrays Skeeter Phelan, left, and Viola Davis portrays Aibileen Clark in a scene from “The Help.”

“The Help,” the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, launched a strong start opening weekend, earning an estimated $25.5 million and $35.4 million between Wednesday and Sunday.

The movie, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, is based on a Civil Rights-era drama chronicling the relationship between African American domestic workers and white women who employ them in racially segregated Jackson, Miss.

No doubt, fans of the novel as well as buzz around the movie are boosting ticket sales.

Theologians, journalists and artists have been among those sharing their thoughts via columns, blogs and Twitter. Their input prompted discussion threads about the nexus of cinema, merchandising and racial politics; issues facing black authors/actors/screenwriters; the transformative effect of literature; praise for the actresses’ performances; and stories based on their own families.

“BRILLIANT. please go see this movie,” award-winning gospel icon
Kirk Franklin
tweeted Sunday.

Dale Robinette


y FILE image released by Disney, Octavia Spencer, right, and Viola Davis are shown in a scene from “The Help.”

“Saw The Help. My mother and grand were maids in Mississ. Think it is tribute to all the mother sister maids,” media mogul
Oprah Winfrey tweeted Sunday
. “Thought it was true to the book. Civil Rights lite but still good.”

“’The Help’ is inspirational on many levels, but especially for journalists. Go see it make an impact,”
FoxSports.com national columnist Jason Whitlock
tweeted Monday. “As an African-American, go see ‘The Help’ & remember all the people – black and white – who sacrificed for the freedoms we now take 4 granted.”

On her blog, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, Melynda Price wrote Thursday that she was significantly impacted by ‘The Help,” crying for most of the movie for different, complex reasons including “thinking about the way the collective beauty of [the] black community sometimes obscures the individual harms that are done to black women.

Rosetta Ross, associate professor of religious studies at Atlanta’s Spelman College noted in a post Monday for online magazine Religion Dispatches that she will not see the movie.

Among the false messages, Ross posits, is “predominant element of the Western imaginary, the idea that black persons ultimately exist as servants for white life, has long been supported by rhetorical constructions of Christianity. The most obvious examples, of course, were rituals such as catechisms about the necessity for [black] servants to obey [white] masters.”

“That uncomfortable fact of certain American lives – the black servant who cares for a white family – is rooted in slavery, and this relationship undoubtedly is a source of complicated and conflicted emotions both for the caregivers and their charges,” Maud Dillingham wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in a review headlined “Emma Stone and ‘The Help’: Does liking this movie make you racist?”

In an interview with TheGrio.com posted Monday, director Tate Taylor, a Jackson native,
responded to critics who call the movie markedly dated and historically inaccurate.

In a statement released Thursday, some members of the Association of Black Women Historians
argued that movie “distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.” It also noted that their portrayal also resurrects a stereotype of Black women.

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