I’m sure it stings a bit losing the Best Actress award, but if you had to lose to someone, there’s no shame in coming in behind Meryl Streep. I am just as happy that Octavia Spencer won an Academy Award for a performance in a movie that I will never watch as I was for Monique winning an Academy Award for a performance in a movie that I will never watch.
Once upon a time, Halle Berry was supposedly looking at playing Elaine Brown, the Black Panther who wrote “A Taste of Power.” Anyone wanna guess why that flick never got green lit and Halle is doing crap going straight to DVD now?
I want to see Black women being able to play leaders of entire countries like Streep instead of their hired help. Why settle for sistas always having to play subservient roles like this? You think Denzil or Samuel L. would play a sassy butler in 2012?
I’ve been asked, “How can you criticize a book you didn’t read and a movie you didn’t watch?” The answer, is I can’t, but then I’m not criticizing the work, I’m criticizing the part Davis and Spencer played. Not the performance. The role itself.
What I know about ‘The Help’ is there is a Black woman who says Kathryn Stockett stole her life’s story and made a gazillion bucks from it. What I know about ‘The Help’ is not all books and not all movies are made for all people. I’m not picketing any bookstores selling the book or theaters showing the movie. By all means, enjoy them both.
However, I don’t see any reason to say I have to support an artist when they are engaged in a project I’m not interested in. I remember when Halle won for her Oscar for Monster’s Ball and even Angela Basset, dogged her out for that role. Maybe that’s someone’s favorite flick, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who really likes Monster’s Ball. Haven’t Black folks reached the stage where we don’t have to shrug our shoulders and accept whatever old, White and male Hollywood serves up as their preferred version of entertainment.? What’s wrong with demanding and expecting movies that makes us feel good about images depicted on-screen?
I would love to see Viola Davis in a contemporary adult love story with her paired with someone like Idris Elba, There is a market for films pitched to Black audiences. Tyler Perry has proven that to be true. Those kind of films don’t get produced by Hollywood. But Black women as maids or morbidly obese illiterates brutalized by their psychotic mammas? Comin’ right up!
You get what you’re willing to put up with. I’m looking for some portrayals of Black women and men that don’t revolve around telling little White girls how kind, smart and important they are. Sue me for my unreasonably high standards.
Hattie McDaniel won a Best Supporting Actress award for playing a maid in 1939. 73 years later and I’m supposed to pump my fist for another sister playing a domestic?. I get it that Black women have played servants, maids, domestics and all that good stuff. They have those roles down pat. Can’t we move on to playing something else yet? If Sisters in Outer Space are too far-fetched, how about at least a doctor or lawyer? Can an executive in Hollywood concede that’s not too wild an idea?
I don’t write scripts, but I do know there are stories to tell and movies to be made about Fannie Lou Hamer and Coretta Scott King and Kathleen Cleaver and Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm and other sistas who ain’t wiping no little White kid’s snotty nose.
There are a plethora of stories to be told about Black women leading countries, freeing slaves, fighting for their civil rights and just to be accepted as women. I’m 56 years old now and I’m getting pretty damn tired waiting around for a decent movie about Black women who were the backbone of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. When are those stories going to get around to being told?
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer need something more than the recognition of an Oscar. They need the validation of roles that allow them to stretch and show their talents as actresses. They deserve better and we do too.
Just how good is Davis anyway? Until she begins to receive the opportunities and roles Meryl Streep gets to showcase her skills, we may never know.
- Academy Awards 2012: Is there a black female Oscar curse? (thegrio.com)
- Viola Davis speaks on her Journey to the Oscars (travelingblackchicks.com)
- Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon Kerry Washington, Paula Patton, Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer,kelly Rowland, Tika Sumpter Photos + Video (binsidetv.net)
- Guest Post: Mixed Feelings On ‘The Help’s Oscar Nominations (thinkprogress.org)
If I wanted to waste the time, I could fill up my blog with posts of nothing but updates of the Stupid Stuff Black Conservatives Say.
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla): “You have this 21st-century plantation that has been out there, where the Democrat Party has forever taken the black vote for granted. And you have established certain black leaders, who are nothing more than the overseers of that plantation. And now the people on that plantation are upset, because they have been disregarded, disrespected, and their concerns are not cared about.”
“So I’m here as the modern-day Harriet Tubman, to kind of lead people on the Underground Railroad, away from that plantation into a sense of sensibility.”
Star Parker: Our black president is a traitor to his race. Our struggles put him in power and now he’s not taking care of his folks.
Herman Cain: “I am an American Black Conservative, an ABC and proud of it! I won’t stay on the Democratic plantation like I’m supposed to.”
Jesse Lee Peterson: The NAACP is no different than the KKK in that the KKK harmed black Americans by their physical bodies, but the NAACP steals their hearts and minds and souls. And they kill black Americans by making black Americans or causing black Americans to hate their country, to hate what’s right, to depend on the government rather than depending on themselves.
I would be amused by a sellout like Allen West comparing himself to Harriet Tubman if I wasn’t so sickened by his fawning smooching of any White conservative ass in reach. West is the kind of happy house Negro whom if Harriet Tubman tried to show him the way to freedom he would go running in the other direction back to Massa’s loving arms and stinging whip.
But this is what ABC’s as Cain described his pathetic little clique of Negroes Behaving Foolishly specialize in. They make White conservatives feel good about themselves. They blame Black people for their sorry lot in lives and they love to talk about plantations and slavery. If any of them had been slaves they would have been up in the Big House hoping for Mister Charlie or Miss Ann to brush off some table scraps they could fight the dogs for.
Have you ever heard of “a beard” used as a slang term? It’s typically used by someone concealing their same-sex orientation by dating or even marrying someone of the opposite gender. Rock Hudson, Elton John and other gay men who were pretending they weren’t used women as their “beard.”
There are Black sellouts like Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain who proclaims, “To all of those people who say that the Tea Party is a racist organization, eat your words” who serve as “beards” to the White Far Right. The predominantly White and conservative types who make up the Tea Party eagerly seize upon the presence of the paltry few Blacks who agree with them to proclaim, “See, we can’t be racists. Herman Cain says we aren’t!”
This is essentially defending yourself from accusations of race-based bigotry by grasping for the thinnest of straws. You’re okay because a member of the minority your offending says you are. Opportunistic hustlers like Cain are happy to be bussed in, given a prominent speaking spot and paraded about as conspicuously as possible. Black folks at Tea Party protests are like the lone brother hangin’ out with his three or four White buddies in beer commercials.
American Black Conservatives love to thump their chests and boast how they are freed from “the Democratic planation.” Seems to me though all they’ve done is trade one Massa for another. They never question or challenge conservative orthodoxy. They simply parrot the same rhetoric as any other right-winger. Issues of race, poverty, unemployment or any other issue of concern to many African-Americans, never concerns them. So when someome like Star Parker calls President Obama a “traitor to his race” how can anyone take her seriously. All she does is sell-out and betray Black people as she panders to White conservatives.
Cain, West, Parker, Peterson and the rest of the Negro right-wingers rushing to give cover to the contemporary conservatives of the Tea Party are as important to them as the Black maids were to the White women of the segregated South. They are modern versions of “The Help.”
Not having seen The Help I can’t judge the merits of the movie any more than I could the last Black Women Catching Hell flick, For Colored Girls. However, everything I have read about it gives me reason to think this is going to be a glorified Lifetime movie with a simple and sanitized look at race relations in the segregated South. My wife wants to see the movie and judge for herself, so I will probably go with her, but all I’m expecting is not much more than another Ghosts of Mississippi or Mississippi Burning historically inadequate whitewash of where White folks gradually come to realize, “Gosh, segregation really sucked,”
I’m not the only one wary of another Southern-fried fairy tale. The Association of Black Women Historians have their own issues with The Help.
During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women’s employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it.
Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smat, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family, in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.
Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of white employers. For example, a recently discovered letter written by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks indicates that she, like many black domestic workers, lived under the threat and sometimes reality of sexual assault. The film, on the other hand, makes light of black women’s fears and vulnerabilities turning them into moments of comic relief.
It’s not that I think it’s impossible for a good movie to be made about Black maids in 2011 as it’s been proven time and again, Hollywood takes stories about race and racism, pours sugar and honey all over it, slathers whipped cream all over it and demands audiences eat the mess up with a spoon.
Southern racism is being romanticized by right-wing conservatives as not being as bad as advertised. Reserving final judgment until I’ve seen the film, but my suspicion is The Help is little else than left-wing liberals wanting to do right by the Black women who toiled as domestic servants, but preferring shallow depictions of an ugly time in America as not to disturb audiences with uncomfortable realities and unhappy endings.
One day Hollywood will get the guts to sing a different song of the South and the next time an immensely talented actress such as Viola Davis gets the script telling a tale of a Black woman’s struggle for dignity during segregation it will be a biography of Fannie Lou Hamer. There’s a project for Tyler Perry to mull over if he ever hopes to make his Academy Award winning dreams come true.
- Melissa Harris Perry Breaks Down The Help: ‘Ahistorical And Deeply Troubling’ (mediaite.com)
- Movie Review: The Help (blogcritics.org)
- Driving Miss Daisy meets Waiting to Exhale: circa 1960 (eboneeyes.wordpress.com)
- The ghosts of Mississippi still haunt Hollywood (independent.co.uk)