Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Help

The Help has enjoyed a three week run as the most popular movie in the country. After avoiding it I finally went to see it. It's what I called a "liberal conscience film" in my recent book Faces in the Mirror: Oscar Micheaux and Spike Lee. These films, The Defiant Ones, In the Heat of the Night, Odds Against Tomorrow, Edge of the City, and a dozen like them were popular in the 1950's and 60's. The Help is a well-meaning throw-back in that respect. As in the typical liberal conscience film, the main struggle occurs in the heart/soul/mind of the white protagonist as she tries to overcome racism, resist the blandishments of white skin priveledge, and realize the better angels of her nature. The black characters, maids, are presented as nobel, long-suffering types, abused by their crude, callous, viscious, ignorant ladies-tea club-type employers. Whites in the audience probably identify with the white protagonist who becomes the instrument through which the black maids finally offer resistance. My problem with The Help, and I suspect that of many blacks, is that we know that in real life the black maids, janitors, garbage men, seamstresses, teachers, and every other category one can think of, were the instruments of their own liberation. They took the lead, against fearful odds, and did not wait for a white savior to come to their rescue.


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