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The Help


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#1 dirac

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 12:12 PM

Has anyone seen it yet? Would be particularly interested to hear from anyone who's read the book as well.

#2 Tapfan

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 04:13 PM

Has anyone seen it yet? Would be particularly interested to hear from anyone who's read the book as well.



I've seen the film twice with different groups of friends. The general consensus? It's entertaining, well-executed, middlebrow fare, the kind of film that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences routinely honors with a Best Picture nomination.

My only objection to The Help is that it is just the latest in a long line of Hollywood civil rights movies that get made only if they have a white protagonist. This has the cumulative affect of making African Americans bit players in narratives they should dominate.

In a pungently written Entertainment Weekly essay, novelist Martha Southgate beautifully expressed Hollywood's obsession with white saviors:

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.



#3 sandik

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 08:37 PM

This has the cumulative affect of making African Americans bit players in narratives they should dominate.


This always makes me want to gnash my teeth.

#4 kfw

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 09:45 AM

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.


I don't know who would deny this - there is a monument to Dr. King on the National Mall, not LBJ. I haven't seen the film yet, and I read one critic who said that it somewhat marginalized the black characters. But while the book isn't literature, it will help a lot of people better understand black life in the South in the 60's, and that's an important contribution. My 70-year old African-American neighbor bought two copies and made a point of lending them out, and she liked the movie as well.

#5 Tapfan

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 08:27 AM

I don't know who would deny this - there is a monument to Dr. King on the National Mall, not LBJ.



You'd be surprised at the level of denial surrounding events in The Civil Rights movement. We're two generations removed from the Civil rights era and one thing the controversy surrounding this movie brings to light is the profound ignorance of many people about Jim Crow.

Some of this is due to deliberate attempts to rewrite history by reactionary faux historians. The rest is probably due to the fact that to many young people, this stuff is ancient history. Who cares?

#6 kfw

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 05:21 PM

I don't know who would deny this - there is a monument to Dr. King on the National Mall, not LBJ.



You'd be surprised at the level of denial surrounding events in The Civil Rights movement. We're two generations removed from the Civil rights era and one thing the controversy surrounding this movie brings to light is the profound ignorance of many people about Jim Crow.

Some of this is due to deliberate attempts to rewrite history by reactionary faux historians. The rest is probably due to the fact that to many young people, this stuff is ancient history. Who cares?

Tapfan ,I don't doubt that young people with little interest in history know little about Jim Crow, but I don't share your view that denial is, if I understand you correctly, widespread. But thank you for replying. Posted Image

#7 Quiggin

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 06:26 PM

I haven't seen the movie, but it looks as though they borrowed a lot from William Eggleston's early work – rather than coming up with an original visual style.

still from "The Help"

William Eggleston's Guide

Los Alamos

#8 dirac

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 08:44 PM

My only objection to The Help is that it is just the latest in a long line of Hollywood civil rights movies that get made only if they have a white protagonist. This has the cumulative affect of making African Americans bit players in narratives they should dominate.


Thanks for posting, Tapfan. "Bit players" is overstating the matter somewhat, I'd suggest -- "supporting players" might be more accurate. (The principle is the same, of course.) That criticism has been made regularly in the past. However, would you say it's as true of "The Help" as it is of some of the older movies??

#9 dirac

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 11:21 AM

I did see the movie over the weekend and it’s certainly thought provoking, at least in comparison to some of the mainstream offerings out there. Good thing I don’t get my main information on civil rights progress from movies, because after seeing this and The Blind Side I might well come away with the impression that feisty girl graduates of Ole Miss, God bless ‘em, are in the vanguard of forward-thinking race relations.

The movie is divided in interesting ways. There is a hint of nostalgia for the retro frocks, wide quiet streets, and beautifully presented home cooking lurking not too far beneath the overt acknowledgment of the oppression that made such a way of life possible. The period distancing makes the audience comfortable – racism as a problem for Them and not Us – and the movie makes it even easier by placing the onus for the worst manifestations of bigotry largely on one character, who dominates the other women by social position and force of personality, and in so doing suggests, however unintentionally, that things might not have been so bad if Hilly Holbrook wasn’t around to whip everyone else into line. (I pause to press the hand of Bryce Dallas Howard, trying hard to get some humanity into a caricature that would be overdone at a hundred yards.)

There’s also the suggestion of a book club variation on “Atonement” – a story composed in the voice of white and black women about a crusading young reporter who takes risks to write a landmark of oral history giving voices to the voiceless, called “The Help” – which is not in fact such an oral history, but the piece of fiction we’re reading/watching.

“The Help” is too long at two and a half hours, the writer-director, Tate Taylor, apparently having been loyal to a fault to the original book, and there are too many subplots. Still, the film didn’t have the longeurs I anticipated from the running time. There are some nice period details but otherwise little of visual interest and not much sense of place. The scenes swing back and forth metronomically between sentiment and comedy, some of them working, others not. The white actors are mostly hampered by seeming instructions to project to the cheap seats, with even the great Allison Janney overplaying, so the movie isn’t the feast of ensemble acting one might have hoped for. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer play stock characters, but fortunately no one told them that, and they fill the roles and then some.

The movie does explore territory that hasn't been seen onscreen much since "Imitation of Life" and even its flaws add to its interest, so I'd have no trouble recommending it. Would be interested to hear more opinions.


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