Haven’t read/seen it, won’t read/see it* and was generally squicked out by the whole premise of the book to begin with — let’s tell a story that is kinda-sorta about race but more about how these nice black ladies helped white women Find Their Voice, from the perspective of white women of course — but this statement from the Association of Black Women Historians is worth a read. This piece in the Times is also on point:
The fail-safe response for Hollywood has been to depict racial prejudice in cartoon caricature, a technique that has made the Southern redneck a cinematic bad guy on par with Nazis, Arab terrorists and zombies. By denying the casual, commonplace quality of racial prejudice, and peering into the saddest values of the greatest generation, Hollywood perpetuates an ahistorical vision of how democracy and white supremacy comfortably co-existed.
To protect viewers, sometimes at profound damage to the historical record, white heroes are featured and sometimes concocted for these movies, giving blacks a supporting role in their own struggle for liberation. Films of this stripe are legion, though the most irritating example remains “Mississippi Burning,” in which two F.B.I. agents are at the center of an investigation into the murder of civil rights activists. It was a bitter pill for movement veterans to swallow since the agents’ boss, J. Edgar Hoover, was as vicious an opponent as any Southern Dixiecrat. Though not as egregious, both Rob Reiner’s “Ghosts of Mississippi” and the adaptation of John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” fit this formula.
The other Hollywood fallback strategy when dealing with the movement (or race-themed film set in any period) is to employ “the Magic Negro,” a character whose function is to serve as a mirror so that the white lead can see himself more clearly, sometimes at the expense of the black character’s life. Sidney Poitier’s selfless convict in “The Defiant Ones” was probably the definitive Magic Negro role, though the formula has survived decades, from Will Smith’s God-like caddy in “The Legend of Bagger Vance” up to Jennifer Hudson’s helpful secretary in “Sex and the City” — just a few incarnations of this timeless saint.
I’m not sure what to do with the fact that the Home Shopping Network is featuring a collection inspired by The Help. The nostalgia for ugly times is also what bugged me about plantation weddings — sure, the American south is every beautiful and there’s no reason to demonize every aspect of it, but the marketing of products inspired by the movie (and events on plantations) works not just because those things are aesthetically pleasing but because there’s a romantic attachment to the Antebellum South. And, well, you can’t divorce that white person nostalgia from slavery and segregation. So marketing KitchenAid mixers and gumball-sized faux-pearl necklaces as being “inspired” by a movie about segregation and racialized domestic work strikes me as… clueless, to be generous.
And of course The Help is also “inspiring fried chicken cravings far and wide.”
*I’m not boycotting the book, I just don’t think it looks very good. Apparently it’s sold 3 million copies, mostly to women, but I don’t actually know anyone who’s read it (Facebook “friends” who I don’t really know don’t count). I suspect that’s more of a Lit Nerd / Snob thing than a “we’re too progressive to read this” thing, but either way, none of the folks I regularly discuss books with have purchased or even mentioned it (and the random people I know who have recommended it are not people whose book recommendations I take particularly seriously). So it’s not on my list, and I’ve placed it in a mental Da Vinci Code category (i.e., “things I will read if I am on a plane and they are free and there is nothing else to do and I can’t sleep). But if you all are looking for a good read, go buy Just Kids