I didn't say it is reverse racism to criticise this book. It is the reason behind some of the criticism that makes it reverse racism. If you don't think the writing is good, that's a valid criticism. But you can't dismiss a book just because the story didn't personally happen to the author. If that were the case, few books would be written.
I absolutely loved the movie. The acting was superb. I laughed and cried very hard...and applauded at the end.
At some point, I may read the book, tho' I tend to stay away from the ones that "Book Clubs" and Oprah seem to love.
The black maids giving the white protagonist "a purpose" is a common trope in the white savior narrative. They exist in the story soley to support and facilitate the character development and redemption of the white main character--which is the character the author ultimately wants us to care about and identify with. In turn, after becoming "enlightened," they then proceed (and of course succeed) in saving the non-white characters either from themselves or their circumstance, usually without ever having to relinquish their own priveledged status. The white protagonist is then hailed as a hero amongst whatever non-white individual/subculture they "rescued."
You see this narrative time and time again in movies like Dances with Wolves, Avatar, The Blind Side, Gran Torino, etc.
And from what I heard from my friends, when you really think critically about the relationships in The Help, it's pretty much the same story.
The black maids are merely thinly veiled plot devices (or a backdrop) used to forward the happiness/fulfillment of the main white character (Skeeter, is it?)
They are there in the service of her development, her story, not their own. In the end, Skeeter ends up getting her dream writing job, correct, while the black maids stay behind and suffer the harsh ramifications of her expose.
At least, that's what my friends say happens at the end of the book.
And IMO, that's the white savior narrative to a T.
The trouble is we often are unconscious to them because we've deeply internalized and institutionalized them in our culture.
There are countless upon countless studies in sociology, media studies, and psychology that have explored this and they are truly fascinating.
Not saying you can't love the movie (a lot of people did), but that still doesn't mean the narrative isn't alive and well in The Help.
How can you analyze it if you haven't read the book or seen the movie? I guess you would rather no white person ever gave a helping hand to any other race. But here's the thing...in The Blind Side, why was it up to a white woman to help that homeless kid? And in doing so, did she do the right thing or not? Should she have passed him by for fear that someone would suspect her motives?
I would also say you seem to be personalizing some of the criticisms directed towards the work for whatever reason. I'm not sure why criticisms of the storyline and author dynamics bother you so, but I haven't seen anything posted near the level you described.
I remember reading that William Styron ran into a similar issue when he wrote The Confessions of Nat Turner back in the 1960s. This was at the height of the civil rights movement, and there was a lot of anger and resentment towards Styron because many black writers and leaders felt that it was not his place to write about slavery from the POV of a black American slave. I never read the book, but I do remember reading an interview with Styron in PEOPLE back in the 80s. He was discussing his depression and talked about how the negative responses angered and saddened him. This is a quote from Styron (not from PEOPLE) discussing his feelings about the backlash:
SourceNat Turner was published in 1967 to wide acclaim and criticism. It is based on the true story of Nat Turner, who led a slave revolt in southeastern Virginia in 1831.
"When I began The Confessions of Nat Turner in the summer of 1962 ... Martin Luther King was offering the hand of fellowship to the American communmunity, preaching reconciliation, amity and antidischord. In the evolution of a revolution, 1967, when it was published, was a time of cataclysmic change in the United States. 'Black power' reared its head, and when it pounced, it pounced partially on my book. I was especially lacerated and hurt that it was labeled racist. That was hard to take for a writer who attempted to expose the horrors and evils of slavery." He spoke of trying to figure out Turner's motivation. "It was a powerful book that satisfied my ideal for a novel."
His voice wavering audibly for the only time during the discussion, he added: "Basically it is a very politically incorrect book written by a white man trying to seize his own interpretation and put it into the soul and heart of a black man."
Thanks, Rex. Has anyone read the book in question?
I've frequently thought about the process of writing in general and especially writing about what you know as a lot of writers do. However, I am now reading a book about Victorian England, written by a contemporary writer. She had no way of personally experiencing Victorian England. We have books written by women from the POV of men and vice versa. We have historical novels. Writers cannot always write what they personally know.
However, very good writers do research and add a little something extra gleaned from the soul, the essence and the truth of the experience at the heart of their work. From what I've seen that's missing from The Help. But that's not always the case.
"Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."
from Speedy Death
Two buzzwords always come up when it comes to discussion to race: Someone claiming to be "colorblind" and accusations of "reverse racism." Saying these words tend to not have the affect the people who say these words think they do.
For instance, someone claiming that they are colorblind does not necessarily evoke sensitive race-consciousness but instead someone who is ignoring the fact that race does play a big role in how one experiences and perceives things in this country, especially in a story about black maids and white employers in the South.
Then there's reverse racism which is a term I always have a problem with because I think it does not necessarily exist. I don't mean to say minorities cannot be racist to the majority (in the U.S., it happens to be white people) because it does happen. That being said, it's hard to argue reverse racism when the majority (as a group not individuals) are in a position of power over almost every facet of life (whether that be government, private sector business, Hollywood, etc.) that it's really impossible to argue that minorities have so much sway and influence to actually take away benefits, rights, and the way the media direct discussions on race, etc. Of course, people are going to bring up Affirmative Action which I think is way overstated when one look at the hard numbers of applicants getting in or rejected due to AA compared to those who get in or rejected due to other reasons (money, family name, alma mater legacy, etc.) Then, of course one can say that it's up to the minority to work extra hard in life in order to overcome any of these racial barriers because they are not as big of a deal as they're making it out to be and everybody has hardships. Well, of course individuals all have hardships in their endeavors no matter what race they are, but one can't truly say that everyone faces the same institutionalized barriers that make it more difficult for whole groups over others. Since someone brought up Hollywood and black writers and black people with money, just because they have those things do not mean that the barriers (financing, publicity, distribution, marketing, etc.) that make it more difficult to have their voices heard in the mainstream disappear.
Also, taf2002, if you read Orable's post, she says that one does not have to be of the same race or have had the same experiences in order to write a compelling story, but if one were to do that, they should prepare themselves from criticism of those who have had those experiences. A good writer would be mindful of that and try not to fall for plot devices that can easily be criticized, and criticizing those things are a part of art critique.
Last edited by VIETgrlTerifa; 08-25-2011 at 04:58 AM.
"Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." - Ambrose Bierce
In this country it is impossible to be colorblind to race, and someone saying so actually sounds more racist than if they hadn't bothered.
Finally saw it!
One improvement over the novel IMO -
Skeeter's Mom [Allison Janney] had stronger character. In the book, she was kind of a head-in-the-clouds type. It gave Skeeter and her mother's characters some closure at the end.
I'll spoiler this for the ones who haven't read the book or seen the movie yet:
SpoilerIIRC Skeeter is the only one who needs to leave town for her own safety. Yes, she got a job in NYC but knowing she will never be welcome in her home town is a pretty harsh ramification of her expose. And the black maids do stay behind but they all share in the royalties.
I initially had no desire to see this movie, but due to word of mouth, I went and saw it this week. I'm glad I did, I really enjoyed it.
I know it's still very early, but I'm hoping Viola Davis can ride all the buzz to an Oscar. Octavia Spencer is also worthy of a nomination, and Jessica Chastain really made me sit up and take notice. I think she's going to be a star.
Bloom where you're planted. Hillary Clinton