Hollywood, Historical Accuracy and the Civil Rights Era

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Writer Martha Southgate reviews the novel-now-movie The Help for EW.com.  Here is an excerpt:

Implicit in The Help and a number of other popular works that deal with the civil rights era is the notion that a white character is somehow crucial or even necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation. What’s more, to imply that what the maids Aibileen and Minny are working against is simply a refusal on everyone’s part to believe that ”we’re all the same underneath” is to simplify the horrors of Jim Crow to a truly damaging degree.

This isn’t the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. Most Hollywood civil rights movies feature white characters in central, sometimes nearly solo, roles. My favorite (not!) is Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning, which gives us two white FBI agents as heroes of the movement. FBI agents! Given that J. Edgar Hoover did everything short of shoot Martin Luther King Jr. himself in order to damage or discredit the movement, that goes from troubling to appalling.

The full review is here.

Over at Color Lines, Akiba Solomon explains “Why I’m Just Saying No to ‘The Help’ and its Historical Whitewash”:

As a racial justice and gender writer, a pop culture observer, and an African American woman who rides for Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Cicely Tyson and Aunjanue Ellis, I feel obligated to see this film.

But, damn it, I’m jaded, and it has absolutely nothing to do with watching black women portray domestic workers onscreen. There’s no shame in domestic work, unless you’re talking about their employers’ abuse and wage exploitation.

I just can’t bring myself to pay $12.50 after taxes and fees to sit in an aggressively air conditioned, possibly bed bug-infested New York City movie theater to watch these sisters lend gravitas to Stockett’s white heroine mythology. I’m sorry, but the trailer alone features way too many group hugs to be trusted.

Her full essay is here.

-Bridget Crawford

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