Skip to content

Entertainment » ‘The Help’ and the Hurtful Treatment of Blacks in Hollywood

‘The Help’ and the Hurtful Treatment of Blacks in Hollywood

The racially charged film The Help has earned $35.4 million since being released on Aug. 10. The film has received praise from several nationally renowned publications, and the book the film was adapted from continues to be a best-seller.

But while the film seeks to highlight the uncomfortable racial issues of the past, it actually speaks volumes about Hollywood and its Jim Crow-like prejudices of today.

The Help resembles dozens of Hollywood films that attempt to tackle black issues by hiring white screenwriters and directors to tell the stories. As a result, the movie is horribly flawed because of the white perspective that fails to identify wholly with the black experience.

While on a press junket for The Help, I got a chance to interview Viola Davis. I explained to Davis that I felt the film failed to show a side of the black maids that went beyond a shallow portrayal. Viewers never saw the black women happy or enjoying themselves with their family and friends. On the other hand, the white women of privilege were always dressed immaculately and had moments where they partied, had luncheon meetings and went out on dinner dates.

Davis agreed with my assessment. “I agree. I can’t add or subtract from that [question]. Who we really are, not just in the context of race, who we are when we’re just together having fun — you don’t see that. We fought for it. It wasn’t there. You win some battles, you lose some battles. But we challenge you to write and create it.”

In a perfect Hollywood, black writers and directors could create numerous films with big budgets funded by producers and major studios. But in 2010, there were only eight films (The Book of Eli, Takers, Brooklyn’s Finest, Death at a Funeral, Just Wright, Our Family Wedding, Why Did I Get Married Too?, and For Colored Girls) directed and written by blacks that had budgets that were large enough for nationwide releases.

However, there wasn’t one black director who was hired to direct a major film with a majority white cast in 2010.

After viewing The Help, I left the theater knowing that the writer and director only had a myopic view of black life. So like many other race-related Hollywood films, Kathryn Stockett (writer) and Tate Taylor (director)  created a sympathetic white lead who provided insight for blacks who were reduced to one-dimensional characters.

It’s not Stockett’s or Taylor’s fault that they lack the knowledge to tell a complete story about black life. But the producers could have hired a screenwriter or director who had the ability to make a more honest piece of work.

The Help does bring attention to the racial strife that took place nearly four decades ago in the South. Sadly, Hollywood still resembles Mississippi in the 1960s.

amir shaw




6 Comments

  1. Cmcdon3661 on August 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I loved this movie and disagree with your assesment.  Not once in the book did they mention the black women enjoying each others company.  This movie is not about that but about the stories of “The Help”  If you change the script for the reasons above you totally change the concept of the book.  This book made the bestseller list for a reason.  While I was at the screening with mostly black women they wanted to buy and raad the book after seeing the movie.  Not once did they say it was a slanted point of view.  Every single woman loved the movie.  Hollywood gets criticized for not keeping with the original book and veering off the story.  This time I think they got it right.

  2. RamonSpencer on August 15, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    This is nothing new. hollywood always puts the “good” white person in charge of saving black folks. I don’t support those type of movies

  3. Uncle Chuck on August 15, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    The movie was NOT about the maid’s personal lives but about the trials and insults Black maids (and Blacks in general) had to endure while taking care of a White family; from a “labor” point of view if you will. I lived through that era and my mother was a part-time maid and told stories similar to the ones depicted in the movie so I can relate to it on a personal level.

    Even though the movie didn’t dig deeply into the maids personal lives it DID highlight the racial injustice prevalent in the country at that time, events that are not being passed down to our children, so they have NO idea of what we elders had to go through in order for them to be able to go anywhere they want with whom they please, so let’s consider it a teaching tool for our younger generations.

    Too many of our children think the world owes them SOMETHING without them having to do anything for it; hopefully this film will help change that expectation.

  4. Ao on August 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Great Comments. I agree 100%. While I can’t be totally mad at the movie, it just wasn’t about Black people. Once again, it was a film about white people and their attitudes toward Black folks. If Hollywood could ever figure out how to make these movies without using Black actors, the Black actors would be in the unemployment line with Black writers and directors.
    But what is so sad is we haven’t progressed too far away from the time when everyone hovered around the TV when a Black person came on, regardless of the role (remember those days?). We are doing the same with the movies. Black folks are going to this film, supporting it because it has Black actors and a perceived story about Black people. We are giving our money and our blessing to a film (and therefore a genre of film) that in the end is detrimental to us as a people and tells Hollywood we want more. It’s time that we hold onto our entertainment dollars until we get films that are made about Black people, by Black people and for Black people.

  5. Lora0221 on August 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I waited with anticipation for this movie, & thereby bought the book prior. It was difficult to put it down, where I would stay up ’til wee hrs of the morning reading it. The movie did not dissappoint me; I believe the director captured the book beautifully. I’m an avid reader/movie goer. I go to the movies the weekend it opens, particularly if it features Black actors, b/c I’m hopeful, it will encourage Hollywood to feature more Blacks if the numbers add up. It bothers me when I read comments as in this article – critical. The writer should be talking to Black actors/directors/writers (the Tyler Perry’s, Spike Lee’s, etc.), to produce Black movies that depict what he’s talking about: positive/accurate depiction of Blacks in movies. I’ve yet to see an Academy Award (AA) worthy movie from either Tyler or Lee (except for maybe Malcom X). The few Blacks that were AA recipients: Who wrote/directed those movies? At least the Whites are hiring Black actors. Blacks need to step up to the plate & cease all this criticism.

  6. Rhonda402001 on September 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    now before they killed us off with dope and murder and imprisonment we know this movie would not have been made, We would not have stood for it, damn’it if i could id have 20 darkskinned children and tell each darkskinned friend to have  plenty darkskinned babies and so on. Educated them teach then values and commitment,morality, right now i want every darkskinned blackfemale to start to reproduce and replinish our community .OOOpZ..!nevermind i forgot its our blackmen that play a big part in watering down our community.in the first place. WELL THEN CARRY ON WHITE FOKE CONTINUE U MAKING US LOOK ANY WAY U CHOOSE…..