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.