“The Help,” the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, launched a strong start opening weekend, earning an estimated $25.5 million and $35.4 million between Wednesday and Sunday.
The movie, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, is based on a Civil Rights-era drama chronicling the relationship between African American domestic workers and white women who employ them in racially segregated Jackson, Miss.
No doubt, fans of the novel as well as buzz around the movie are boosting ticket sales.
Theologians, journalists and artists have been among those sharing their thoughts via columns, blogs and Twitter. Their input prompted discussion threads about the nexus of cinema, merchandising and racial politics; issues facing black authors/actors/screenwriters; the transformative effect of literature; praise for the actresses’ performances; and stories based on their own families.
“BRILLIANT. please go see this movie,” award-winning gospel icon
“Saw The Help. My mother and grand were maids in Mississ. Think it is tribute to all the mother sister maids,” media mogul Oprah Winfrey tweeted Sunday . “Thought it was true to the book. Civil Rights lite but still good.”
“’The Help’ is inspirational on many levels, but especially for journalists. Go see it make an impact,” FoxSports.com national columnist Jason Whitlock tweeted Monday. “As an African-American, go see ‘The Help’ & remember all the people – black and white – who sacrificed for the freedoms we now take 4 granted.”
On her blog, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, Melynda Price wrote Thursday that she was significantly impacted by ‘The Help,” crying for most of the movie for different, complex reasons including “thinking about the way the collective beauty of [the] black community sometimes obscures the individual harms that are done to black women.
“How many of these women hummed hymns or sang in hallelujah choruses on Sunday to try and fortify themselves for the days and week ahead. ‘I told Satan, get thee behind, victory is mine today.’ In this film, the black women are victorious in getting their story out, but still vulnerable to the whims of whiteness and economic marginality,” Price wrote .
“Since the question of black people’s human-ness is a non-issue, lurking behind productions like ‘The Long Walk Home,’ ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ ‘The Help,’ and other such works are many racial significations, false messages that seek to reinscribe black people as, essentially, the ‘help’ of the world,” wrote the author of “Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights.”
Among the false messages, Ross posits, is “predominant element of the Western imaginary, the idea that black persons ultimately exist as servants for white life, has long been supported by rhetorical constructions of Christianity. The most obvious examples, of course, were rituals such as catechisms about the necessity for [black] servants to obey [white] masters.”
“That uncomfortable fact of certain American lives – the black servant who cares for a white family – is rooted in slavery, and this relationship undoubtedly is a source of complicated and conflicted emotions both for the caregivers and their charges,” Maud Dillingham wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in a review headlined “Emma Stone and ‘The Help’: Does liking this movie make you racist?”
“For white people who grew up with black nannies, ‘The Help’ may strike a nostalgic chord and a yearning to reconnect with their caregivers, after having a good cry over the realization that the Demetries of the world have families of their own, hopes and dreams, and – central to the theme of ‘The Help’ – trials and tribulations at the hands of their employers,” Dillingham wrote.
In an interview with TheGrio.com posted Monday, director Tate Taylor, a Jackson native, responded to critics who call the movie markedly dated and historically inaccurate.
“I want them to tell me, what their version of accurately is. People are being too critical of this film,” he said in a Q&A posted on the African American news site. “It’s so perplexing to me. Kathryn set out to write a book not about victims. She wrote a book about four women that were victims of circumstances of their surroundings. The book is about courage and love and integrity, and talking to whom you consider to be your enemy and finding common ground. Kathryn has said, she would never be equipped or interested in writing a historical, fictional account of the civil rights movement. It’s just a story.
In a statement released Thursday, some members of the Association of Black Women Historians argued that movie “distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.” It also noted that their portrayal also resurrects a stereotype of Black women.
“Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them,” according to the open letter released by the Association of Black Women Historians. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it.”