African Americans in the Help 2011
The civil rights movement was complex and vast and included white heroes as well as black ones. And obviously, if you portray all whites as villains and racists, then you’re not presenting a full or accurate picture. But if you make a movie about Jim Crow that is all about white people saving black people, and that movie has a happy ending, then you are being reductive, and you are downplaying the idea that African-Americans had any agency in their own destinies. You are, as was the case with the creators of the movie version of The Help, co-opting the black experience.
The film “The Help” (2011), is a story based on the daily lives of prominent white women and the relationships with their African-American housemaids in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s Civil Rights movement in America. A well-to-do white woman and central character in this film, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, aspires to be a journalist and decides to write and publish an exposé of the stories of the housemaids in Jackson to achieve this goal, however, only two maids, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson are willing to discuss their experiences with her. The other maid’s in Jackson resist telling Skeeter their stories, fearing the punishments they would endure if the authorities were to find out. In spite of this, after the malicious arrest of one of their befriended maids, all of the maids begin to share their experiences, which consist of racial hostility and being treated as intrinsically subservient to white people. The story Skeeter publishes entitled The Help, creates a disturbance among the white families in Jackson, by exposing the racism the maids are faced with, forcing the white families to reflect upon how they have treated their maids. The storyline represented in The Help exhibits examples of the primordial approach to race and ethnicity, as well as numerous sociological concepts including segregation, internalized oppression, and white privilege, which will be exemplified in this paper in order to uncover the race relations evident within this film.
On the whole, the movie, which necessarily sacrifices some character development in the name of space and speed, also conspicuously cuts out powerful illustrations of racial violence. While we get soft-hued flashbacks to Skeeter’s memories of Constantine, the black woman who raised her, there are no such flashbacks to the violent, unnecessary death of Aibileen’s son. In another scene, Yule May, one of Minny and Aibileen’s friends, is arrested for stealing a ring from her employer. The shot shows white police manhandling and cuffing her, but when they swing at her head with a baton, the impact of the weapon against her skull is cut out of the frame. An incident of racial violence that illustrates the cost of the main villain’s quest for separate bathrooms for African-American servants is left out of the movie entirely. Even a notably gory miscarriage scene from the book is reduced to a blood-soaked nightgown and an artfully smeared bathroom floor visible only for a moment.