[Posted as part of an email dialog in response to Joyce Ladner's comments regarding the movie "The Help" which was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.]
I didn't read the novel, The Help. I generally avoid books about topics which I think I know a lot about and to which I am for better or worse emotionally attached, like race, alcohol, folks I know. The books don't match my experience and leave me annoyed. Sometimes I avoid these topics in movies, too, but not so much, because for me, the play's the thing. I grew up with Hollywood, going to the Uptown Theatre in Victoria, Texas, after school because that's where Mom worked for a secretary's salary on which she supported me and my sister. Movies have saved my life many times. I saw Viola Davis last year in Doubt and she stole the whole show with one scene. I had to see her again, and that's why I saw The Help, the movie.
I'm not engaged in identity politics and it doesn't matter to me, as regards this film, who wrote the script or if they were black or white, whether the film is about the civil rights movement per se, whether it is timely to talk about social roles which have vanished from our culture, whether in fact those roles have vanished, whether white women are oppressed or black women are pissed off, if a white woman helps out black women or doesn't, how black men are portrayed or not portrayed, whether the historical setting of the era is accurate, whether Help is too sentimental or too irreverent or good or bad, or if I am politically correct. Davis' amazing, game changing work has made me proud to have been part of a Movement which made it possible for her performance to appear on the big screen. I wouldn't have missed this movie for the world.
Black women like Aibelene were the backbone of the Movement in the South. They, and not we, were the real heroines, walking to work in Montgomery and sharing their government "commodities" with us at the Freedom Houses and showing up in the heat and fear to sing the songs at the church meetings. They were there when we got there and there when we left. Their spirit was the spirit of the Movement. Like Mae Bertha Carter of the biography Silver Rights, they taught their kids to love, not hate, because it feels better to love. The black female artists of this theatre piece have, through their perfection of their craft, embodied the value and beauty and strength and agency and poignancy and careful revolt of these, the oppressed, in their own setting, as they go about making something out of nothing. I am happy to see them celebrated, and to experience with them the joy of fighting the good fight with courage in the face of fear. I claim them as our own.
When I saw Help, the audience sat in silence through the credits at the end as Davis exited, honoring her character. This movie will change the way race is played out in pop culture and perceived in this country, for the better. It is a win for us, and by us I mean old Movement vets, not white women. Cicely Tyson in two short scenes is alone worth the price of admission. Be there or be square.
Copyright © 2011, Casey Hayden
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