Home of the first lady of the most powerful nation in the world, a woman that happens to be a Black. Also home of arguably the most influential woman in the world. Coincidentally, another Black woman. Yes, America is also where you will find the obsession of one of the most despised dictators in the world – no doubt, another “sistah”.
So many varying images of the Black woman to choose from today and what does Hollywood choose to poorly depict? The story of Black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the midst of the country’s Civil Rights era of the 1960s.
Hollywood never ceases to amaze me. It’s latest offering, “The Help“.
In “The Help”, we follow along as recent University of Mississippi (aka Ole Miss) graduate, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, returns home from college with hopes of becoming a writer and not a mere homemaker like most of her friends. After witnessing (as if for the first time) the maltreatment of the help – which every family in the societal circle that Skeeter is a part of happens to be able to employ – she has an epiphany to write a book full of tales from the perspective of the Black maids.
With maids Aibilene and Minny on board to share their many tales, chaos ensues in true Hollywood fashion – cheap laughs are abound; significant historical moments (the assassinations of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy) are mentioned at a glance; heart-wrenching moments are tossed in for good measure; and then an awkward conclusion is reached, leading many audiences (including the audience that joined me for the screening, but excluding myself and my wife) to applaud as if some happy ending had been reached.
While the movie insinuates the racial tension that existed during the time in which the film is set in, “The Help” does not paint a clear and honest picture of why so much angst existed amongst the maids and assumedly all Blacks during this time. Instead, the makers of the film rely upon the servants being confined to using outhouses as the tipping point of the injustices suffered. With a tagline of “Change begins with a whisper”, the movie honestly did not depict any far reaching change upon its conclusion.
Instead, it added itself to an obviously ever-growing list of films that focus on a White protagonist empowering helpless Blacks in unique ways, while, unlike the similar films before it, it did not have a clear, defined happy ending…in my opinion, but this is up for debate.
Also, as notable as the assassination of Medgar Evers had to have been during the time of the film’s setting, I was disappointed that the perspective of the servants was not shared a bit more about this moment which greatly affected them. Note: for those that do not know, Medgar Evers was a real Civil Rights leader assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963. Furthermore, I may be nitpicking at my disappointment of there being numerous mentions of Ole Miss, yet no mention of its integration which took place no more than within a year of the time of the film’s depiction.
Then, somehow, we end up at our Hollywood ending which was simply unnerving for me as a viewer.
Maybe I’m too close to the true story. As a teenager, I had the chance to travel to Jackson, Mississippi. I became seemingly paralyzed by emotions as I stood in the very spot where Medgar Evers was gunned solely because he wanted himself and other blacks to be treated as equals. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet James Meredith whom while recalling the horror of being the sole black person to integrate Ole Miss broke down in streaming tears. For many that survived this venomous era, their story will never fit the script writing confines that Hollywood mandates. It neither a time that look back on with warm memories.
Couple that with the irony that the film premiered a mere five weeks after the murder of James Craig Anderson at the hands of seven white teens in the very same town of Jackson, and you realize that there still has been no happy ending to the story loosely depicted in this film. Racism and prejudices are still prevalent in Mississippi and throughout the nation.
As stated, though, this is my opinion of the film. Please feel to share your thoughts and begin a discussion on “The Help”.
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Johnny J. Jones is an alumnus of Howard University (c/o ’03) that resides in Durham, North Carolina. A digital media specialist, get a glimpse of his creations, ramblings, randomness and more at http://jonesshares.tumblr.com.