The Help: Still Helping

So I watched the movie The Help last week. I have to admit that I didn’t really watch it with a critical eye, I was cooking and kind of distracted. But afterwards, the film left me thinking. Was that it? The end seemed far too simple, and yet not satisfying. I just couldn’t swallow the idea that after the main heroine publishes a book exposing what it is like to work as a black maid in the Jim Crowe South, none of the maids are punished, all the white women have learned their lesson and the author and her informants have saved the day. Really? Because it seems to me that racism continued, that women of color are still dominating the role of the “help.” So I decided to do some research, and I wanted to share some excerpts from some great blog posts I found.

Gender Across Borders

“Pouring over a copy while vacationing on the beach, or discussing it with a suburban book club, I don’t think readers are acknowledging that this racial segregation still exists. Americans loves to celebrate MLK Day, but then little incidents like Professor Gates’ arrest happen to remind us that, woops, race is still an electric issue in this country.”

Ms. Magazine

“However, the irony of Skeeter’s project–and by extension Stockett’s novel–is that the testimonies of the maids don’t improve their conditions or challenge race relations in Mississippi. Rather, they serve as a conduit through which Skeeter emerges as a feminist heroine; instead of marrying her love interest, she scores a book contract and a job in the big city.

The Help is being marketed as “a human story” that affirms that we are all the same underneath; as such, it should offer the perfect summer escape for viewers who embrace the fantasy of a postracial America. Those filmgoers can tuck the history of race and class inequality safely in the past, even as the recession deepens already profound racial gaps in wealth and employment.”

I thought it was particularly interesting that Skeeter, the author, a young white woman, in the end doesn’t get married, and moves off to the big city to get a job. This ending couldn’t have been a better representation of racial divisions in the feminist movement. For white women, the struggle was for voting rights, for access to employment, for reproductive control and choice. For women of color, it’s about safety from sexual assault (which was of course not covered within the film), fair working wages (because they had been working long before white women started), the right to spend their days with their own families. And in the end, I think that the feminist movement did not start equally addressing the needs of women of color until far later than it should have.

So Skeeter moves on and up, and Aibileen and Minnie tearfully send her off, only to go back to the exact same life.

Lastly, I wanted to share this wonderful video made by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations called “Meet Today’s Help.”


30. August 2011 by Juliana
Categories: Race | Tags: , , | Leave a comment