“The Help:” more reactions

Yesterday, The Lead reported Elizabeth Geitz’ review of the movie and book, The Help. A scan of more reviews reveals mixed feelings and reactions from grandchildren and children of the “help” portrayed in the movie.

The blog Before Barack Obama discussed the film just before its release, A True Story form “the Help’s” Daughter.

“But that’s the way things were with everybody back then. That’s just the way it was. That reminds me of…”

She stops, catching herself, suddenly self-conscious. But I’m not having it.

“No, that’s the story I want to hear,” I goad her. “That one right there, the one you just stopped in mid-sentence. Tell me that story.” She complies.

Seems she and Grandmommy were standing on the screened sun porch one day, a space I instantly recall because it starred in my fantasies of curling up with a book among the wicker rockers and chaise lounges with plump pillows covered in a summery floral print.

The Wedding Princess continues: “I don’t know why, but I had a quarter and I put it in my mouth. And Grandmommy became so short with me. She said, ‘Take that nasty thing out of your mouth right this minute! You have no idea where it’s been. For all you know, it could’ve been in some Negra woman’s bosom!”

“And you’re sure she said Negra?”

“Oh, yes! We never said that other word.”

“Uh huh. So, don’t you think that’s fascinating that the worse thing Grandmommy could think to say about that quarter was that it might’ve been ‘in some Negra woman’s bosom’? I mean, not in the gutter, not in the street, not passing through a thousand filthy hands, but in some Negra woman’s bosom.

“Mind you, that same bosom would’ve been attached to other body parts that made up a Negra woman who was cleaning Grandmommy’s house; wiping her invalid father’s shitty ass; and even cooking and serving Grandmommy her food. A Negra woman who had fed, burped, bathed, changed, and comforted Grandmommy’s babies. Yet and still, the…absolutely… worst… place for your quarter to have been was in some Negra woman’s bosom.”

Leonard Pitts, has mixed feelings about the book and movie. He calls it an imperfect triumph:

So what, then explains my own irresolution? I suspect it traces to nothing more mysterious than the pain of revisiting a time and place of black subservience. And, perhaps, the sting of an inherited memory. That episode cost my mom something to tell — and even more to live.

As Americans, we lie about race. We lie profligately, obstinately and repeatedly. The first lie is of its existence as an immutable reality delivered unto us from the very hand of God.

That lie undergirds all the other lies, lies of Negro criminality, mendacity, ineducability. Lies of sexless mammies and oversexed wenches. Lies of docile child-men and brutal bucks. Lies that exonerate conscience and cover sin with sanctimony. Lies that pinched off avenues of aspiration till “the help” was all a Negro woman was left to be.

I think of those lies sometimes when aging white southerners contact me to share sepia-toned reminiscences about some beloved old nanny who raised them, taught them, loved them, and who was almost a member of the family. Almost.

Reading their emails, I wonder if those folks understand even now, a lifetime later, that that woman did not exist simply as a walk-on character in a white person’s life drama, that she was a fully formed human being with a life, and dreams and dreads of her own.

It is Kathryn Stockett’s imperfect triumph to have understood this and seek to make others understand it, too. I think mom would have appreciated the effort.

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, professor at Tulane University and scholar of race in U.S. history live tweeted from the screening of the film and later commented:

“This is not a movie about the lives of black women,” she clarified, as their lives were not, she argued, “Real Housewives of Jackson, Mississippi… it was rape, it was lynching, it was the burning of communities.” She then explained that it was, to her, completing the work started by the Daughters of the American Confederacy when they “found money in the federal budget to erect a granite statue of Mammy in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial,” which happened while the same Senate contingency failed to pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. “It is the same notion that the fidelity of black women domestics is more important than the realities of the lives, the pain, the anguish, the rape that they experienced.”

“It’s ahistorical and deeply troubling,” she argued, to make the suffering of these laborers a backdrop for a happy story.

See below for the interview on MSNBC.

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