Ablene Cooper was saddened and dismayed to hear a Mississippi judge dismiss her lawsuit against author Kathryn Stockett for using her name (Aibileen, in the book The Help) and image. Sadly, she has only herself to blame. Cooper waited a year after receiving a copy of the book to read it and become offended — past the one-year statute of limitations on this type of thing.
Cooper may not have been interested in reading The Help for the same reason many black women were slow in coming to it: It perpetuates some familiar and distasteful stereotypes. If she had taken the time to consider the book before all the hype started, Cooper would at least have been able to have her case considered.
There’s a lesson here. Refusing to read a book or see a provocative film is the worst kind of black anti-intellectualism: By judging a book by its cover, as it were, you only cheat yourself.
The Internet has given rise to kitchen-counter media critics who posit theories and mount boycotts of books and movies they haven’t seen or read yet, encouraging a sustained, angry ignorance and anti-intellectual bent that finds everyone with an Internet connection following suit. Careful consideration and commentary on the arts has fallen out of vogue in favor of The Uninformed Rant, followed quickly by The Boycott — as with The Help.
Before the film made it to the cineplex, loud, vociferous pockets of bloggers popped out of nowhere to boycott a movie no one had seen, based on a book many steadfastly refused to read. It all reminded me a lot of what happened with my book.
With The Help, I watched largely uninformed people take potshots at not just the book, but the author and the actors, passing off conjecture and snark for media criticism. I’m not suggesting that anyone should have to suffer through everything or anything, for that matter. But no matter what, you always owe it to yourself to be more informed, not less.
Common sense might tell you that certain subjects aren’t going to please your palate, but you still do a favor to yourself in considering even objectionable material, since it can often surprise you by defying convention, like The Help. Bromides like “I know sh– when I smell it” don’t advance the cause of essential, practical curiosity.
Many folks are too caught up with the whiteness of the book’s author and the film’s screenwriter-director. While I think it’s a fair criticism that Spike Lee might have treated the script differently from Tate Taylor, I respect Stockett’s right to tell a story the best way she knows.