Critics: It Would ‘Help’ If You Saw It

Most critics of The Help haven't even seen the film. We need to be more open-minded about art.

I don’t know the value of getting caught up in who is telling a story. Evaluating an artist’s vision using his or her color or gender as a metric is jejune and nonsensical on its face. Weighing the art — any art — has to be about the conversation generated from the art, and being informed enough about that art to have such a conversation intelligently.

It seems as if there is a growing angry and vocal contingent of Black Misery Bloggers who don’t like anything and would have you boycott everything. These people go to theaters and bookstores looking for a history lesson, correction of the record or spiritual affirmation.

They often want more than one can reasonably expect. They can’t keep any place open or in business, but they can sure close places down; bookstores are closing all across America in vital, important black neighborhoods because reading — being fully informed and engaged — is not hot in the streets anymore.

Best to disregard and ignore anyone suggesting that you avoid a book or a movie that offers you a chance to expand your worldview, no matter how painful it may be. All learning isn’t easy; every lesson is not immediately useful. Groupthink is for suckers. You lose nothing by thinking for yourself, making a choice to be well-read, engaged and informed on any variety of matters and media.

The book’s author and the screenwriter of The Help freely, wisely confessed the obvious to a crowd full of journalists last week: that is, that they were “making sh– up,” as smart fiction is wont to do. The film is an adaptation of a novel that deserves to be considered on its own merit, as its own work of art. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it — see it for yourself.

Good art won’t please everyone, and this is especially true of dramatic work. Stereotypes are caricatures based on archetypes we all know or know of. Stereotypes often offend people, but fiction needs stereotypes; writers, dramatists, essayists and others cannot create without them. They are everywhere. So much of cinema is catharsis — identifying with characters’ lives, their struggles and their redemption on-screen.

Black women are tired of identifying with certain tropes — I get it. Everyone wants to hear a different story, but the trick is to tell a different story with a familiar ring and universal appeal. If you got something on that, then we’ll all see it at a theater near you. Until that glorious day, all books and movies are worth your time. All stories are necessary. All good art is troublesome.

Jimi Izrael’s most recent book is The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can’t Find Good Black Men.

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