‘Help’ Wanted: Weighing In on New Film

Professional black women chat about The Help's portrayal of black women and the stereotypical "mammy" role.

Touchstone Pictures
Touchstone Pictures

When something’s free, all reservations about it usually fall by the wayside, which explains why I’ve yet to try deep-fried Kool-Aid balls. Someone hasn’t handed me a free sample — yet. Last week a group of friends and I met up to watch a complimentary advanced screening of The Help, the big-screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel. I’m not trying to compare Stockett’s novel to a blob of fried stereotypical fluff, of course, but some critics have.

For that reason, I wasn’t all that confident that a brain trust of smart 30-year-old black women would spend $10 on a ticket to see a movie about maids. Thankfully, “Come on, it’s free!” was all the introduction we needed, and since “based on the best-seller” discussions are the new book club (see Twilight, True Blood, et al.), everyone had a lot to say about The Help. I gathered the quotables from Jenée, a writer and colleague at The Root; lawyer Dawn; my best friend and sorority sister, Moni, who works for a nonprofit; and my neighbor Gizele, a D.C. government employee.

Me: First off, who actually read the book?

Jenée: I read half of the book and got bored. To be fair, the subject matter and genre were not my thing — fiction about racial strife stresses me out.

Moni: I read the book and loved it. In fact, I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed the movie if I hadn’t already read the book.

Gizele: Is there ever an instance where the book isn’t better than the movie? Wait, maybe The Color Purple. Anyway, the book is better, obviously. The book is able to cover areas that the movie just doesn’t have time explore, like colorism.

Me: Did the “controversy” surrounding the book’s portrayal (some might say exploitation) of a black woman’s story affect your decision to see the film?

Dawn: I wasn’t aware that there was this huge controversy, but I assumed there would be because of the subject matter. But the previews I saw seemed tasteful and not embarrassing, so I still wanted to see the film.

Moni: Too often, we are afraid to discuss the harsh realities of our shared American history. We all know black maids raised white children in the South during slavery and after. White people are part of that story and have a point of view.