Help Wanted, Help Needed

Have you ever feel like everyone around you felt one way about something, but you felt another way, but were afraid to say anything? Well, that’s how I’ve felt about the movie, “The Help.”  Lots of my friends and colleagues have raved about how good the movie is, but I haven’t been able to celebrate the movie.  As a student who majored in Media Studies in college, (looking specifically at how women and people of color are portrayed in TV and film), I can’t help but notice the dearth of roles for women of color in Hollywood.  And as a black woman, I can’t help but notice that when we are portrayed on screen, it’s often as a sexpot (hoochie or otherwise), or in a completely non-sexual way (like a maid or a grandma). 

Although I could easily write a dissertation about this (and I’m sure that many have been written about this topic), I will keep this short: I’m tired of Hollywood telling the same stories about black people on the movie screen. I’m tired of slave narratives, stories about when we were oppressed, stories about the first African American to ____ (just fill in the blank with any first that you could imagine—like the first to ride a hot air balloon across the U.S. alone, while brushing his teeth).  I’m tired of biopic, “Oscar-worthy” performances that show us as subservient, oppressed beings, or those who rise from the ashes of oppression to the heights of success. I’m tired of stories that focus on the bleakness of our past, while ignoring the brightness of our present.  But more than this, I am tired of stories about black people, written by white people. (Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone with that statement.)  What I mean is that the author of a story (whatever that story might be), tells the story from his/her perspective, even if it’s she/he is just the interviewer because the interviewer shapes and hence begins to outline the story even as she compiles questions.  And then the editor takes those answers and edits the interviews to weave together a story.  And while all voices are valid and needed, an anthology of stories about poor, oppressed, or otherwise marginalized black people written by white people feels incomplete and culturally biased.

But my problem with “The Help” doesn’t stop here.  The author of the book wanted black women’s stories to be told in their own words, from their own perspective.  However, when I looked at the film adaptation, I couldn’t help but feel that the story was told form the white protagonist’s perspective.  (Was that just me?)  Yes, we got a look at the lives of the maids, but I felt that the story was driven by the thoughts and actions of the white character.  And if that’s so, doesn’t that go against the book’s purpose and premise?  (Now, I only saw the movie one time, so maybe a second look would warrant a different response.)

What are your thoughts?