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The Controversy Over The Help

The Controversy Over The Help

The Help has stirred up many emotions since it opened on Wednesday. But that hasn’t prevented the film from becoming a hit. It grossed over $35 million since it opened and already made back its budget of $25 million. While I’m sure that Participant and Dreamworks would rather not have the controversy, they are sure happy with these opening numbers.

It’s got great critical response with 73% fresh at rotten tomatoes and is getting A+ Cinemascore ratings (which is a poll of people who are exiting the theatre.) Other numbers include: 60% of the audience was over 35, and 74% of the audience was female.

African American women in particular are reacting very negatively to the film. The problem for many people stems from the fact that Kathryn Stockett got things wrong in her historical depiction of these women and by getting things wrong in a book and now film that has such wide exposure it continues to distorts the reality of what truly went on.

One of the biggest criticisms has been from the Association of Black Women Historians. They released a statement last week.

Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.


We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Read their full statement here.

One of the conversations I had last week was focused on what reaction I would have to a fictional Holocaust film that got the history wrong. What the woman was saying to me, was that a Jew, my reaction to a Holocaust film carries a different weight than a non Jewish person. And her reaction to The Help as an African American woman carries a different weight than my reaction as a white woman. While we might have had different reactions to the film, we had a great conversation about race and women and movies and for that I am grateful.

Here are some more differing opinions:
‘The Help’ – two views of a controversial film (The Charlotte News Observer)

Why Hollywood keeps whitewashing the past (Salon)

Melissa Harris Perry Breaks Down The Help: ‘Ahistorical And Deeply Troubling’ (Mediaite)

Is ‘The Help’ a condescending movie for white liberals? Actually, the real condescension is calling it that (EW)

Weekend Report: ‘Apes’ Cling to Top Spot, ‘Help’ Cleans Up (Box Office Mojo)

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