No, I am not referring to the Beatle's movie, but if you want the complete move, try here. Nor am I referring to the the ordinary language word. I am referring to "The Help" -- yep, a movie and book which has stirred controversy and which I finally saw about a month or so ago. It is based on a novel by Kathryn Stockett -- and yes, it has engendered controversy around issues of race and gender. If you are the last remaining human being who does not know this -- the film and novel tell the tale of a young white woman in the South who interviews "the help" -- black (african american) maids -- learning much about their lives as she does so. The controversy: of course it is from a white woman's point of view in many ways, and of course the film does not solve the problems of that universe, let alone our universe of racial and gendered tensions. (And this is not even to mention class and regionalism.) It is set in Mississippi, and seems to be in the early 1960s or so.
Talk about white guilt. I felt oddly guilty that I liked the movie. Oh, I know, I know -- those who had no clue that the african american nannies had to have someone else raise their own kids while they raised those of white families -- are pretty silly. Yep, I knew that (though I can remember when I actually learned that -- and remember with crystal clarity a colleague describing how she learned her mother's maid had a Masters Degree)-- and yet the film reminded me and raised questions for the world we live in. I know, I know -- there are some ways in which the film distracts us from the forms of racism outside the Deep South -- and risks occasional romanticization of an imagined past racism. But still. . . . And yes, there is endless discussion: is "The Help racist?" And, everyone has weighed in; I find this piece particularly useful from black women historians (though a bit less in depth than one would want).
Having said all this, one oddity is that googling the help racism brings up all sorts of discussion all over hte web. And, then, I tried the help sexism. Not so much. In fact, basically nothing turned up on the film. Hmmmm. (Though this little oddity did turn up on George Clooney and Viola Davis on sexism in Hollywood.) I finally tried "the help fiml sexism" and did come up with this piece which I found informative. Hmmm.
But what about food? Even Food and Wine covered the film -- in its guise as a foodie movie. Here's their article, which emphasizes the authenticity of the food ("cooked by real Southern cooks") and the filming in the town of Greenwood, Mississippi ("home to Martha Hall Foose, author of the acclaimed Southern cookbook Screen Doors and Sweet Tea and the new A Southerly Course."; here are some of foose's views on the film and food from another source.) In some ways the food is a prop (and here's a great piece on food as props in films) and in other ways it is defining of both the issues raised by the film -- vicious exploitation and resistance in various ways -- and the risk that the film trivializes that viciousness. Food is about class, race, and more in The Help.
Class? Yep. It is definitely a film about labor exploitation and class.For some working class studies perspectives, try this site. I love the title: Global Women Workers of the World, Unite! And I suspect we ought to think not merely of the help in the film, but the help in the making of the film. Hmmm.
Want race, class and gender all in one critique? Try here. And here someone who seems to be a bit of a pip when it comes to these approaches --- but even he (yep) sees this film through these lenses. Yes, a pip. . . who sees the film as subtle. Really?
If you have not seen it, I actually recommend it -- it is problematic but I liked it. And it requires reflection from us all -- about the era, the realities of life, and what it means that this film has been made now, in this way. That too is worth reflection.