Thursday, August 11, 2011

I'm so conflicted about whether or not to see 'The Help'

On the one hand, sisterhood! friendship! standing up for what you believe in! stories that haven't been told! a movie about Black women! 
On the other hand, though, yet another tired old film about Black people whose lives really are interesting and meaningful, but made so only through the intervention of a benevolent White woman! (The Blind Side, anybody?) celebration of Black women's stories as long as they're told from a White woman's perspective! making people feel like the conditions of 
oppressed minorities weren't (aren't) so bad!

Some people are telling me I'm making too big a deal about this. That there are [much less successful] movies and books about Black persons who stand up and tell their own stories. That I shouldn't look at these things as Black v. White, but in terms of other divisions, like religion or class. That I should see the patronizing White female savior as really just a friend like any other friend, and not pay attention at all to all the privileges she has over her Black female domestics "friends". That I should validate her for working against societal expectations by caring about these Black women. Or, my fucking favorite, that Hollywood isn't about historical accuracy or truth-telling, but rather is for entertainment purposes only, and presumably has absolutely no societal responsibility to speak of. That it somehow shouldn't bother me that, with few exceptions, the most widely popular films that feature or are about Black people offer those characters little more than belittlement and backhanded compliments. Self-sufficiency and positive narratives are few and far between.

I'm terrified that this will someday get shown/read in history classes in high school, and be taken as an accurate representation of what life was like for these women. NOTHING GOOD can come of members of a dominant group writing the history of members of a marginalized group. Nothing. So when someone asks me what I expected from a White woman's telling of the story, I say this: that I expect White people to finally learn that maybe they shouldn't be trying to tell the narratives of Black experiences. But alas, they will never learn this, because this book was wildly successful, and the film most likely will be too, because unlike when a Black person tries to talk about a Black experience, this appeals to White audiences [sugar-coating history has a tendency to do that]. 

The friend I'm arguing with on Facebook [I hate Facebook arguments] raises the incredibly valid point that the representations of Blackness coming from within our community are arguably worse. I agree 100%, a la the post immediately prior to this one, but that just means I'm not going to stand for either one.

My friend says the only way to change this is to go out and do something about it, instead of just bitching about what's wrong with the images we're being presented with. Again, I agree 100%, but we have to recognize that if a Black woman had written a novel about Black women's experiences as maids in the South, it would be relegated to the huge pile of "African-American literature to be ignored by the general public unless one has a very progressive high school English teacher" and the idea of a movie deal would be laughable. So, as I am not a filmmaker or a screenwriter, but an academic, all I can do is talk about why I don't think these images are acceptable, why I don't think these movies will do anything good for anyone (except put money in the hands of the people who made them, and making wealthy White people feel less guilty--which I'm pretty sure is only beneficial to them, not to the people of color and/or in poverty who could use a program or two that might be created [or, at the very least, not ripped to shreds] by people who have stopped recognizing that guilt is entirely appropriate). Maybe wanting to hold Hollywood to some level of social responsibility is naive of me, but how can we change the dominant cultural perceptions of a community if only narratives that perpetuate those perceptions are allowed to be seen/heard?

I suppose I have to see it now that I've talked so much shit about it though, huh? Damn.

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