The question is the debate. For many, it seem that black folks are being unreasonable, thinking that our black actors and actresses should only play roles that speak truth to power and uplift us as a people. We are being unrealistic, thinking that our actors should only play roles that teach us about of all the positive things that we have accomplished in this country in spite of slavery and racism. All the ruckus that we are raising about “The Help” may be proof to some that we are perpetually overemotional and unable to roll with the punches of life. After all, REAL life is so much more nuanced than those flat, boring black history films, and the real life of black pathos is the most interesting of all cinematic pathos. Black pain – it’s the stuff of the best movies that Hollywood can create.
I’ve read many reviews about The Help, and from what I could gather from the comments section, this depiction IS what life for black people actually happened! Black people DID work as domestics, they WERE relegated to the bottom of the totem pole in every area of American culture, so why are they (the blacks) giving all that flak for this movie simply showing this from the white perspective? OMG! Why complain – Viola’s a great actress portraying a sidekick maid, and she’s getting P.A.I.D.! Even your Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to win the coveted Oscar back in 1939 once famously said:
I’d rather play a maid than be one.
Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid?
If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.
Let me tell you why we complain, bitch and moan. Most of us feel that too often, black pathology, black servitude and black degradation at the hands of whites is ALL that gets on the silver screen! After all, we black folks have to look at those films, and we are sick to death of this one sided analysis of our story, to say the least. We feel that there must be balance in order for there to be truth. If maids and whores and pimps is all that is shown of the black experience, then the truth is not being told, and it doesn’t matter how brilliantly the black actors play the character.
As an aside, I read this review by Bob Cashill of PopDose:
“…The back-and-forth generated by this not-so-innocuous innocuous movie looks set to continue through Oscar season, with Davis and Spencer the likely recipients of end-of-year nominations. Here I part ways with the ABWH, which praised their “stellar performances.” They’re not. Good as they can be (and Davis is a stellar performer, right up there with Cicely Tyson, whose ghostly presence, so strong in the 70s and so seemingly sapped now, haunts the movie) they each have one note to play in The Help–Davis resignation, Spencer sassiness–and they do so with workmanlike efficiency…”
Black folks have no trouble with showing the spectrum of our humanity–the good, bad and ugly. We simply want the GOOD to be shown equally! That’s the issue, Hollywood is only interested in the “bad” and the “ugly”, never in the “good”, which we are desperately in need of seeing! We could easily tolerate all these Mighty Whitey films if we could see more Spooks Who Sat By the Door films, or even some Roots and Soul Food! Shoot, we would take 4 Mighty Whiteys for 1 Spook and be satisfied! We aint greedy! I’m just sayin’.
For every coon, jiggaboo, pimp and mammy, we want to see a freedom fighter, married black couple in love after 40 yrs, children who are interested in higher education, intelligent blacks empowered to move their lives forward, and black people who are able to deal with their lives in general. We would love to see films with black folks relating to our latino, asian and arabic brethren, as we do in real life. Is that really too much to ask?
As for our black actresses and actors: We know they go through a huge amount to develop their acting skills. We know they have to be the best to even be considered, and they are always the last hired and first fired. So when a part comes for shuck and jive Willie, or kiss yo ass Mamie, what shoud they do? Should they take the part, since they don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing their roles, the way others do? Or should they hold out for positive roles? How should they deal with this dilemma of always being offered the perpetual Hollywood pimp or whore?
I think that they can go the route of people like Tim Reid and Robert Townsend. Black actors and actresses have to band together and create their own studios, and production companies. They have to do the hard work involved in this, just as Tim and Robert had to, so they can create a body of film that’s worth watching. That’s the price to pay for a black actor in America, if you want to be relevant to black people. Otherwise, you can just play another anachronistic maid, pimp or player, told from a Hollyweird perspective.
Frank’s Place by Tim Reid 1987- episode: Frank is asked to make good on his late father’s gambling debts video
Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle 1987-episode Black Acting School
BTW, Hattie McDaniel’s acting career went downward after Gone With the Wind, according to IMDb. In her parts as maids, each successive one was a bit more assertive than the last, culminating with her maid/mammy portrayal in Gone With The Wind, where they say, “…in a number of ways, she is superior to the white folks surrounding her.” Hmmm…
- Could Mo’Nique fall victim to the black Oscar curse? (thegrio.com)
- No Concessions: Problems with “The Help” (popdose.com)
- Viola Davis On The Backlash To Playing A Maid [Movies] (jezebel.com)