The Help and Oscars

Last week in my Psychology of African Americans class, a student presented a PowerPoint on the latest book she had read: The Help. When I saw the movie this summer, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a White woman speaking on behalf of Black women—which is ironic as White women have been a source of oppression to Black women. In blog post by Miss Caldonia—which was written on the blog “The Ladner Report”—the author expresses similar sentiment. She writes about her experience as being a maid to a White woman, Jo Lee, and describes being asked to perform disgusting tasks, such as cleaning the period stain out of her underwear. Miss Caldonia writes, “There is nothing glorious about cleaning up after dirty people and nothing like being exploited by people who don’t give a damn about you…can you imagine Jo Lee writing a book about me, my feelings, dreams, thoughts, aspirations and goals? Can you imagine Jo Lee being able to step out of her role of racial superiority long enough to give voice to me and my family? (Caldonia, 2011). The author certainly has a point, but why is it that the story glorifies the exploited work of Black women? Why was there such frenzy around this book? Was it White guilt, or something else?

In addition to the story, Dr. Amprey asked us to consider the roles Blacks have won awards for. He urged us to consider if it was a coincidence that the only Black woman to win an Oscar this year was a character that fit comfortably into White’s stereotypes of the Black woman—domestic, aggressive and physically abused by a Black man. The same was true most recently for Mo’Nique, who played the part of Mary Lee Johnston in Precious. Dr. Amprey also mentioned Denzel Washington and how critics have claimed that his best movie was not one that won him an Oscar, while one that did represented him as a violent Black male. Is Dr. Amprey right? Do we choose to only support Black actors in roles that fit in with our society’s stereotypes about Blacks?

1 thought on “The Help and Oscars”

  1. This is something that I find very interesting and really got me thinking. Before becoming educated in such topics and before taking this class I had not been aware of such things. However, now I realize that it is true that the movies that are most well liked are the ones that place minorities into their typical stereotypes. When I saw the movie The Help over winter break I did not think twice about how the black women were being portray. I didn’t realize this movie portrays black women as maids, which is the stereotype that many whites have of black women. As I didn’t think about it until now, I’m sure that other white people without the experience of classes such as this one have not thought about it either. It is probably vasty believed that these movies are well liked because they are “good movies.” While movies such as The Help are good movies, they are also movies that go along with the white norm. They don’t challenge anything for white people. These movies allow whites to maintain their stereotypes and maintain their access to privilege.

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