Monday, September 19, 2016

The Help: How Does It Represent Our Community?

Oscar winning film The Help, directed by Tate Taylor and written by Kathryn Stockett, tells the story of an author in the 1960s writing about black maids in the south from their point of view. The story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi and is a drama. While it is a moving film that brings up many points about inequality of women and people of color, I watched to find out if the film passes the representation test, “a media literacy tool meant to spark learning and conversation around representation in film, and to encourage more overall diversity on screen and behind-the-scenes in Hollywood”.

The protagonist in The Help is the female character Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone). While this does score two points on the rep test since the protagonist is a woman, it is not a woman of color, which does not earn any. However, this movie is heavily centered on a female cast, a couple of which are women of color. Two characters of color, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer), have large speaking roles in The Help and are not reduced to stereotypes. Actually, the whole film is aimed at telling the world about the difficulties that Aibileen and Minny face as a woman of color working as a maid in the 1960s, breaking the racial stereotypes of the 1960s. The film also touches on the idea that woman are meant to be housewives. Skeeter breaks this mentality by going to college and focusing on her career. While she does acquire a love interest, she always puts her morals first and works on her main goal, to become a writer. By doing so, she is definitely showing women as more than “objects for the male gaze”. Another point brought up is including women in speaking roles that have diverse body types. The protagonist and several other prominent characters fulfill the look of a typical 1960s housewife, thin with dresses tailored at the waist then billowing out to the knee. The film also showed characters that were more filled out and curvy, such as Minny Jackson and a good balance of both in Aibileen Clark. Not only did the film show a diverse cast of body types, the cast also varied in age. However, the protagonist does not reach above the age of 45. The final test about women is the Bechdel Test, which The Help passes with flying colors.

Although The Help does not have many male roles, it does touch on a few points about men. The film depicts a physically abusive relationship between Minny and her husband. In the end, Minny builds up the courage to leave her husband and take her kids as well. This earns a point on the rep test because it clearly avoids glorifying violent men. The film also avoids perpetuating an unhealthy or extreme body type for men since it hardly shows male characters in general. Another point earned by The Help is due to having a man of color with a speaking role that wasn’t reduced to a stereotype. David Oyelowo who plays Preacher Green, has several lines in the film. I believe he qualifies as a speaking role because he is seen twice in the movie, both times in a church, and speaks several lines of praise about Aibileen.  He voices the gratitude of whole community for everything Aibileen has done and congratulates her on trying to make change. Although he does not have a prominent role in the movie, he does speak and is seen more than once in the film. The only point lost in the men’s category of the rep test is including men in non-stereotypical roles such as a caregiver or competent involved parent.

I believe that this film does not celebrate offensive racial, ethnic, or cultural stereotypes. The Help mainly emphasizes the struggle women of color went through in the 1960s and the inequality they faced. While it is possible the film uses the common theme found in Hollywood films of the “white savior” with Skeeter, it still accurately depicts the wrong treatment women of color received. One notable issue with the film is the lack of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender characters in the film. It’s possible there is no mention of these people since it was very focused on getting another message across. It also doesn’t show any characters with disabilities, which may be for the same reason stated before.

Looking back through all this information, The Help scores a total of 11 point on the rep test, giving it an A. However, it definitely does not address all the points on the test, since there is a possible 27 points. The film focused mainly on the issues of race and women. Overall, The Help accurately depicts the struggles for women of color in the 1960s and delivers a heartwarming story.

1 comment:

  1. I have never seen The Help before, but when it came out I do recall it being fairly noteworthy about both slavery. You did a great job at analyzing the film as a whole.