*The film, The Help, is the number one movie in America. It’s a good movie, but it’s not that good. What is curious to me is the timing of the movie. The book just came out in 2009. The summer of 2009, after being turned down by 60 editors and taking five years to be written. The book was optioned after it hit the New York Times bestsellers list, in December of 2009, given a release date in December, 2010 for late summer, 2011. Now think about that.
What has happened during that period that would cause, not just any good book—dozens of which make the Times bestsellers list but, this book to be fast-tracked like this. Now I know what you’re saying…and yeah, I have been known to call out a conspiracy or two, but really y’all. You don’t see anything suspicious about the making of this movie in such a bold and expedited manner? Well, knowing how difficult it is to get a movie greenlit in Hollywood, this doesn’t pass the smell test for me.
I know everything ain’t about President Obama, even though it is “all about Obama” and not allowing him to be re-elected for the Republicans and Tea Party, but this is. The movie is commonly promoted as the “feel good” hit of the summer. Exactly who is this movie making feel good? It damn sure ain’t black people. I’m sure black women aren’t romanticizing with the time period either. No, maybe they all ran to their closets and pulled out their maid outfits. NOT. Time period movies aren’t plentiful, but when made, wouldn’t you think it would be about something memorable? Maybe black women just needed the acting work. The only black woman in the movies you see these days is Tyler Perry. But I’m sure black actresses didn’t line up for the parts in this movie. Or maybe they did, if they wanted work. The point here, is that we really have to stretch to think of a reason to make this movie, beyond it’s a comfort to its audience. The majority of which are white people. Long gone are the days where black people go see movies just because there are black people in them. And certainly, we try to support any movie that highlights the black experience. But, really … maids? I don’t know anybody celebrating that. I think Hollywood green-lighted it to pick at black self-esteem, but I also think they made the movie to pick up their own self-esteem. With Barack Obama as President, I think white people need an esteem boost. I can’t think of another reason to make it.
The sentimentality here, is that every time America needs to boost its self-esteem, it makes a time period that takes us back to the antebellum or segregation era to remind us of the “good ole days” when blacks knew their place. Now you can call it coincidence if you want to; but after Jesse Jackson run in 1984, it inspired the black community in a way that it hadn’t been inspired since the civil rights days. In 1985, The Color Purple, came out, was nationally lauded, received Academy Award nominations. When Jesse ran and came close to winning the nomination and certainly was cheated from being on the Democratic ticket in 1988, black people were inspired and saw the end to Reaganism was close. In 1989, Spike Lee released the empowering Do The Right Thing, which is now a classic. Hollywood, in turn, released Driving Miss Daisy, and gave it the Academy Award for best picture. Everybody said, Hmmmm….Spike is still mad 20 years later, and he should be. Driving Miss Daisy was nothing more than a feel good movie for a white society that thought things had moved too fast and was simply missing its Mammy.
Butler and maid movies were the most frequent roles of subordination and subjugation for black people in American society. Serving white people required a smile and put them at ease in times when rights were theirs, and only to be desired by us. Now, 20 years later, here it is again. In the same month that America decides to finally honor Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall, it releases another Mammy movie…you gotta be kidding me?
In the year Barack Obama is sworn in as President, a manuscript that had circulated for nearly five years, is picked up, published, optioned for film, screenwritten and released in less than two years. At a time we’re trying to have a serious debate about the first Black President, and a segment of society—that probably enjoyed this movie—is trying to get him out of office, another “feel good” movie is released and they’re touting as an Oscar frontrunner. That’s not suspicious to you? Well, I’m touting it as something else.
I just think America is missing its Mammy again. Giving its self-esteem a boost by putting black people back in their place…at least on the big screen.
They want “yesterday” back, BAD!!! Quite as kept, some of us want it back too. And would go back to yesterday, if they could. We just can’t let em. These movies are dangerous to our psyche. Let America miss its Mammy, and we keep our attention on the future. Not the past…in particular, this past.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.