|Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in The Help|
*** out of ****
Hey white people! Do you feel white guilt? Well now you can relax.
The Help offers 24-hour relief from such feelings.
How does it work?
By creating a fictional white girl who bravely defends black maids during the years of Jim Crow laws in the American south. Comic relief plays a part as well. You, as a white person, can feel reassured that you too may have been a good person back in such a pressure-filled terrible time. Understanding the injustice done to blacks is always much easier and less alienating when a white character, who black characters are cool with, acts as your vessel.
Now that I've dished out the sarcasm necessary to vent my disdain for movies like this, let me be objective: The Help isn't a bad movie. I just think it's a shame that we live in an age when black-made movies expressing a black American voice rarely get attention. We've taken a major step backwards in the history of 'race in film' when 'white perspective' stories about black people are the only ones that make successful films. The Help is still emotional, empathetic, and, above all, well-acted.
The movie is what it is and I can't blame a fictional work for not being more authentic. It is an entertainment that has a lot of life breathed into it by a superb cast, of which the heart is the excellent Viola Davis. Listen to the interview here as well as her defense of the film.
This is like a refined version of a Hallmark TV movie. That ought to give you an idea whether this is your kind of flick or not. It's classic American cinematic drama with doses of silliness. Which is something I don't mind.
The cynicism I feel isn't so much about the movie. It's more about the audience it attracts: People who want a story about such a sad subject to give them a false sense of gratification.
Here is another opinion worth considering from Scott Tobias of the AV Club.