Aug 28, 2011

The Help (2011): C

The civil rights era as filtered by the Hallmark channel, The Help isn't so much blatantly offensive as it is homogenized and naive, approaching the tumult and complexity of the past with a condescending tone manifest of the wrongheaded notion that we, in 2011, are a post-racism society. Not unlike what was unfairly leveled at The Blind Side, the issues many have taken with the film - namely, calling out the portrayal of black housekeepers ("the help") as passive players afraid to speak up as itself a form of racism - strike me as just the kind of politically correct earnestness that fails to see that things like affirmative action only prolong the core issues at hand, and are themselves a form of racism (furthermore, "the help" does eventually speak up). No, there, the film is right on the money; when threatened with so much as a lynching, any group of people is likely to button their lips and do as they're told. The question, as always, is when. What's stale about The Help, then, is its color-by-number use of caricature and decidedly non-violent portrayal of struggle. Even before she opens her mouth, you could pick Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) out of a lineup as the ringleader racist of the cast, while the bloodshed of the era is kept at arm's length (even a vicious marital beating is kept mostly off screen, with minimal repurcussions). If the film is racist, it isn't because it's about a white woman, Emma Stone's Skeeter, who seeks to expose the truth through her journalism (and why, exactly, is a white person like me not allowed to want to help the disadvantaged?), but because it coddles people today by insinuating that the past wasn't quite so terribly bad as it actually was. Especially given current events, the film further drops the ball concerning the fact that this subject matter is at least as much about racism as about class warfare (King, whose assassination transpires during the film, was killed because of his involvement with union protests). Ultimately, The Help is as regressive as it is well meaning.

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