Helping The Help: An FAQ for White People to the Rescue Movies

The race-tastic period drama The Help opened this week and is on its way toward cementing what has been an unofficial film genre for years: The “White People to the Rescue” movie.

Besties.

(I did try coming up with a better name for this class of film, but nothing really worked… “Benevolent Colonialist” “Minorities Really Need Help” “Period Film that Obliterates the Agency of People of Color.” Suggestions are welcome).

The Help joins films like The Blind Side, Radio, The Soloist, Avatar, Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Finding Forrester, Hancock, Wildcats, The Gridiron Gang, Friday Night Lights and even Transformers 2 (in that movie, the black Autobots were the only ones in the species who couldn’t f*cking read) to remind us how crappy being of color is and how those unlucky enough to not sunburn really need someone of Irish/Welsh/Polish/freckled descent to save them from that fate.

All movie genres have specific rules that must be followed. Westerns must be leisurely paced and take place in wide open spaces. Thrillers must misdirect. The Saw and Hostel movies must make you uncomfortable, not because of what’s on screen, but because someone thought up that shit in the first place. Comedies must feature a bunch of douchebags behaving unredeemably, but still getting impossibly hot girls in the process. Chick-flicks must make being a single female look like a fate worse for a character then ending up in the Hostel franchise.

Kill them, monkey. I'll never tell.

White People to the Rescue movies have their own rules, too. So if you’re wondering if what you’re watching is a WPTTR movie or just a thinly-written drama, bring this FAQ along to help you suss it out.

Whoa! There are minorities in titular roles in this film. Dose that make it a WPTTR movie?

Not necessarily. It could be a British movie. Or something Tyler Perry just threw up.

There are black people in the movie, but mostly white people in the audience. Is this a WPTTR movie?

Likely so. Movies that are actually about RBP are scary and intimidating. I’m sure that when BoyzinDaHOoD (that’s how you spell it, right?) came out, there were drive-bys in the theater. White people have learned to stay away.

Wait, I thought WPTTR movies were about black people?

Incorrect. Black people (or Native Americans or the Na’vi or Latino kids who just want to DANCE!) in WPTTR movies are really just foils for non-colored protagonists.

Not those kinds of foils. But man, I would love to watch a good fencing movie!

The Help is about Skeeter figuring out how to become a famous writer by making black ladies very uncomfortable (but it’s for their own good!!). Avatar is about Sam Worthington turning out to be a better Na’vi than all the other Na’vi. But we need to see the Na’vi so that we understand how deficient they are at being what they are. Dances With Wolves is about Kevin Costner getting a sweet Native muffin basket because he’s just way cooler than her boring-ass Sioux family and friends who didn’t try to genocide her people. The Blind Side is about Sandra Bullock learning that she is as awesome as she thought she was because she forced a kid who didn’t have a natural proclivity for football into being an NFL star while making him neglect developing other academic skills that might serve him well when his body explodes from weekly poundings.

That last sentence sounded kind of sexual. “Weekly poundings?” Did you really mean to say that?

 Look, I just ate two donuts. I’m a little distracted by the high of the sugar rush and the guilt of gluttony.

Two donuts? Did you really need both of them?

Yes.

The villain in this movie seems layered. Is this a WPTTR movie?

No. While audiences often enjoy a challenging bad guy who seems like they actually have a point to make, that is not the case in WPTTR movies. These movies often deal with very icky themes like racism and colonialism and those are uncomfortable. So the villain has to be created in such a way as to make it seem like those things don’t happen anymore. Their racism has to be blind, bold and violent.

In The Help, for example, bad-girl Hilly sounds stupid and mean when she suggests that black people have different diseases than whites and that’s why they need separate but equal bathrooms. And she is beyond cruel when she smiles after seeing a black lady get beaten with great big sticks.  Also, she needlessly says variations on the n-word as awkwardly as possible.

“Great big sticks?”

Not an innuendo.

Why shortchange audiences from having interesting villains?

Because if racism looks like how it does in these movies, then obviously, no one is racist or even prejudiced at all even a little bit. No reasonable person is going to cop to relating to the baddies in these movies.

If the racism in these movies were subtle or obscured by policy, semantics or tradition as crazy commie liberals say that it is in real life, it might cause audiences to wonder if their prejudices are worth examining. And no one wants to pay $14 to feel guilty about something. These donuts, par example, were free.

Goodness! The herorine/hero in this movie is a real hottie/sweet piece of man-ass! And they seem to be going on an emotional arc where they learn to be a better person. Is this a WPTTR movie?

 No. Though one of the basic tenants of screenwriting is that your protagonist must…protagonate (ie. learn something and change because of it) over the course of the story, they MUST NOT DO THIS in a WPTTR movie. In The Help, Skeeter starts off headstrong, confident and not racist. And she ends…headstrong, confident and not racist.

Likewise, main characters usually have to overcome one of their own issues and have some sort of comeuppance in order to protagonate in the first place. This bit of storytelling is also often omitted in WPTTR movies.

The Help isn’t a story about a woman who believes life to be hunky dory and finds out that it isn’t. She is from the start, not thrilled with the stifling traditions her town is steeped in, so no change there.

This isn’t a story about a woman who thinks she’s being appropriate but learns she’s mean. From go, she’s very nice to her friends maids and remains so throughout the movie.

This isn’t a movie about a woman who’s afraid of something and faces her fear. As soon as we see Skeeter, she’s not afraid to ask for a job, a high-level writing assignment or to blow off a potential boyfriend.

What did you say?!?!?

“Off!” I said “blow OFF” her potential boyfriend.

My bad, I was really distracted. That donut business sounded like a good idea. I’m on my third.

Did you really need three?

Yes.

Fair enough.

Om nom nom. What were you saying about Skeeter?

Right! She suffers no consequences for putting the maids in an awkward situation and doesn’t actually grow or change as a person because she is for all intents and purposes, an already awesome person.

Looks good, doesn't it?

Okay, fine, but surely that doesn’t happen in The Blind Side, Dangerous Minds, Avatar or Dances with Wolves?

Sandy B. is headstrong, confident and not racist. And she ends…headstrong, confident and not racist.

Michelle Pfeiffer is headstrong, confident and not racist. And she ends…headstrong, confident and not racist.

Sam Worthington starts out giving a shit about the Na’vi and ends the movie still giving a shit about the Na’vi, only now he’s better than all of them.

You didn’t mention DWW.

I know, I think we get the point.

Hmmm, what about the good looking part? You forgot about that.

Oh right!

All of this spectacular sense of self is wrapped up in an attractive, but not tooooooo attractive package so that no one is intimidated by her looks. While Emma Stone, Sandra Bullock and Michelle “MS Word will correct the spelling of my last name for you” Pfeiffer are lovely, they are not treated like the untouchably gorgeous heroines of other movies. So they seem like everyday folk. Which makes ladies feel like they could be those ladies and dudes feel like they’d actually have a chance. Audiences like to feel good about themselves.

Is it weird that I think Ben Stiller is one of the sexiest men in Hollywood?

No. Not at all. And I will fight you to the death for him.

I want to eat his face off.

This movie has white people, but also a protagonist of color. Is it a WPTTR movie?

No. Having a main character of color will basically turn a nice period piece into a Tyler Perry joint.

Wait, you’ve spoken pretty completely about some specific deets in The Help. Did you…actually go watch it?

Of course!!! Regular viewing of WPTTR movies reminds Oreos why we try so hard to escape our dark fate. I can’t wait for the Criterion edition!

Have you seen The Help? Did you read the book? Are you going to? Let us know what you think of the film, the genre, the handsome Mr. Stiller or anything else in the comments!

Being historically black isn’t all bad, of course. Be sure to check out 8 Other Awesome Things about Slavery!

And just for poops and giggles, get the hit song White People to the Rescue! stuck in your head! Sing it at the office. Everyone will love it!

******

For Mor-eo Oreo: Follow The Oreo Experience on Twitter (@oreoexperience)
Leave a comment here or at any of the above and let us know what you think!
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28 comments

  1. Damn you and your insightful analysis! I so desperately want to remain complacent and blissfully ignorant of these problems. I mean, I was lucky enough to be born a privileged white male, and now you’re not even letting me enjoy the fact that I can watch movies and completely ignore these issues! THANKS A LOT!

    Also, this post made me lol in my pants. Now I have to change them. THANKS A LOT!

  2. Bwaaaahhhaaaa!! (I’ve always wanted to write that in a comment. Did I spell it right?) Thanks for eating so many donuts whilst writing this post. It def gave it that extra je ne sais quoi! I learned so much about what to look for in these WPTTR movies (and yes, that’s the best description). I’ve even begun to question my own racist views (how did I know they were racist before? I NEVER use the N word and I’ve never beaten an N word with a stick!). Thank you for opening my eyes and for continuing to post sweet goodness here. Donuts + WPTTR Movie Review = Happy Friday

  3. I LOVE your commentary. Thanks for bringing the funny into politics. You should be on The Daily Show or Colbert Report…

  4. Got to admit, I DO want to see a movie with a racist person learning that they’re wrong, and maybe even in the here and now!
    Kudos to your comic stylings!

  5. Thanks for the insight! After reading this delightful commentary and fatabulous FAQ WPTTR list, I think Skeeter is annoying, and am really craving a doughnut. Please tell me she offers them royalties or something for their stories…
    Yeah, and Ben Stiller is plenty sexy. I will challenge you in a fencing match for that last name!

    1. A fight it shall be, then! Though, he does get major points for being married to Melody from Hey Dude. And I’d hate to hurt Melody.

      SPOILER ALERT:

      Skeeter does give the ladies like $60 or something and they shit themselves over it like it’s the best thing that will ever ever happen in their little lives. There’s some falling down in the street. And some hollering.

      1. I have to challenge you on Ben Stiller– Adam Sandler wears the hotness crown–sorry. However. I respect the fact that hotness is in the eye of the beholder. As for the movie, I read the book a year and a half ago lwith the sinking feeling that this would be a movie. I wanted to wait before I saw it, because I figured it would be Driving Miss Daisy 2. I may go see it eventually.

  6. I haven’t seen this movie but I want to. I’m behind on my summer movie watching.

    I challenge you to a duel. Epees at dawn. My second will be in touch.

    Ben stiller? Really? Is it the “Blue Steel” thing? Or am I just taking crazy pills?

  7. “No. Though one of the basic tenants of screenwriting is that your protagonist must…protagonate (ie. learn something and change because of it) over the course of the story, they MUST NOT DO THIS in a WPTTR movie. In The Help, Skeeter starts off headstrong, confident and not racist. And she ends…headstrong, confident and not racist.

    Likewise, main characters usually have to overcome one of their own issues and have some sort of comeuppance in order to protagonate in the first place. This bit of storytelling is also often omitted in WPTTR movies.”

    WOW!!! I have heard the phrase WPTTR movies in that specific and various other forms before, but this was the first time i saw this particular analysis. If I were to say that were brilliantly insightful, I wouldn’t be doing it justice. I’m actually a fan of this movie genre (and any other opportunity to see Bullock and Pffffffffiefffffffer), and I thought I had the nuances down, but… yeah… that was definitely the “there is something else to it that I can’t quite put my finger on” concept.

    Thank you.

  8. This is a very smart piece, though I have to voice the question nagging at me as I read this: In the movies and stories when white people come to the rescue, isn’t it just because they are in the POSITION to rescue? Often non-caucasians are at a societal disadvantage (to put it lightly) compared to caucasians. So throughout history there have been people who use their advantage to the advantage of the disadvantaged members of society. This isn’t limited to race, but also rich and poor, disabled and non-disabled, educated and illiterate, etc.
    Being an Avatar nerd, admittedly I was triggered when Sam’s name came up in all of this…as a point of correction, he started out being ignorant to the Na’vi’s plight and ended up not only sympathizing, but becoming one of them. I really think it depends on the person’s P.O.V, but I still adhere to the idea of an advantaged person using their advantage to help the disadvantaged group.
    Again, I think this is a smart piece and I do see your point. But….it’s Sam. He’s my Ben Stiller, OreoWriter. 😥
    I don’t know if I will see the help…movies set in the Jim Crow south tend to depress me. I’m still recovering from the Secret Life of Bees.

    1. That’s true. Sometimes, white ppl were in a position to help. However, according to Hollywood (with rare exception), these are the only stories we get to hear. We rarely, if ever, see stories about people of color just working it out for themselves, which they did plenty of times.

      My issue with Sam is that not only is he not a Na’vi, he’s not even ‘actually’ there and yet he became the best Na’vi of all time. Which sucks for all the Na’vi who, you know, have spent their entire lives working to be the best Na’vi, and then, they’re bested by some random dude in a matter of a couple of weeks.

      But the above does not eclipse any hotness he may hold for you. Hey, if Still does a WPTTR movie, I’ll pretty much have to see it. And drool, drool away….

      1. Okay I do see what you’re saying, both about the white rescuer bias and about Sam getting his Na’Vi PhD in just a few weeks. His hotness remains uneclipsed (except by Hugh Jackman. lol). Hollywood just assumes what movies people want to see until they get some kind of hint to do something different.

  9. One thing I’ve heard about these movies “The Blindside” portrays them as teaching the kid about football and creating an interest in it for him right? But in reality wasn’t he already one of the top ranked players in the state when they met him?

    And in the help; I’ve heard that the group get together and talk to the mean old lady themselves and that solves the problem whereas in reality what happened from what its based off, the people went to the streets and risked their lives by demonstrations.

    Did they just not seem like victims enough with that level of agency? Or were the white people not suffieciently heroic enough if the POC showed off ambition, discipline and achievement on their own on any level?

    Or is it to downplay their situation the POC’s are in; to show that its just them not being willing to meet the situation head on or work at, not that it was a situation where that might not have mattered at all.

    And the main character from Avatar is your basic Oreo; he’s an “adopted” member of the Navi, not one from birth and due to that feels a sense of inferiority/not belonging, to make up for his lack of security he feels an extra need to prove himself and be the best navi ever so does stupid and life threatening things just to impress the others around him and feel like one of the group. Whereas the others don’t need to “prove” they are navi, they already are so don’t feel the need to be ambitious or do over the top stunts just to belong.

  10. lol This was fun.

    There are so many movies that I didn’t know how to categorize after watching them, and this helps. I was thinking the same thing when watching “The Constant Gardner” and “Blood Diamond”; I think they might just fit in your WPTTR category.

    I’d love to know what you think of the movie “Crash” (2004) by P. Haggis.

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