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.
(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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!