I was worried last year. I had pretty much exhausted the canon of movies that remind me how awful it is to be an RBP. I had gone through Tyler Perry’s joints. I had taken copious notes on how people of color were relegated to the tiniest of roles in regular movies. I read up on Lucas’s problems with Red Tails. But Oreos require constant inspiration and I was running low.
And then tonight’s SAG Awards happened. And The Help won Best Picture.
Here are 6 reasons why it’s beyond baller that it did.
1. Keeping the genre alive. Look, there’s only so much room in the canon for “thrillers” or “comedies” or “silent films.” We need to constantly push the envelope. At this time, we have amazing technology that can take us to far away worlds or put a new spin on old techniques…. But both of those things take quite a bit of work and challenge filmmakers as well as audiences. Much better to bask in nostalgia, both in the look and mentality of the films we choose to make and laud.
2. Wildly inconsistent stakes distract from period horrors. So, the RBP ladies in this movie need Skeeter because it’s too risky for them to speak up for themselves. If they do, they’ll get fired, or worse. So it makes total sense then, that Minnie bakes her own shit into a pie and gives it to a white lady. Because if it’s such a terrifying time that black people can be killed for looking twice at a white person, I’m sure they’ll be perfectly safe by giving their former employers a Hep strain.
Because the film doesn’t make it clear how dangerous a time it was, it lets us know that it probably wasn’t all ~that~ bad in the end. I mean, there was room for shit pie.
3. Totally reasonable reason for firing someone turns into abhorrent reason to fire someone and thus makes the fired seem a bit petty at the end of the day. So, in addition to emotionally molesting her friends for their stories that she’s going to publish, Skeeter also spends a great deal of time pestering her mother to tell her what happened to the mammy she grew up with. With a tearful story, her mom finally tells her.
Turns out, Skeeter’s mammy was like 174 years old and couldn’t properly serve meals anymore. Also, during a very important meeting, the mammy’s daughter bursts into the room and interrupts. This is the equivalent of me following my company’s CEO to a business lunch and then sitting down at their table as if our company’s CEO has any idea who I am.
What Skeeter’s mammy did was a perfectly reasonable firing offense. And so, again, it reminds us that things weren’t really all that bad back in the ol’ Jim Crow days, so seriously, what is everyone complaining about??
4. Reminder that it doesn’t matter if you were beaten to shit by the cops and your kids can’t go to college–if your friend gets a book deal, it’s all worth it! One of the maids, Yule May, steals a ring to help pay for her sons to go to college. This is a crime. For the infraction, she’s beaten half to death by a couple of white cops.
The next time we see Yule May, we don’t see her broken bones or bruised face from being the victim of very unreasonable search and seizure. Instead, we see her yukking it up in jail, reading Skeeter’s book. There’s no more mention of her poor sons who now can’t get an education, nor do we see how exactly her bones managed to knit after two grown men used the full force of their physicality on her. This, like with point 3, reminds us that things surely couldn’t have been all too terrible, so why can’t we all just get along now!
5. If something’s shot on celluloid or shown in a theater and doesn’t feature a black woman saying “I love me some fried chicken,” then I don’t think that thing can properly call itself a film.
Here’s some more fun with The Help. This piece wasn’t nominated for Best Short Subject Film, I’ll never know. I’m sure we can all agree that it was a snub!