It's been a week now. Since our seeing "The Help," the anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution came and went. I'm just bringing this up to get in a quotation by Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, who said for herself the following as a woman and as a colored as a representative of the World's Congress of Representative Women, some 27 years before the 19th Amendment and the equal right of women to vote with men in the United States:
The colored woman feels that woman's cause is one and universal; and that not till the image of God, whether in parian or ebony, is sacred and inviolable; not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as the accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman's lesson taught and woman's cause won—not the white woman's, nor the black woman's, not the red woman's, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong.In the film, "The Help," one of the first things you hear, and something you hear repeated, is the main character, Aibileen, saying the following to a young white girl under her care, as a black woman, as one of the help some forty years or so after women in the United States were finally granted the vote:
You is smart, you is kind, you is important.This is the voice of the black woman, of black women, teaching other women as daughters who some day will later employ their own daughters when both grow up. We wondered what the young and old African American women in the theater with us in Fort Worth, Texas, USA were thinking. And there were many, relatively speaking. At the end of the movie, there was light and not unanimous applause. One African American couple headed straight to the door before the credits started rolling.
The representations and the misrepresentations got us wondering about the stereotyping. (Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, not a black woman herself, has helped us wonder much; and here's how she has changed her mind and the sensitive and rhetorical questions she's asked.) How do we want our black women to represent themselves? How if we're a white woman novelist or her chosen white male screenplay writer, both from Mississippi? I'm reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, who self identifies as white, agnostic, half New York Jewish, half MidWestern Protestant, to show how different she is from Ms. Lacks and especially from her daughter Deborah, to whom this writer gives voice. There's much much care and concern for right representation, for historical accuracy, for the issues at stake. I highly recommend Skloot's book but hardly recommend the movie, The Help. Oprah Winfrey has discussed with Skloot making her book into an HBO film, and she's hired Alan Ball to write the screenplay. Ball is a man, a white person, who has proven how important it is to represent women fairly, and not just white women, for example in his writing of the screenplay "Towelhead," based on the book by Alicia Erian, who writes as an Egyptian-Polish American young woman.
Now, I'm not saying to anyone that they must boycott "The Help." It is important to see the film the way it was important to see "The Passion of the Christ," written and directed and produced by a known anti-Semite and misogynist. It was first written in English and then translated into Aramaic and into Latin, not any Greek. The Latin was not the Latin of the characters in the film but is ecclesiastical Latin. Who makes such films and how their characters speak does matter. The backstory of the person telling somebody else's story does matter. The "original" tellings of the story portrayed were translations from Aramaic and from Latin and from high Hebrew into goyish Greek turned Hebraic Hellene. Now that's real important. You understand the reactions of the different audience members, and you must freely have your own responses, when you get the story behind the telling of the story.
I know I'm not giving you much of a review of a movie. I hope you'll hear and see for yourself some of the issues when someone is denied her voice or when a voice is represented and misrepresented.