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The Help is being punished for a lack of minority-driven films

HollywoodNews.com: I’m not going to get into a point-by-point rundown of why I think many of the criticisms being hurled at The Help are just-plain wrong. First of all, Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman already did just that, so I’ll merely link to his piece. Second of all, much of the outcry over The Help comes not from what is in the movie itself, but rather what isn’t in the film, and (more importantly) what isn’t in the marketplace. It is a clear case of film critics (and social commentators) reviewing not the movie itself, but everything outside the film.

As a stand-alone film, it works as a solid, if not awe-inspiring character piece involving a number of women (black and white) who exist in an employer/employee relationship during the middle of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. If the picture were one of a dozen films being released by a major studio that centered around African-America actors, its flaws would be less of an issue, merely reasons for calling the film good rather than great. There may be a dearth of African-American-centered major studio releases. But it is silly to condemn the one ‘shining’ example and punish it for the non-existence of other pictures like it.

Much of the problem comes from critics who want to pretend they are political pundits and judge a film as if said film is supposed to represent an all-encompassing picture in regards to its subject matter. Precious was just about one single young woman and the struggles in her life (her problems would be little different if she were a poor white teenager born with equally awful parents). Closer was a character study about four messed-up people in some form of romantic/sexual relationships, it was not an all-inclusive and generic ‘this is how men and women operate always!’ fable. I rather enjoy Crash as a series of individual character studies that delves into race relations as opposed to a sweeping generalization on race relations. Twilight is about a single young woman and her choices in regards to the men in her life, she does not represent every young teenage girl ever.

And, as such, The Help is NOT an all-encompassing story about the Civil Rights Movement. It does not portend to represent every single black woman who suffered under Jim Crow. It does not portend to claim that African-Americans were only able to take their institutionalized freedoms because of plucky white women of the era. There is of course a trend of African-American stories that are told from the point of view of the White Outsider Who Must Learn A Lesson, but I’d argue that this is not one of them.

Photo by Dreamworks Pictures

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