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'The Help': Fans and Foes

As "The Help" goes into it's third weekend of release, I think it's pretty clear what my feelings on the film are. I loved the book, was concerned the movie would mess it up, and was relieved and thrilled that it didn't. And I knew it was inevitable there would be a slew of criticism for how the plight of African-American maids in 1960s Mississippi are portrayed, since a white character is also at the center of the story.That would be Emma Stone's Skeeter, who anonymously publishes a book of the maids revealing what their lives are like.

I have to say, thus far I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of backlash. But this week, Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times (which, it should be noted, gave the film a very positive review), dredged up the argument in this piece. His complaints? The film "puts a white person at the forefront" of the story--yes, but it also puts several black women at the forefront, as well. Also, he doesn't buy that the maids aren't punished for telling their stories to Skeeter, which makes me think he dozed off for part of the film. It's pretty clear why one maid escapes punishment (her employer is too mortified to let anyone know what happened) and at least one other loses her job. He also feels proper attention isn't paid to real-life events going on at the time, to which I can only say that is not the story "The Help" is trying to tell. Ultimately, Goldstein's criticisms add up to an argument I feel I see far too much of, which is: "You didn't make the movie I want."

Perhaps the best response I've read yet came out a couple days after Goldstein's piece. John McWorter at The New Republic posted a fabulous essay entitled, "'The Help' Isn't Racist. Its Critics Are" that addresses such criticisms brilliantly. Perhaps most importantly, McWorter lets us remember that "The Help" is telling a story, one that involves whites and blacks, and is only one small part of the landscape that was this pivotal Civil Rights era. In short, people shouldn't criticize what the movie isn't, but judge it for what it is.

--Jenelle Riley

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