The Help, a problematic white savior film that uses the plight of Black domestic workers in the south to prop up white feminism, reached No. 1 on Netflix earlier this week, putting it back in the spotlight for its focus on white saviors and exploitation of Black pain. The timing occurs just as protests and uprisings are taking place across the nation after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and other victims of police violence.
The resurgence of the 2011 film, directed by Tate Taylor, has led to many Black entertainment critics to call foul on the film. Film critic Rebecca Theodore-Vachon wrote on Twitter, “I’m so sorry but the last thing folx need to be watching are bootleg ‘racial reconciliation’ movies like The Help.”
“If you need a list of Black films, Black film critics are on here happy to suggest some really good ones,” she continued.
LRT – I’m so sorry but the last thing folx need to be watching are bootleg “racial reconciliation” movies like “The Help” – if you need a list of Black films, Black film critics are on here happy to suggest some really good ones. Hi, happy to help. pic.twitter.com/0diLv2kD75
— Rebecca Theodore-Vachon (@FilmFatale_NYC) June 4, 2020
“Who let The Help reach #7 on Netflix’s most watched?” asked critic Joelle Monique.
Who let “The Help” reach #7 on Netflix’s most watched? In this economy?! Shame!!!
— Joelle Monique ✍???? (@JoelleMonique) June 4, 2020
Though the film’s popularity could be attributed to the fact that it is a new title on the platform, it is a problem because white viewers may think that this white savior film will help them better understand the Black experience, when it actually doesn’t. Not only is its protagonist a white girl played by Emma Stone, but the book was written by Kathryn Stockett, a white southern woman writing from what she assumes is a Black perspective. Even Viola Davis, who starred in the film as maid Aibileen, regrets doing the role.
“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” she said in 2018. “I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in th course of the movie.”
There are other films that are more authentic to the Black experience that viewers are watching with such as Selma and Just Mercy, both of which are now available for free viewing specifically to help viewers learn more about the civil rights movement and racial injustice.
Documentaries on James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and the 2016 Ferguson uprising are also now available for free streaming in select cities during this time.
In addition, the Criterion Channel is also made iconic films Oscar Micheaux, Julie Dash, Cheryl Dunye, Kathleen Collins and more, available for free.
Black Lives Matter. pic.twitter.com/aRwDVjuI0O
— Criterion Collection (@Criterion) June 4, 2020
Photo: Touchstone Pictures
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