August 29, 2011

Waking Us Up

Viola Davis deftly portrays the role of Aibileen

Some things snap you awake. They make you feel uneasy. Make you wonder if they are right. If they are good. But in the end, you appreciate them for that glimmer of truth they provide. And just by the fact of being there, of telling a story, they make people aware. They shake us awake to realities that have lain dormant in our minds. They remind them of a history that we sometimes forget. I feel this way about The Help. The book by Kathryn Stockett and the film, which I finally saw last night.
I devoured the book in less than a week. Reading at lunch and in the evenings. The characters became like old friends and I was sad to leave them at the end. I identified most with Skeeter of course - unruly hair, writer aspirations, not following the expectations of her society, sort of a tall, awkward girl who's not afraid to be a bull in the china closet. But my favorite character was Aibileen (Viola Davis nailed this role in the film - flawless - and Cicely Tyson as Constantine was so haunting and lovely that her scenes brought me to tears). Her quiet strength. Her acceptance of everybody. I would consider my feminine power fully developed if I could have her grace. 

This book was written by a white woman. White women telling black women's stories. In the book, it was the only opportunity at that time to get the voice of the black maid heard - someone white had to connect with the all-white publishing industry. In the case of Stockett writing this book, well, she grew up with a black maid and knew it from that perspective. This book and film have generated a lot of discussion about this rarely touched upon aspect of history and that is a good thing. For us to remember and feel uncomfortable about the fact that a group of people were so horrible to another group of people. Any maybe that's what racism is: not white versus black, but a group of people who choose to demean and debase another "group" of people for ludicrous reasons. The truth is so easily distorted, and people take this fact and bend it to their will to gain power over others. 

I have heard people say that we live in a post-racial society. I only wish. But sometimes I can't help but wonder if that we ever be possible. There's just too much pain, too much history. Here in DC, there is a great deal of poverty and most of the people I see living on the streets, that I see in the homeless shelter where I volunteer, are black.  Most of the people on the cleaning staff at my work are black. Are these people here by choice? Or are they here as a residual effect of historical prejudice? Is this the fallout that has been perpetuating for generations? When will the cycle stop? 

We've made such strides. First and foremost, electing a black president (and then demanding he present his birth certificate - an unprecedented act). DC will dedicate the long overdue Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, memorial in the coming weeks.  

I am not even sure if I can justly comment on the topic of racism as a white woman. It makes me feel uncomfortable. But I think that is just about right. I should be uncomfortable because this is not a resolved issue by any means. But this book and film are getting us talking and making us aware, which is the first of many steps.
Image can be found here.


  1. I read the book a while ago, and have been wanting to see the movie too. We always have the same taste in films, so I'm sure I won't be disappointed. I'm so glad to hear you survived the storm okay - of course I'm sure your wine and book provisions helped (I'm kinda anxious to see what you think of 'The Tiger's Wife' - it's on my list, but I haven't gotten to it yet)! Have a great week, dear friend! xoxo

  2. Bravo Emily!!! Very well written. I would love to see this movie.

  3. great post – I haven't read the book yet (or seen the movie) but I keep hearing good things about it. And I agree that we don't truly live in a post-racial society... but I think (hopefully) we're getting closer.


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