As I’ve written about before, I found the “history” reflected in the film “The Help” to be problematic on many levels. I agreed with the Association of Black Women Historians in their criticism of the film’s message about black women in the era of Jim Crow. I also found Melissa Harris-Perry’s review of the film to be on point when she described it as “ahistorical and deeply troubling.” More recently, an alternate reading of “The Help” came in the form of this revised movie poster that bitingly states what many of us think about the film.
Then, what the hey is the NAACP thinking by nominating the film for Outstanding Motion Picture for one of its 2012 Image Awards? More importantly, why did they give Bryce Dallas Howard a nod for Outstanding Supporting Actress? Hilly? She’s not exactly a person of color (at least not in the tradition of these awards). As the Washington Post stated, this is one of the most awkward nominations the organization made. I can understand Viola Davis’ nomination for Outstanding Actress–even Melissa Harris-Perry recognized her talent. Still, I agree with her that it’s a shame that Davis will probably win for playing a maid. Hattie McDaniel, anyone?
As a historian, I often find myself combating popular media’s misrepresentations of the past in the classroom. However, it is often an uphill battle and the success of films like “The Help,” make it even more difficult. So, like my cohorts in the profession, I plod along and try to educate my students by having them read some honest-to-goodness history. I only wish filmmakers would do the same. It’s not as if the historical truth doesn’t make for good drama.