Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Help - Empowering or Oppressive?

Last night I went over to a friends to watch The Help, which has already been released on DVD. I have been aware of the controversy surrounding the film, but had deliberately kept myself from reading any. When I do, I inevitably ruin the movie-going experience for myself.

I had thought my problem would be in regards to the filmmaking itself. What I was allowing to eek through my barrier threatened to be an overly sentimental display of white people helping disadvantaged blacks overcome the prejudice of their fellow white people (think the Blind Side...)

And it's not not that. The story's protagonist, after all, is indeed a privileged and educated white girl who ultimately gives a voice to a collective of black maids.

However, what surprised me was the high level of craft on display. This, ultimately, is why The Help has been nominated for Best Picture. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer could have only been nominated for acting honors, which wouldn't have necessarily meant the show itself was worthy. While the story as a whole is not particularly complex (especially given its subject matter), there is a collective cohesion of cinematography, editing, script and direction that is difficult to ignore.

I can understand the nerve that's been struck in the African American community over the film. This didn't bother me, but then again, I'm not black. I do, however, frequently get myself riled up over the general portrayal of women in cinema (I will refrain from pulling out my movie encyclopedia to reference just how many actresses have been nominated for playing hookers...) This used to baffle and frustrate my brother, who didn't understand why I couldn't just enjoy certain shows for what they were and not what they weren't. Then again, he was a white middle class male.

I have found myself reveling in the interviews with Davis and Spencer, who are sensitive to the criticism, but are nonetheless convincing when they speak about having found their own voices are African American women.

Maybe it's because we look to art to reflect how we live. When we feel that something that had the promise to shine some light on how we live misses that mark, it is hard to let that go easily.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the Help. If Meryl Streep doesn't win this year, it will be to Davis who is astonishing. She was a sight to behold in 2008's Doubt, for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. I might be okay if she took home the bald guy...

No comments:

Post a Comment