When the 2011 film “The Help” jumped to the top of Netflix’s most-watched list in June, people were not happy. The film was directed by Tate Taylor, who is white, and has drawn criticism from activists and critics for whitewashing.
The recent backlash, however, stems from the fact that the movie rose in popularity on Netflix amid worldwide protests in response to the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the numerous Black people who have lost their lives to police brutality.
“The Help” is based on the 2009 book of the same name written by Kathryn Stockett, who is also white, and follows a white woman (played by Emma Stone) as she works on a book about Black domestic workers in Jackson, Miss., during the 1960s civil rights movement.
One of the people who doesn’t agree with the misconstrued “relevancy” of “The Help” right now is Bryce Dallas Howard. In the film, Howard plays Hilly Holbrook, a racist white woman and the Queen Bee of Jackson — the story’s antagonist.
On June 7, Howard posted on Instagram that while she’s thankful for the friendships she made while filming “The Help,” there are many other movies from Black creators that focus on Black characters.
“The Help is a fictional story told through the perspective of a white character and was created by predominantly white storytellers,” Howard wrote. “We can all go further.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times that was published on June 17, Howard stayed true to her Instagram post and said that if “The Help” were being made today, she would decline to accept the role as Hilly Holbrook or contribute to the film’s production.
“Right now, in this time, stories are going to play a crucial role in our ability to empathize and to be inspired into action,” Howard said in the interview. “[It’s] an important stance to take in order to make room for the true authentic storytellers.”
At the time “The Help” came out, several actresses involved were met with critical acclaim — including Viola Davis who earned an Oscar nomination. But in a 2018 New York Times profile, Davis even expressed her issues with the film.
“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom,” Davis said. “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 the course of the movie.”
Suggestions for other films to watch include Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” her drama series “When They See Us” and her 2015 Best Picture nominee “Selma.” Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Just Mercy” is also available to stream for free. “Say Her Name: The Life And Death Of Sandra Bland” is on HBO, and Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” starring Denzel Washington, is on Netflix.
Activism isn’t limited to standing on the frontlines; here are places you can donate to help the Black Lives Matter movement and the protestors.
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