First of all, they've gotten so expensive - even way down here in tax-free LSD - as to tarnish the experience before I even sit down in the theater. And, as Ms. Conroy doesn't like many films other than those from Disney (I had to DRAG her to "Slum Dog Millionaire" and "Avatar" which she reluctantly admitted to liking), if I go, I have to go alone.
I read the book, "The Help" last summer and loved it. I thought the writing was excellent and the story very powerful. As a Caucasian woman the racism and sexism of this story of several upper-class Southern white families in the early 1960s, from the amused and bemused perspective of their black housekeepers and cooks – as told to a perky white female journalist - made me squirm.
I couldn't imagine the film improving on the power of the book - which, I've discovered, is often the case and another reason I don't go to see many movies in the Theater.
Apparently, the power of the movie version of 'The Help' is mostly in the controversy it has stirred.
Now, why this movie has caused such a flap - and not, say, "The Secret Lives of Bees" or "The Blind Side", or "Mississippi Burning", or "Driving Miss Daisy" or "The Legend of Bagger Vance" or "The Color Purple" even Disney's "A Song of the South" and "The Princess and the Frog" - is a bit of a puzzle to me.
Maybe 'we who believe in freedom' are getting just a bit weary about the current level of racism in our present cultural and political reality.
Those of us who understand the politics of race see what's going on in this country and are outraged and sickened by the undercurrent of racism directed at all the political attacks which have been leveled at the first Black man to occupy the White House.
Perhaps the real flap is over the comments and "tweets" made by Melissa Harris-Perry, the former Princeton professor, now from Tulane, who appears regularly on Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC.
She has become the "new Oprah" - smarter, better educated, articulate, more attractive - and many, many people listen to her. I confess to being a great admirer of hers and loved reading her blog, "Table Talk" when she was at Princeton and before she became famous.
Here are some of the things she "tweeted" from the theater as she watched the movie:
“Hard to tell whether it’s the representations of black women or of white women that’s most horrible”She also said on the Lawrence O'Donnell show that the movie was, to her, completing the work started by the Daughters of the American Confederacy when they “found money in the federal budget to erect a granite statue of Mammy in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial,” which happened while the same Senate contingency failed to pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. “It is the same notion that the fidelity of black women domestics is more important than the realities of the lives, the pain, the anguish, the rape that they experienced.”
“Thank God magical black women were available to teach white women how to raise their families and to write books!”
“The Help reduces sexism, systematic violent racism, and labor exploitation to a catfight that can be won by cunning and spunk.”
“It’s ahistorical and deeply troubling,” she argued, to make the suffering of these laborers a backdrop for a happy story. But there was a silver lining to the film, and Harris Perry concluded on a good note: actress Viola Davis’s buzz was well-earned. “What kills me,” she concluded, “is that in 2011 Viola Davis is reduced to playing a maid.”
Look, I understand the outrage over 'white agency' and the anger at yet another movie from the 'White Liberal Guilt Theater', with the message that seems to say either, ""Aw, look at those poor Negroes, I just want to help them!" or "Well, there, I feel better knowing that there wouldn't be a Civil Rights Act much less a Black President without the help of White folk."
It's not exactly the same thing, of course, but I get the same way about the "male agency" that has some men claiming that women wouldn't have gained suffrage without the help of men.
Indeed, it was only just recently that, in a movie which featured a strong woman, there was always a scene where she twisted her ankle on her high heels and some man had to carry her over the finish line and off into a romantic sunset.
Or, the "straight agency" when some make the claim that Queer people wouldn't be brinked on the edge of full Marriage Equality without the help of straight people. Hell, I even yelled for months about the Tom Hank's movie "Philadelphia" concerning the early days of the AIDS crisis because there were no lesbians in the movie.
And, I'm here to tell you that gay men would not have made it through those early days without lesbian doctors, nurses and social workers doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Indeed, we were doing the hard work of pain and symptom and nutritional management, and keeping people comfortable in their own homes, and arguing with insurance companies for hours about covering the cost of health care and doing countless Adult Forums at churches and educational events at Community Centers.
No one is ever going to write a book or make a movie about that part of the story. Which is okay. No one I know did that work for any glory, much less thanks - although it would have been lovely to have earned a mention.
That's not the problem. The problem is, to some extent, there's some truth in all of those claims about the various forms of "agency".
The book and movie "The Help" are aptly named. It's all about 'help' and who helps who through the tangled mess and poisonous web of individual, corporate and cultural prejudices and various forms of oppression.
I wasn't going to write about this but something happened just yesterday morning that prompted me to say something.
I had dropped off my beloved pup, Theo, just up the street at 'The Wizard of Paws' to be groomed. I was then heading off to Lewes for a gathering of Episcopal Clergy sometimes referred to as "The Boys and Girls Club" because most of us are, shall we say, no longer boys and girls.
I was early for my meeting, so I stopped off at one of the convenience stores to get a cup of coffee and the newspaper. As I approached the counter to make my purchase, there was a young Black man - oh, early twenties, I would say - who had just purchased a cigar.
He was looking at his purchase with a confused look and said to the Very White woman at the register, "No... um... I'm sorry, ma'am, but.... this is not the one I pointed to."
The Very White woman glared at him, "Yes it is. You took it, you gave me $1.99, I rang it up. It's yours." Then she smiled sweetly at me and said, "I'll take that for you now, hon."
I looked over at the young man, his mouth open in utter astonishment and confusion. Two men - both White - appeared in line behind me with donuts and coffee.
I looked at her and said, "Well, before you take care of me, can I ask you a question?"
A flicker of nervousness flashed over her face and, through a crooked smile, she said, "Sure, hon."
At this point, the Black, older man who was sitting in the car I passed on my way into the store appeared at the door and looked in. I could feel the men behind me shifting their weight nervously.
I looked at the young man who was looking at the cigar and shaking his head, took a deep breath, looked at the Cashier and asked, "Does this store believe in good customer service?" (I swear to God, I had no idea I was going to say that and I had no idea where I was going with it.)
She smiled nervously and said, "Of course. Now, let me take your order."
At this point, the young man found his voice and said, "But, I don't understand. I pointed to that cigar right over there, but you gave me this one, and before I could say anything, you rang me up."
She glared at him and said, "That's the one you pointed to. Now, take it because I'll have to void the sale and it will mess up our inventory and I just don't have time for that. I've got other customers to wait on. Just take your cigar and be happy with it."
The older Black man who had been looking in through the glass door now made his way into the store and stood there, arms folded across his chest, listening.
I could feel the tension rising from the two White men behind me.
I looked at the Cashier and said, "Well, if there is good customer service in this store, then you know the saying that 'The Customer is always right'. Why don't you take back the cigar you just incorrectly sold him, void the sale, return his money, and let him purchase the cigar he wants?"
She shifted her weight as she held onto the cash register for balance and considered my words. "Sure," she smiled her crooked, nervous smile, "Let me take care of you and these two gentlemen and then I'll deal with him."
I smiled and said in my best cheery voice, "Oh, I don't mind. It won't take long, I'm sure." Then, turning to the young man I said, "Which cigar did you want?"
He allowed just a tinge of relief to flicker over his face as he pointed to the cigars and said, "That one."
The Cashier didn't move.
"That one?" I asked. "The one in the red wrapper?"
"Yessum," he said.
I looked at the Cashier and pointed to the cigar. "He'll have that one."
The Cashier tightened her grip on the cash register and glared at me and then at the young man. She didn't move. Indeed, I think she was holding her breath.
As she looked away to further consider what she might do, she turned her head and caught sight of the older Black man, standing silently at the door. Suddenly, she stood up straight and went directly to the cigar and started to ring it up.
"Wait," I said. "Let me see that cigar."
The Cashier handed it to me and I examined it, asking the young man, "Is this the one you wanted?"
"Yessum," he said.
Turning to the cashier I asked, "And, how much is this one?"
"Same price," she said through her crooked smile and clenched teeth.
"Ah, then it's an even exchange," I said. "You don't even have to ring it up or void the other sale. And, your inventory won't be messed up."
The young man silently handed the cigar over to her and I gave him the cigar he had wanted in the first place.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said quietly and politely to her.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said quietly and politely to me.
And then, just as quietly and politely, he and his older friend, who had said not a word, left the store. The older man did look at me and nodded his head, which I returned.
And that was that.
I will never understand what it's like to be Black but I do understand "micro-oppression", which are little incidences of prejudice that are like tiny paper cuts that build up on your soul.
At some point, they just make you want to holler.
Now, I don't think the story I just told you is about 'white agency'.
I didn't tell you that story to feel good about myself. Neither did I tell you that story to make you feel good about White people who help "poor Negroes" or bad about White people whose prejudices make them do stupid things.
I think that is a story about one human being - one Christian - helping another human being - perhaps another Christian - through the noxious web of prejudice and oppression.
And, you know, we all need help to do that, sometimes.
That's really what I took away from the book entitled "The Help". It's not just another white-girl-coming-of-age story. Neither is it really about oppression of "the help" of Black domestic women in the sharply segregated South.
Yes, it is all those things, but mainly it's about how the character, Skeeter, comes to understand how she has become the woman she is because of the help of The Help who were more mothers to her than her own mother.
As a college graduate who has returned home, she wants to help "The Help" by helping them tell their stories. In their own words.
Truth be told, if that story were written by former Black domestics, it would no doubt be relegated to the dusty shelves of Black Literature which no one would read, much less discuss.
Here's the thing: Because of this story, we are all 'helped' to discuss the soul-damaging subtleties of racism and sexism that existed and continued beyond the horror of the lynchings and the whippings and the tarrings and feathering that were also going on at the same time.
This may be a miscarriage of history for Melissa Harris-Perry and other Black Women and, you know, I understand. I do. Indeed, I think their outrage and anger are important contributions to the conversation.
Ultimately, for me, this is a story about the power of relationships which contain the ability to create the change in hearts and minds that change in laws can only hope to achieve, but don't.
Transformation begins in the human heart - and that's really the heart of the story of "The Help".
If you don't see the movie, I hope you at least read the book. And, I hope it makes you squirm.
More importantly, I hope it inspires you to have conversations with other people about important topics like social justice, racism, sexism, micro-oppression, cultural change, the power of relationships and transformation.
God knows, in terms of all those things, we need all the help we can get - even when it makes us squirm.