Review: The Help

(Note: here there be spoilers for the movie. Once I read the book, no doubt there’ll be spoilers for that as well.)

I’m really late on this.

When I first started seeing the movie posters, I thought, oh great, another civil rights era showing blacks in menial jobs. When I heard its main character was white, I already knew the plot: white girl sees black maids, white girl uses her resources to single-handedly help them, there’ll be some mayhem, and in the end, the white girl walks off feeling good. See, it’s a feel-good movie. Just like the Blind Side.

But then an interesting thing happened. In my facebook stream, I started to see two polarizing opinions. The first was from mostly feminists who said pretty much what I wrote above–which included this statement from the Association of Black Women Historians. The other side was praise from Christians, mostly women, who saw the movie as uplifting and inspiring. What’s more, it was coming from black Christian women. That didn’t happen with the Blind Side.

I put the book in my to-read pile. I still had reservations about seeing the movie. My co-workers invited me to see with them, but I felt somewhat funny being the only black person in the group. My black writer friends were scattered over the country, but they ragged on the movie. So I figured I’d have to wait until it came out on Netflix, until Christmas, when my aunt pulled out the movie on blu-ray and asked, "Hey, look what I got." My grandma looked at it and said, "Well, nothing else is on. Put it in."

So I watched the Help with the womanfolk of my family (all the men, of course, vanished, because hey, chick flick). That really enhanced the movie, because, as I hoped, they did not keep quiet during the movie. My mom, my aunts, and especially my grandma, had a whole lot to say during the movie. And that helped enhance it as a whole.

My grandmother wasn’t a maid, but she did clean people’s houses during that era before she was able to become a nurse. She verified the rules that the black maids had to remember in how they interacted with white people. She also shared some interesting insights that the movie glossed over–for instance when Abilene gets kicked off the bus because a black guy got killed, and she goes home to learn that Medgar Evars was killed.  Grandma told us that not many people know about him, but he was instrumental in getting the civil rights movement off the ground. "You don’t hear much about him," she said, "but he did a lot of good work–him and Martin Luther King, Jr. Folks got angry when he got killed."

She also said that the black women loving the white children they raised was pretty much spot on. "Children are innocent. They don’t know any better." Afterwards Grandma and I talked black and white relations in general after the movie. "Wasn’t no big deal," she said. "You had the whole gamut of black folk who didn’t care a thing about the people they worked for, and then there were others who were treated like part of the family. You need to understand, down in the south, it was pretty much expected that way. Blacks and white lived side by side, kids played with each other–it was the norm. But it was also expected that the blacks got all the menial jobs, that they couldn’t rise up higher than their level. As long as they knew their place, they were fine."

Then she said:

In the south, you can live next to them; you just can’t be better than them.
In the north, you can be better than them; you just can’t live next to them.

She then told me about her aunt who lived in Arkansas (and taught my grandma to love books–which she passed down to me) who had a farm right across from a white couple. They were friendly to each other. Every so often, the white couple would send for my great aunt to come over and do something like kill a chicken, because that was what black folk did. And my great aunt did it because that was the norm. Didn’t matter what her mood was like, or if she did it out of charity or bitterness. It didn’t matter. No one questioned it, because it never entered into their heads to do so.

That wasn’t too long ago, either.

My grandma and mom and aunts loved the movie (which is interesting because my mom is the only professing Christian in the lot). As for me, I liked it, but probably not for the same reasons.

The beginning starts off just the way I figured it would–with Skeeter as the main character and the story being centered around her. We’re also introduced to Abilene, who could be considered the secondary main character. Minnie is definitely an antagonist of sorts, though it could have been the other white woman, but Minnie stands out far more to me.

As the movie went on, a very interesting thing happened. Although Skeeter was more the protagonist, there were less and less scenes of her and more of Abilene and Minnie. In fact, many of the strongest scenes had either Abilene or Minnie or both in them, but no Skeeter. (Case in point–the movie sets up this whole dating thing with Skeeter and that dude–can’t remember his name. But that gets gets glossed over with Minnie’s storyline with the pie (which my family found a hoot). You don’t even know Skeeter was dating him until he breaks up with her after the book comes out. You could cut that entire storyline out and it would’ve made no impact to the plot.)

That ending when Abilene enters the church to a standing ovation, and she gets the book with everyone names in it–dang if that didn’t make me tear up. And what does Skeeter get? Umm…an opportunity to go to New York, which she plans to turn down, but hey, the long-suffering maids urge her to go, because it’s not like nothing is keeping her there (and moreover, it’s not like her life will be in danger if she stays, not like the maids…sorry. I so hated that scene.) Luckily, Skeeter is written out goes to New York, and we get to the true ending, where Abilene confronts her employer.  It was as if the movie itself knew that the actual strength of the story came from the black characters, but it made Skeeter the main character because…well…it’s the norm.

It could have been bold. Make Abilene the main protagonist and ditch all the weak, stereotypical, "let’s show how white southern women go around acting like high faluting members of "Mama’s Family",  and put the focus on Abilene, Minnie, and Skeeter in that order, and this would’ve been such a powerful film, right up there with The Color Purple. But it didn’t. It went with the safe white protagonist. And that just made the movie good. Not great…but light and good. Shame.

As for all the naysayers about it, well, I can certainly see why you don’t want to see it. And that’s a shame as well, because this wasn’t a story about a white privileged female who wanted to become a journalist, so she writes a story about black maids. This was a story about a black woman who wanted to become a writer, so she uses a white journalist to get her story out to the country. You can see it as a privileged person taking advantage of her status to get ahead in life, or you can see it as black women taking a risk to empower themselves.

I asked my mom what she thought about the movie. "In those days, it was all about people taking risks, even though they knew it could kill them. It was those risks that got the civil rights movement rolling."

This gets the rating of 3 chocolate pies out of 5. I would rate it more, but I don’t know…after this movie, I’m going to look at chocolate pies with more suspicion than normal.


Story Calendar Now 99 Cents!

Tis the season…tis the season indeed.

As you drink your eggnog and wrap your presents, you may say, "I want to give an ebook as a gift. What ebook should I give?"

You’re in luck, because I’m dropping the price of my short story and poetry collection Into the Mist-Stained Woods: A Calendar of Tales to only 99 cents!

Mist Stained4 [Converted]


Think of it as my Christmas present to you…except, well, you’re buying it from me, so really, it’s actually a present to me…meh, don’t think about it so hard. BUY IT!

I do plan for this to be the last month the story calendar to be up. After that, I will take it down. So this is your last chance. Buy one for yourself, buy one for your friend. And then pass the word around. Twitter, Facebook, Stumblr, you name it.

And then, enjoy!

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I brought this book with me to Viable Paradise and found myself reading it at the weirdest of times (2am, between lecture breaks). It was riveting enough that I couldn’t put it down, but I can’t say I honestly liked the book.

Mainly, I struggled with the misogynist language. I can handle swear words fine, but never could stomach characters calling women c— and p—-. Hate that with a passion. I couldn’t sympathize at all with the narrator until he revealed himself halfway through the story and gave some insights into his own past (another thing I struggled with: I thought for the longest time the narrator was Oscar’s sister. The two voices are too similar for me–I had to read carefully to figure out who was talking).

Also, I had a hard time trusting all the scifi references. Being a geek myself, I got most of them, but for the first part of the book, it felt as if the author was trying really hard to show how much a geek Oscar was by throwing in all these LotR and Akira references, which felt too…general. Thanks to the movies, everyone knows LotR, and not as many people know Akira, it is the first anime movie that broke the market here in the US. It felt to me that the scifi references was more name-dropping than actually pertaining to the story…until I reached the passage where the narrator describes a cafe kitchen worker as a grotesquerie straight out of Gormenghast. When I read that, I was like, ahhhh, so he does know his fantasy books. And from that point on, I started trusting the book.

Which is good because the story itself is heartbreaking. If you ever want to learn how to write passive characters, this is a good one to read, because Oscar is passive…and what’s more, he chooses to be passive. the scene where the roommate (and thus the narrator) tries to get Oscar to work out and he gives up, actually fights to give up, is powerful. His lonely life is balanced by the stories of the people around him, which are heartbreaking in their own right. But Oscar’s was what pulled me in; I remember those days of loneliness and reading thick fantasy novels and crushing hard on guys who never returned the favor. So most of what Oscar did in the book didn’t surprise me, at least not until the end, but even then, now that I think about it, his ending was inevitable.

So the story itself is why I’m giving it three stars. Too bad Oscar didn’t hang. A couple more years and there would have been the Internet. But knowing him, he probably would’ve become those bleak, all night WoW players who don’t interact with people except through avatars. So maybe it is a triumph he went out the way he did? ::shrug::

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Goodreads Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

FrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was surprised that none of the “Frankenstein” mythology was really present. Frankenstein doesn’t create the monster in a laboratory by lightening. It’s more implied. In fact, I would venture to say Frankenstein was a dick. He creates this monster but doesn’t take responsibility for his actions–even after the monster endeavors to learn life on his own.

The most heinous thing Frankenstein did though was keep silent while Justine was sentenced to death for killing his brother. He was more concerned about his status than her life. I lost what little remaining respect for him. The monster had more respectability than him.

Interesting that it was a story within a story within a story. The best story was the one about the British family who helped the Arabian woman and the son and her became lovers. I wanted to see the ending to that! Of course, the monster ruined it by revealing himself. Bummer.

So, mostly this story was about Frankenstein creating a monster and then whining about for the rest of the story. Meh. Good thing it was a quick read.

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