Desiree Cooper on 'The Help'

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"The Help" (Dreamworks)

The film adaptation of “The Help” has been out since last week, and reviews are mixed. Some say the film depicts the lives of African-American domestic workers with too much levity. Discussions abound about the movie's treatment of the sensitive relationship between white women and black domestic servants — many of them negative.

We’ll discuss the film with Desiree Cooper, a Detroit-based journalist who has family members that were once domestic workers. She believes the movie, though not perfect, could be a vehicle to help talk about the deeper issues.

Here's the trailer for "The Help":


Desiree Cooper

Produced by:

Posey Gruener

Comments [6]

Thrasher from America

I am so tired of the 'noble negro' themes that always emerge from films and novels which expore the inhumanity of being Black in an America that produced slavery, segregation, etc.. This attitude of trying to find humanity in the naked reality of white racism from my vantage point only clouds a real discourse and just extends the shelflife of denial, avoidance and racial amnesia...Yet again the victim must find a way to appease the oppressor feelings..WTF

Aug. 21 2011 11:34 AM
BJ from Ann Arbor

M from Detroit,

Touche! Point well taken.

As you may be able to imagine, I am somewhat thin-skinned to this issue given a lifetime of dealing with racism in various forms.

Thank you for your perspective. It has broadened mine, and my apologies to Angela from Brooklyn.

Aug. 19 2011 10:08 PM
M from Detroit

BJ -
How many "white" Americans immigrated here after slavery was already abolished? Millions. Many who were poor and/or oppressed overseas and starting difficult, disadvantaged lives from scratch here in the states. Add to that the generations of people born here in the U.S. to these immigrants over the past 140 years or so, many of which are not married in to a "white" family that descended in some part from slave owners.

When I trace my family tree back - we come from a very poor village in Eastern Europe where my family members themselves were discriminated against by city dwellers. They moved first to France where they were the live-in "help" for another family. They finally came over to the U.S. and struggled and sacrificed to achieve a middle class existence, entire families living in the attics of homes in Detroit, all while learning a new language and having no assistance from anyone outside of their own community.

It may be true that my family members were not slaves, but they were also NOT slave owners. This holds true for many "white" individuals here in the U.S. In no way am I trying to imply that my families experience was better/worse than that of someone who is black, but they are certainly not to blame for what happened here 200 years ago. Finger pointing and over simplification does nothing to help end discrimination in our incredibly diverse country.

Aug. 18 2011 07:35 PM
BJ from Ann Arbor

Angela From Brooklyn--are you kidding me? Here's the answer to your question about "Can any thinking person really believe that all US whites are descended from slave-owning gentry? Because most of us are not."

Answer: If your family has been in the US for more than 200 years, there is a 99.9% likelihood that they were slave owners. . . are you kidding me?

Or maybe my question should more appropriately be---when is the last time you traced your family tree? One thing for sure, we know that none of your WHITE family members were EVER slaves. And that my dear IS the point.

Aug. 17 2011 07:55 PM
Angela from Brooklyn

If Ms. Cooper needs to draw a neat line between the privilege of whites and the disenfranchisement of blacks in the US, then The Help has given her a very handy and overly simplistic tool with which to do so.

It is very strange that not once during this interview (or even in the summary above on this comment page) was the word "white" qualified with the words "southern, upperclass," which is actually the demographic depicted in the novel/movie.

Can any thinking person really believe that all US whites are descended from slave-owning gentry? Because most of us are not.

By all appearances, the Help looks like another ultra-polarizing view of history in a vacuum brought to us by Spielberg & Co.

Aug. 17 2011 09:10 AM
Peg from Southern Tier NY

It's not just White privilege, it's RICH privilege. As a white lower middle class baby sitter, housekeeper and gardener for privileged households, I assure you that the same dynamic operates with all their Help - separate latrines too!

Aug. 17 2011 08:12 AM

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