And there it goes: The second time I saw “The Help,” I was sitting in the same theater as three of the leading women in the film and the director. I was excited, but had no questions and expected, from the moment the four Hollywood bodies took their seats ten feet from me, that they did not have any answers.
“The film really is just a story about people,” explained director Tate Taylor. The stunning, generally fascinating lead actress, Viola Davis, backed him up, saying, “people always ask if this is a race movie, but is it always a race movie when there are people of color on screen with white people?” Technically, I would have to say yes, but she does have a striking point. Why does everything have to be about race? Why can’t the public, the media professionals, producers, just see a black actress as an actress? Can a story be “just a story,” without having some dark cultural subplot about past injustice? Technically, I would have to say, no.
No, particularly if your film is about social injustice. If it is “only” portraying a series of socially unjust happenings from long ago and on a personal level, then it is probably going to remind people that there are issues in history that have killed innocent people and lingered, killing more in spirit. If your movie is about the southern United states and focuses on telling the stories of degraded and abused black women and children, you can bet your bottom dollar that people will consider it a movie about race and ask you, in turn, why you chose to make a film like this, or – if you are Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer – why you chose to use all of that gorgeous depth you possess to portray such unfortunate versions of black women (in theory, though Kathryn Stockett’s women are anything but unfortunate on a personal level).
Why not take a role/make a movie that does not highlight the historical (and not so…) misfortunes of minorities in the United States?
This is what was missing. This is what I was thinking, but couldn’t put my finger on: with their privilege, movies underserve those they could help conquer. The power of the relatively leftist entertainment industry could help the thus far unfortunate persons conquer the world of media, race, and even the legal misgivings of The United States of America. For black women, for men and women of color, for all women: show us the power and beauty of diverse characters without punching them flat on their backs first, please.
I do believe that, in the future, Davis and Taylor will have a more widely accepted point, and in that time, it will not sound like avoidance (though I do not think that this was their motive) for the two to agree that race is not the main point they were trying to get across. Viola Davis is a beyond talented actress who deserves to be seen as such (and beyond). That said, Tate Taylor (and any other filmmaker with his kind of heart, of any color) could do that for her the next time around, while still making a movie with drama, heartfelt and damned good to boot. Reality can be sweet for us all, so why not show that on screen?