"The Help" and Hollywood’s Limited View of Black Actresses

"The Help" and Hollywood’s Limited View of Black Actresses

While I wasn’t particularly jazzed about seeing the film, it didn’t really bother me that The Help was released in 2011, while we still have our first Black president and first lady in the White House.

Published August 16, 2011


While I wasn’t particularly jazzed about seeing the film, it didn’t really bother me that The Help was released in 2011, while we still have our first Black president and first lady in the White House. The movie, regardless of how annoying and trite some of its scenes and dialogue may be, is still a slice of U.S. history. Furthermore, Black women domestics who’ve worked hard behind the scenes to help establish this country in every corner of America always deserve to have their stories told.


The real problem is that in 2011 there is still no balance in the amount of films starring Black actors released yearly. Most people wouldn’t have a problem with The Help if it we had different African-American images to choose from at our local movie theaters (we still only get one or two movies annually). Much of the best, diverse film stories about the Black experience are either told through small budgeted indie films or shorts, but they continue to go unnoticed by the mainstream movie machine.

Despite the progress that Blacks have made throughout decades in the industry, it has also grown glaringly clear that Tinseltown still has no idea what to do with the Black actress, especially those with darker complexions. It echoes volumes that Viola Davis, one of the most talented working actresses of any decade, who has been mostly regulated to albeit dazzling, small moments on film, is offered a starring vehicle as a maid. I doubt that lighter counterparts Zoe Saldana or Halle Berry would ever be offered such a movie role.

But sadly in much of our cinematic history (with a few exceptions, mostly by way of biopics) it seems the shade of Black women usually includes two hues: the whore and the mammy.  Unfortunately, those images, the ones that Hollywood seems comfortable seeing us in, are designed to polarize us all; the working actor, the movie-going audience and sisters and brothers of all colors, all while leaving a limiting and damaging stereotypical depiction of us to the world.

Click here for a history of Black actresses who have played maids in Hollywood .

Written by Ronke Reeves

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