The Help Hurts Black Women's Image Say Black Women Historians

Group makes rare statement against the images of Black women in the film.

Posted: 08/12/2011 12:39 PM EDT

In her 12 years as a member of the organization, Professor Tiffany Gill can’t recall the Association of Black Women Historians ever making a statement on a contemporary film, but The Help, in theaters nationwide this week, has disturbed the organization.


“Certainly this is not the only film where we have seen derogatory images of African- American women, but what is unique about this film is that the aggressive marketing campaign is trying to make this a cultural phenomenon and we wanted to speak to that,” Tiffany Gill, Associate Professor of History, African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin told BET.com.


In a statement released by the organization, the women boldly critique the movie in an attempt to bring public awareness to what they believe are gross misrepresentations of Black women and perpetuation of painful stereotypes.


From the statement:

The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of Black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound Black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them.”

The Help is based on a bestselling novel set in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi, that tells the story of a white female journalist who empowers the Black maids she befriends to come forward and share the realities of the discrimination and racism they face.


Gill noted that although it is important to tell stories from more troubling periods in history, those stories can be harmful when they fail to contain accurate depictions of even the most hurtful realities.


“I think [the movie] is creating this nostalgia for a kind of mythical racial past,” Gill said. “I think it has to do with the political tensions and the false idea that we live in this post racial society where we can now embrace these stories in a different ways. But there’s a way in which it sanitizes the past and a way it weaves into a narrative of triumph in the supposed post racial America.”


The group’s mission is to support Black women in the historical profession, disseminate information by, for and about Black women and promote scholarship by and about Black women. Both the statement and Gill made clear that the intention of the group is not to malign the performances of the Black actresses starring in the film in any way.


“The film does not represent the vibrant activism of Black women in the South. These women were active participants; they were not sitting around for a young white woman to give them a voice or a purpose,” Gill said.


(Photo: Touchstone Pictures)

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