The Help has been getting a lot of attention. It's a book written by Kathryn Stockett that is also now a movie. For those of you completely unawares, it is the story of a white woman growing up in the South of the '60s and is her view of "the help"—the black women who worked, taught, struggled, triumphed in that time period. Apparently, it's a big hit—according to Amazon, it's the first single title to sell a million copies on Kindle. And USA Today rates the movie "a fine work all around."
I have a friend who is reading the book and she talked about how much she's learning about the time period from it, a statement I took at face value (meaning, that the book was a place to learn valid history in the guise of fiction). Then, however, I started taking notice of what other people were saying.
- Anne Helen Peterson talks about how The Help is perhaps melodramatic and unrealistic, rather than a good take on history.
- The Help has gotten a lot of flack as being high on the white guilt abatement scale, rather than a book that helps orchestrate continued change.
- The Association of Black Women Historians' review of the book and movie is almost scathing: "The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers."
I'm not going to presume to have an opinion, either way (I haven't read the book or seen the movie). But I would like to say that the fact that it has gotten so many people talking is in and of itself a good thing. Whether you hate what the story tells and implies—or you love it—you're talking about it with people who have different perspectives, learning and seeing things you might have missed on your own. And that is the beginning to any change.