￼”The Help” and The Representation of Race and Class
Back in the 1960s, when African-American people were intensely facing racial discrimination in America, there was a lot of violence and abuse towards black people. It was the most suffering period for them to live in American society. After racism and classism were more normalized by people around the world, mass media began to take this issue into account and try to normalize social diversity in the media industry. While there were many films featuring racism and classism, we had selected one of the most famous movies ‘The Help’ to portray media perspectives on how racism and classism were treated back then.
The Help, a 2011 drama film written and directed by Tate Taylor and based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel, shows racial and class tensions between African-American maids and their white employers at the dawn of the civil rights movement. The brief story is about the general situation that black women as maids have to face. For example, raising white babies, cleaning up the house, doing grocery shopping, and being responsible for all the housework. Also, there are many difficulties for black people that could be seen along in the movie. The turning point of this movie is when Skeeter, a white main character, started wanting to write and publish a story about black maids. She decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent white people’s families. At first, the maids did not agree and were not willing to help her with the column. Due to a very serious restriction, they were afraid to be arrested and punished by the Mississippi Law. Aibileen, the main character of black maids, was the first person who started telling her life story because she could not bear the inequality anymore. And this is the beginning point for disclosing how African-American people have behaved.
Credit picture: The momentum
Firstly, blacks’ lives were involved with a loop of slavery. They grow up knowing that they will become a maid without any exception. According to the movie, Aibileen Clark, the black maid protagonist, tells stories about her life saying her mother and grandmother have also been serving since the start. Even though they had a dream to be something else, they did not have a chance to pursue it. Maid is the only job that whites allow black people to be. Secondly, the prevailing belief among most white people is that black people carry diseases, and they think that the possible way to get one of these diseases is to use a toilet a black person has used. Hilly Holbrook, an antagonist who was intensely racist, created the project to have a law passed requiring white families to build outside bathrooms for their black employees to use. Black people were not allowed to use the same toilet as where white people used. This depicts how seriously whites are being racist at that time. As in the scene where Minnie Jackson, a black maid, wants to use the bathroom, but there is a tornado outside with heavy rain. Hilly, who is her employer, still insists that Minnie has to use the outside bathroom only. On the other hand, Mrs.Walters, Hilly’s mother, allows Minnie to use the same toilet as her and Hilly. Then, Minnie secretly uses the toilet in the house, Hilly finds out and bursts out of anger. After that Hilly fired Minnie out and pushed Minnie out of her home. Besides, the movie also mentioned Mississippi law in the 1960s. It is a law that divides whites and blacks in housing, jobs, schools, churches, playgrounds, and all other aspects of social life. These discriminatory policies imply that African Americans had the worst jobs, lowest pay, poorest schools, and difficult living conditions. As we can see in the film, there are separate seats for black people in the bus, and when crime happens, the bus driver dispels blacks from the bus along the way and drives for whites to the destination. Black Mississippians who challenged the system were often faced with being arrested, fined, jailed, violent, death, or punished by white employers. The law in the film state that “No person shall require any white female to nurse, ward, and rooms in which Negro men are placed. Books shall not be interchangeable between white and colored schools, but they shall continue to be used by the race first using. No colored barber shall serve as a barber to white women or girls. And, in a person written, published, or circulating written med urgent for public acceptance of social equality between whites and Negro is subject to imprisonment.” This law shows that the rights of black people were unfairly restricted, and they have to confront these oppress and injustice for many years as the movie portrays. Due to the Mississippi law being strictly enforced in the country, there was nobody who could dare to break the laws and claim their rights. As a result, racial discrimination constructs a deep root in society without changing for a long period.
After the Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 became the center of attention of people around the world, The Help returned and hit the charts once again after its first release in 2011. Among positive feedback, some people started to criticize that the movie isn’t a helpful resource to help people understand racism. The audience also said that the movie didn’t try to raise the issue of racial discrimination as much as it should be. Moreover, Viola Davis who acts as Aibileen Clark in the film said that it wasn’t the voice of the maids that were heard, and she regrets participating in the film.
However, the theme of this movie wants to present and emphasize the demand for African-American rights and also reflect the society at that moment. Pegoda (2020) states that there are comedic scenes that minimize the cruelty inflicted on Black people. The maid characters make audiences laugh and deviate their attention from harmful stereotypes. Also, the movie mentioned one of the most important events in history is the civil rights movement by Martin Luther King Jr., who was the most visible spokesman and leader in the civil rights movement from 1955 until 1968. Andrew Pegoda also claims that people who watch historical movies tend to accept what is presented as the outstanding historical truth. So, in our perspective, even this movie was written and directed by a white man based on a novel by a white woman, they still represent a true depiction of life during the times of segregation.
Credit picture: Wikipedia
In conclusion, nowadays, we still see the media often generate discrimination content to depict how African-American people were treated. This can imply that racism and classism are still not exterminated in our society, and the media is a medium to transmit and narrate stories to us. Compared to the Thai media angle, this case study has an impact on what Thai drama should produce. Most Thai dramas often stereotype and misinterpret class and race inappropriately. For example, rural people were often depicted as poor black servants, low in education level, clumsy, and looking stupid than other characters in the entire story. So, if Thai media could learn how to represent the diversity of people from ‘The Help’ movie, the stereotypical perspective would not be so obvious in Thai people’s mind since mass media is one of the significant factors to make change and indicate the problems in the society. We think ‘The Help’ movie is another appropriate example of mass media perspective and representation of discrimination that you could watch to understand what happened to blacks in the past.