Arthur Lewin; Subliminal Messages In The Help…

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( The wildly popular movie, The Help, though hailed in many quarters is at the same time roundly condemned in others. Why is that. . .  

Every movie, in fact anything that calls itself art, operates on two levels. There is what you see and hear, and there is what you do not see and do not hear, but pick up nonetheless on the symbolic, that is, the unconscious level.

One of the heroines of the movie is an older Black woman who works as a maid, the other is a well-to-do young white woman. They live in Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, at the height of the civil rights movement. The film depicts this young white woman as secretly recording the true life stories of Black maids who have taken care of generations of white families.

As the Black woman first begins to tell the white woman the story of her life as a domestic, the clock on the wall shows that it is seven minutes after seven. She says she was born in 1925, and began taking care of white families at 14.  Note, 7 + 7 = 14.  Also, 25 can be seen as 2 + 5 = 7. Seven is the lucky number in gambling, and overall it carries the connotation of good luck. The Black maid is taking a deadly gamble by opening up about the horrors she has experienced, but all these “7”s foreshadow that she’ll prove lucky and survive the dangers she is exposing herself to. 

The over-riding, over-arching theme of the film is suffering, suffering and self sacrifice for the well being of others. The Black maids sacrifice their lives with their own families to make money to take care of their families by taking care of white families. During the course of the film, the real life head of the NAACP in Mississippi, Medgar Evers, is shot to death in Jackson, Mississppi. Also, President Kennedy is assassinated. These men are seen as Christ figures. And the Black maid’s own son, as she tells the white woman, was gravely injured by whites and left to die.

In the kitchen of the maid’s home, where the two women sit as she recounts her tales, there is a picture of her son and picture of a white Jesus. When Kennedy is killed his picture is added to the pantheon thereby making it a trinity.

After many twists and turns the white woman finishes writing her book, and publishes it. Once it comes out the Black maid is hailed as a hero when she comes to church. Look carefully at the Black minister who welcomes her, and you will clearly see that he is clutching a church fan over his chest and on the fan is the same picture of the white Jesus that is on the wall of her kitchen.

Later, the maid is faced with prison for speaking out. However, the young white woman and her own mother come to the Black woman’s defense. Also, the white woman shares her royalty check equally with all the maids who helped her. Thus, the movie states, she has to divide it into 13 parts. Note, Christ, the “Savior” had 12 Apostles. So he and his followers also numbered 13 in all.

Early in the film, the young white woman says that Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind, fostered the Mammy stereotype, that of the always faithful Black female servant. She declares that she intends to tell the true stories of Black servants. Does she?

Yes, she does, in the film. But the film is fiction. Yes, a book was written about the travails of Black maids working for rich white families in the Deep South. But it was written in 2009, not in 1963 at the height of the civil rights movement as shown in the film. And did the real life author share her proceeds with the women whom she chronicled? One is suing her for defamation of character.

Is the film, nonetheless, representative of the good white people of the South who came out and stood up for African Americans during the civil rights movement? Yes, white women and men worked and died in the movement, but didn’t they come from the North? In fact, when Martin Luther King was put in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for leading a series of demonstrations, eight leading white clergymen fromBirmingham wrote him a carefully thought out letter proclaiming that they sympathized with his cause, but that he needed to be patient and fight the struggle in the courts, not in the streets. King’s masterful response, Letter From A Birmingham Jail, is a classic in the annals of American history.

Note how the author within the movie says she is trying to overturn Margaret Mitchell’s Mammy stereotype, but the real author actually furthers it by showing whites as the saviors that they were not, and by having one of the maids say, “Frying chicken tends to make you feel better about life. I love me some fried chicken!” Meanwhile, Dreamworks, the company that made the film, in association with Home Shopping Network is now selling a line of frying pans, and assorted cookware, what it calls “one of a kind items inspired by” The Help.

Yes, yes, yes. It is a fictional film, not a documentary. It is, after all, only a movie. But it is also something else. It is a work of art. And like every work of art, it needs, in fact it demands, a critique. This was mine.

Staff Writer; Arthur Lewin

This talented writer has also self published a book which is entitled; Read Like Your Life Depends On It.