The Solace Of Preparing Fried Foods And Other Quaint Remembrances From 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts On The Help - The Rumpus.net
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The Help is billed as inspirational, charming and heart warming. That’s true if your heart is warmed by narrow, condescending, mostly racist depictions of black people in 1960s Mississippi, overly sympathetic depictions of the white women who employed the help, the excessive, inaccurate use of dialect, and the glaring omissions with regards to the stirring Civil Rights Movement in which, as Martha Southgate points out, in Entertainment Weekly, “…white people were the help,” and where “the architects, visionaries, prime movers, and most of the on-the-ground laborers of the civil rights movement were African-American.” The Help, I have decided, is science fiction, creating an alternate universe to the one we live in.
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Hollywood has long been enamored with the magical negro—the insertion of a black character into a narrative who bestows upon the protagonist the wisdom they need to move forward in some way or as Matthew Hughey defines the phenomenon in a 2009 article in Social Problems, “The [magical negro] has become a stock character that often appears as a lower class, uneducated black person who possesses supernatural or magical powers. These powers are used to save and transform disheveled, uncultured, lost, or broken whites (almost exclusively white men) into competent, successful, and content people within the context of the American myth of redemption and salvation.” (see: Ghost, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Unbreakable, Robin Hood (1991), The Secret Life of Bees, Sex and the City, The Green Mile, Corinna, Corinna etc.)
In The Help, there are not one but twelve or thirteen magical negroes who use their mystical negritude to make the world a better place by sharing their stories of servitude and helping Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan grow out of her awkwardness and insecurity into a confident, racially aware, independent career woman. It’s an embarrassment of riches for fans of the magical negro trope.
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