About Me

Find out more about me here.

21 August 2011

Reaction Rather than Intention: The Help

My wife and I went to see The Help last night. While she had read the book, I had only a vague sense of the general storyline. As a sociologist, I was interested. It promised a treatment of race, class, and gender in the early-1960's-American South. I know that countless others have taken up critiques of the book and the film so I won't attempt to retread the same terrain. Instead, I'd just like to share an observation. My wife and I were both bothered not by the movie but by the audience. It was an older, white, wealthy crowd in the Deep South. There were the typical gasps at the moments of violence and uses of the N-word, but there was also a considerable amount of laughter. Thankfully, the movie did temper the heavy topic with some moments of levity, but what was striking was that the audience chose to laugh at moments that seemed inappropriate. For example, the black characters in the film speak in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) as seems historically accurate. Oddly, early in the film, this elicited a few laughs. At least one of the main black characters in the film demonstrates stereotypical "mammy" traits (i.e. being loud, outspoken, and matronly) even as the film criticized such portrayals. This, too, evoked laughter. Some of this behavior in the audience might be akin to the giggling respondents demonstrated in the Milgram Experiments; the social discomfort caused by the ambiguity of such depictions (i.e. "Isn't this racist?") could explain some of the reaction, but we got the general, ironic sense that some in the audience were laughing at the characters and not at the absurdity of the situation, which is what I assume the filmmakers had intended.

Regardless, I appreciated the film, even though it was flawed in several ways.

UPDATE: Here is link to related take on the problematic future of racial satire. I think the claims parallel what I was trying to write above.

No comments:

Post a Comment