Friday, September 30, 2016

A movie.

Sometimes we can learn from books and movies and situations even when they have much erroneous or misleading information or depictions in them. Sometimes.

I recently re-watched a movie, The Help, which is an instance of a fictionalized account of some aspects of pre-civil rights southern life that offers many learning opportunities all the while promoting some seriously deluded and misleading notions.

In the scene from the movie above, the actress Octavia Spencer is in the foreground and Viola Davis is shown behind her. Both did phenomenal acting jobs in the movie.

I re-watched primarily because I'm a massive fan of Viola Davis (who plays a housemaid named Aibileen Clark). During the re-watching I did some more learning and you might use it for that too.

One situation that slammed me was a scene wherein a woman who had worked as a maid for decades was fired by her white employer. The employer was faced with the decision of whether to break ranks with a culture of white solidarity and to do the right thing or fire her maid (the maid, played by Cicely Tyson, was theoretically someone the employer and the employer's family "loved"). White solidarity won and in the process the employer outed some of the integrity corrupting aspects of the ideology of whiteness.

Watch the movie and the scene I described. There you'll see white racial solidarity working to damage everyone who upholds it and to deeply harm those who are targeted by it. It's a painful and ugly scene to watch.

The movie itself exemplifies a common Hollywood meme, that of the white savior, and many insightful reviews and critiques have been written about it. You can read some of them here and here and here.

I found a brief documentary that was evidently created to accompany a commemorative re-release of Gone With the Wind. The documentary was called Old South, New South. It's about 25 minutes and I would urge you to watch it...for a number of reasons.

One of them is if, like me, you attended public schools in the U.S. you were likely treated to a distorted view of the cause of the civil war and the documentary pretty much demolishes the whitewashed version of the "lost cause".

Briefly (and you see these untrue memes all over the place) the feel good version of the civil war I was taught was that the southern states instigated a war because they wanted to uphold the "right" of their states to make whatever laws they wanted to...even if those laws defied the constitution or the federal government. What this whitewashed version fails to mention is that the principle "right" they wanted to uphold was to be able to continue to legally enslave human beings. It's also noteworthy to realize that the North didn't enter into the war to "free the slaves" but rather to resist dissolving the union of the states.

From what I can gather the establishment of slavery arose because it became apparent that the North might lose the war unless they found some way to deprive the South of the benefit they got from exploiting enslaved humans and one way to do that was to declare emancipation. Initially such emancipation was only valid in southern territory that had been conquered by the north.

At this point in time my viewpoint on the onset of the civil war is that the south was fighting to uphold enslaving humans and the north was fighting to uphold the union. The abolishing of human enslavement was not anything the north was initially wanting to do and only arose, in part, as a tactic to assist in defeating the south. Watch the documentary, it's quite informative.

Also, in that documentary, the author of the book titled "The Help" (which the movie was based on) is shown in several scenes. Having read the book and also having watched the movie and having seen the author in the documentary leads me to suspect (of course I don't know that she actually thinks and/or feels) that she exemplifies a "good white person". By that I mean I suspect she's been conditioned (like most of us, especially we who have white skin) to have negative biases toward African Americans but she also knows that such notions are false and despicable so she has banished such thinking from her consciousness. But...that bias continues to operate within her (albeit out of her conscious awareness) in some form or fashion and to influence her perceiving and comprehending.

Struggling to escape the constant subtle and not so subtle racist conditioning, especially for we white people, that constantly pounds at us from all sorts of media and social sources is incredibly difficult. Part of that difficulty occurs because we are taught that if we have good intentions and think good thoughts then we're good to go. Well...that's a seriously big load of crap. Consider this, is it realistic to think that centuries of racist domination and enslavement and murder and atrocities are going to be negated and resolved by "thinking good thoughts"? Gimme a break...and I write that as someone who believed such an absurdity up until a couple of years my everlasting shame and chagrin.   

I suspect that the author, were she to take the Implicit Association Test, would get results revealing that she harbors some degree of bias toward African Americans. And...even if she didn't get such results...I still would view her with some skepticism because, as far as I know, she has used none of the money (apparently a tremendous amount, based on the popularity of her book and of the movie) she has gained to support or fund any organization that works to overcome racism here in the U.S.

I'm absolutely opposed to members of an oppressor group making money off of exploiting or writing about what has been done (and continues to be done) to victims of oppression without using those profits to resist such awfulness. Such stuff is just not ok with me. That's adding insult to injury.

Anyway...if you haven't seen the movie and want to see one with some fine acting by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (along with many other good performances) then do so. But...realize that this movie is pretty much a movie that whitewashes a lot the past (and current) ugliness of white racism. In no small part because it tries to present the notion that the problem of white racist America has been and is a function of "bad" white people instead of the truth that it is the "good white people" that uphold this deplorable and awful stuff.

The movie tries to make you feel good about "white saviors" when in truth there's really not much to feel good about...either then or now. With all of its flaws, the movie can still function as a learning'll have to work at it and you'll have to comprehend and resist much of the minimizing and distorting that's present in this film.

P.S. If you want to read a fairly well done book about "Good White People", author Shannon Sullivan's book is an ok place to start.

Living vegan is a breeze when compared to the difficulty of grappling with the racist ugliness we all swim in here in the U.S.

Most of us white people (as well as some people of color) are really really messed up about all this...and I definitely include myself in the messed up group. Jeez. To resist have to be able to realize what it is when you encounter it...and this movie might assist in that task a get to watch Viola Davis. 




Have Gone Vegan said...

Saw parts of it on TV but, yeah, it felt really whitewashed. As for the author not supporting organizations fighting racism, that almost feels like theft or even misappropriation of funds as the $ made was HUGE -- 10 million copies of the book sold, $213 million made at the box office, and $122 million in video sales -- wow, that's practically obscene.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Theft...true.

The movie had some good lines in of my favorites was from Viola Davis when she confronted an overtly racist white woman by asking: "Ain't you tired Miss Hillie, ain't you tired?" (referencing Hillies unceasing enactments of racist behaviors)