Lunar Popcorn

Lunar Popcorn: The Help and the White Savior

Our week is special: we talked about the importance of knowing our place of speech and understanding there are differences in the world.

Respect is owed to all colors, ethnicities, ages, beliefs – among other things.

Respect was made for human beings.

There are so many movies I could talk about, but The Help is a perfect example to bring to our website today.

I remember when I watched it for the first time, years ago. I can say I was enchanted by the story and got mad with all the truths in it – at least, the impact it brought to me changed a lot the way I thought many aspects.

After all, it does have its positive points that can’t be discarded.

But, with the passing of years, I also found out something that back then I didn’t know – and we call it White Savior. This term is used to describe this movie that, after all, cares for a “white hero” and silences those who really should be seen as the voice of the story.

Are you ready to listen to how The Help went from a great and prestiged movie against racism to a criticized film, not recommended even by their actresses?

I hope so, because here we go to Jackson, Mississippi!

image source: jornada geek

The Help

The Help is a 2011 movie directed by Tate Taylor, based on the romance novel by Kathryn Stockett.

The movie is the portraial of a white woman, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, and her relationship with two black maids during the North American era of Civil Rights on 1960. Skeeter is a journalist who decides to write a book on the maid’s perspective (known as The Help), showing how they are suffering racism on the houses of white people.

The movie happens in Jackson, Mississippi, and counts with Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, Mike Vogel, Mary Steenburgen e Allison Janney – will you look at that, another time our dearest Octavia appearing around with another exuberant cast.

The Help had good criticism and became a great success. In January 29, the cast received the Best Cast award from Screen Actor Guild Awards.

About the Movie

image source: vix

The Help is a movie that addresses absolutely all types of experiences that was common to see on the 60’s. Maids went through absurd situations by the simple fact that their skin color was different from their employersit shows how they were treated, how injustice was common and, mostly, how everything was seen.

The movie shows the year of 1963, in Jackson, Mississippi where Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) is a black maid who spends her life taking care of white children after the death of her only child on an industrial accident.

She works for the Leefolt family, having mostly cared for the children of Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly) – a young woman who suffered from post childbirth depression and who refuses to give affection to her daughter, unless when disciplining the little girl. Aibileen’s best friend is Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), a black maid who worked for a long time to Hilly Holbrook’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) mother, Ms. Walters (Sissy Spacek), to the point that they are very close.

image source: jornada.com

Minny’s humor doesn’t fail – I’d say the best thing in the movie is how her humor is portrayed, without doubts – and ends up being tolerated because of the respect for her great culinary skills.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) is a young white independent woman who, upon returning to her family’s plantation after graduating from the University of Mississippi, finds out the maid from her childhood, to whom she was very close, Constantine (Cicely Tyson), left while she was away.

Once she couldn’t say goodbye or even supporting her, she gets perplexed, because she believes Constantine wouldn’t leave without writing. Until the moment she finally discovers her mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney), fired Constantine at the start of the year.

Precisely because the fact that Skeeter doesn’t have any of the objectives of people from her own age during that time, she was seen as different. All her social group thinks Skeeter went to college in order to find a husband, not really to have a career. Skeeter got a mentor and keeps as the only one, for Charlotte’s great displease, without a husband. Apart from the fact that she intends to follow a career of being a successful writer.

Ok, here we go to understand the reason behind all the controversy evolving the movie during the last years.

What is the White Savior?

The term “white savior”, sometimes combined with “savior complex” to describe the white savior complex, reffers to a white person who offers help to non white people in a selfish manner.

This role is considered a modern version of what is described on the poem “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) by Rudyard Kipling.

The term was associated to Africa and certain movie and TV characters were created as white savior figures. Writer Teju Cole combined the term with “industrial complex” (derived of military industrial complex and applied with a similar form in another place) to coin the term “White Savior Industrial Complex”.

Translated from Portuguese by Artemis

You, who watched the movie, knows the story surrounds Skeeter: a white girl on a considerable financial class, who has studied and is filled with opportunities, because she is the person responsible for writing “The Help”, on which she tells the maids stories.

You’re probably going to say that Skeeter’s “cause” was justified, and I myself believe that watching from a basic character perspective, but, even so, watching closely, who would win doing all that?

White Savior in Movie Productions

On the movie, the white savior is a cinematographical trope in which a white character saves people of color from their situation. The white savior is pictured as a messiah and oftenly learns something about himself on his saving quest.

The trope reflects how the media represents racial relations, racializing concepts, like morality, as identifiable from white people over non white people. White saviors are frequently male and, sometimes, they are outside their place on their own society until they lead minorities or foreigneirs.

They are labled as fantasy stories that “are essentially grand, exhibicionist and narcisist”. The types of stories include trips of whites to “exotic” asian places; whites standing up against racism on USA’s south; or white protagonists with “racially diverse” sidekicks.

The white saviors can also be women, just like Sandra Bullock’s character in The Blind Side. The story is indirect, about how the beliefs of a white family in a black boy alllowed him to become who he really was. Without them, his potencial would’ve never be realized. Therefore, it still employs power dynamics of exploration in which someone needs to be “saved”.

The Help fits all the described parametres, don’t you think?

Analyzing how circumstances were back then, the reprisal was too great for theirs stories to be release, but, still, it was done even before the abolition of slavery. This leads us to think – simplifying the narrative as seen in the movie – that if Skeeter, a white woman, hadn’t appeared an been brave enough to write about them, those women whom she wrote about “would’ve never found the continuous black people fight for equallity”.

image source: daily mail

The very author was prosecuted for putting stories on the book without the permission of Ablene Cooper – a black woman who worked for the author’s family. The case is about her using and distorting the woman’s story in a humiliating manner.

Individualism and the System

One of the main problems with the “white savior” narrative is that, while we know racism is profoundly systemic, those movies usually explore unically an individual side.

In The Help, most part of racism takes the form of prejudiced comments among white people. The problem with individual focus on the white savior is, perhaps, better observed in two subgenres: white savior on sports movies and white savior on educational movies.

In general, if we notice it, many sports movies show a white coach arriving to “restore” a team of black people, leading them to victory at the end; just like on the educational narrative, in which we find a white teacher who inspires sudden change on a school with black students, or on their lives for better – obviously being judged by their colleagues on the same educational system.

What all those movies have in common is that in each story there’s an inspiring and brave character who also carries a past of violence and trauma experience. Still, those movies don’t take us directly to a profound and systemic investigation on why that happens; on why they are neglected, suffered violences and traumas; on why they go through those situations. Then, consequently, which real change ideas do we have?

None.

Usually, the message they give us is considered vague, showing only unity and kindness – but that doesn’t help us think about what we really have to do to change our society. One act of kindness from someone who just cares, is not enough.

One of the movies of “white savior” narratives: Green Book (image source: huffpostbrasil)

The focus on racism on an individual level also creates the illusion of good and bad whites, separating those who chose to be racist and those who didn’t. This takes us to diversity of representation of Hilly, the white who chose to be evil, who created the plan of separated bathrooms for maids outside the house because she believed they had different diseases (from white people). I suppose we all heard about or studied on schools about Segragation.

Forced isolation of a group to put the away from the main group or others; discrimination; racial segragation.”

Hilly was someone influent on her community who encouraged this kind of act and, therefore, obviously was seen as racist.

Differently from Skeeter, along with Celine, who were contrary to Hilly.

Skeeter, for being part of Hilly’s social group, knows the problematic, but doesn’t do anything until she discovers the reason why his maid was fired. This shows and gets the one watching the movie in an admirable non racist figure.

image source: NY Times

Apart from that, those narratives are focused on the past to “show” us how far we came, as if many things had changed. As if the racism there was before, wasn’t the same in which we see inserted on our society currently. It’s made clear that, at the end of the day, they’d always be the ones who would get a lesson from that or receive some kind of significative reward.

Counting with that, in the movies we usually see that not only inside the movies themselves, but everywhere – such as awards.

More than 3.100 statues were distributed in all Oscars editions and only 44 of those were for black people.”

We all know that, for a long time, there are protests in big awards ceremonies, such as the Oscars, Golden Globe, among many other important ones – including Screen Actors Guild Awards, which was an award that “The Help” took home as Best Cast.

Clearly there’s a difference among the quantity of awards for indigenous people, blacks and asians, and there’s still a very small opening for individuals who aren’t part of any selected group created by the industry. This shows how much change walks slowly, being a continuous fight.

This is why individuals like Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, Yalitza Aparicio, Guillermo Del Toro, Bong Joon Ho matter – and many other names who were included on the lists of winners. But, still, it’s not enough.

image source: hipertextual

Highlighting the importance of Chadwick having lived the first black super hero character on the movies and having won many awards on 2019.

In 2016, many Hollywood artists organized a boycott to the Oscars.

The motive was simple: to understand their persistence on the lack of inclusion on the very 21st century. They talked a lot about rights, but the awards didn’t reflect that at all. Spike Lee, Will and Jada Smith, are examples of influent names who questioned the lack of black representativeness among the nominees by the Academy.

Bringing, after the last edition of the award cerimony, in 2019, a total of 3.140 statues – only 44 were to black professionals.

Finally, the myth of the “white savior” is illustrated as “showing compassion to a non white person – being them indians, blacks, asians – they can be absoved from their own privilege. At the end, while the white savior is positioned as relativelly selfless, the resolution almost always leads them to be rewarded with some kind of personal fullfillment”.

This tendency of white savior takes us to another term, used when the black character is used in the movies as “advisor” of a personal reconstruction of the white character – being through thoughts, personal situation of trauma or violence, or the situation in which they find themselves at the moment.

Another movie that clarly shows the example of the term (image source: other sociologist)

On United States cinema, the Magical Negro is a supporting character who helps white protagonists on a movie. Black magic characters, which usually have a special vision or mystic powers, long are a tradition on (north) american fiction”

Obviously we are studying countries like the USA because the greatest prestige from the industry comes from there.

But that doesn’t stop us from saying that, in Brazil, racism and indifference is still present.

Many movies that have white saviors end with the narrative still not leading to a perfect world, but that, from that moment or opening taken by the main character, is considered a resolution – which, on my point of view, the term that could be used would be: “movies that make our hearts warmer”.

That’s right”

Dear reader, I can hear your thoughts from here; you must be asking: And what’s the problem with those endings? 

I also answer that: for human surface, none! But I also question: have you payed attention on how movies from black screenwriters/directors shows us how this type of narrative about racism end?

It’s usually the contrary: the spectators leave the movie feeling challenged, confronted and even distressed and confused.

And all this takes us to the cases of protests, such as “Black Lives Matter”, and the indifference of people on positions of power we saw during this year – they are things that show us that this day by day fight still happens. All around the world.

There are millions of people like George Floyd on the world we live in during all those years.

Those movies show us that racism and prejudice aren’t a distant past and that they are still very present in our society nowadays.

In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.

– Angela Y. Davis

We must choose the narratives that challenges us to change, that gives us feelings of real understanding – and not those that only comforts us. Following this line of educating ourselves as much as educating people around us to understand how much racism and prejudice is engraved on our system.

That’s exactly why I, Sel, will leave below a list of movies you must watch about it:

  • Black Panther
  • Get Out
  • Sorry To Bother You
  • The Hate You Give
  • Just Mercy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Butler

I’ll end this post with those recommendations.

And I also ask you, one more time, which are your contribuitions for change? Have you conformed to endings that “make our hearts warmer”, or have you challenged yourself whith those that show you the truth? We from the Sisterhood of the Moon think that Minny’s special pie should be gifted to a lot of people, institutions and groups that exist around, and you? What do you think?

Leave your comment telling us your thoughts regarding this movie – “The Help” – and also the recommendations I left you!

I also hope you can analyze the difference between them and all that was said here, relating to the general situation we live in, in which we lived and in which we’ll keep living if we don’t contribute for a neccessary change.

I hope you see and understand how the white savior was implanted for many years and we didn’t notice.

And don’t forget: Racism is a crime, stand up against it!

It’s Lay time!!! I am Laysa, known better in this space as Selene. Born in the countryside of São Paulo and raised in many places. Aquarius child – yes, deal with it! – lover of everything connected to general culture, history, languages, books, random playlists, writing and photography. Also, I should make it clear: Film/Cinematography is my passion.