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"I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free: On Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes And The Help"
September 12, 2011 4:14 PM   Subscribe

"You know something very bizarre is going on in Hollywood when the movie Rise of Planet of the Apes tells more about the black experience in America than The Help." Max Gordon reflects on the truths that Hollywood can't talk about openly, and the dangers involved in sugarcoating the past.
posted by invitapriore (158 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, one thing that both do is seduce us into assuming that we'd be on the RIGHT side of the issue that is being presented. Though Apes did this a lot more compellingly by leaving us with zero "good" human beings to relate to, and less insultingly by not having the storyline hinge on fudged historical events.
posted by hermitosis at 4:22 PM on September 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


I don't want to rain on this guy's parade, but I don't find that bizarre at all. While not explicitly about the black experience in America, the Apes movies have always tried to make points along these lines and not exactly in the most delicate fashion either.
posted by Hoopo at 4:24 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sure hope that Max S Gordon is black, because if a white person were to write a lengthy analysis of a movie comparing black people to apes, there would be hell to pay.
posted by hippybear at 4:24 PM on September 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is this going to be a regular thing? A couple weeks ago I was reading on the blue about how GRRM is a sexist racist for settings his books in olden times. A lot of the high-handed complaints about The Help sound like they come from a similar place.
posted by Edgewise at 4:25 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


While "The Help" is by almost all accounts shitty, I don't think it's that bizarre. It's always been easier to tell uncomfortable truth through metaphor than directly.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:27 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


A couple weeks ago I was reading on the blue about how GRRM is a sexist racist for settings his books in olden times. A lot of the high-handed complaints about The Help sound like they come from a similar place.

Not the same thing. I didn't even bother to read the George R.R. Martin link- it obviously came from the same moronic, page-view-grubbing place as the people who claim Tolkien was a racist because orcs have dark skin or whatever nonsense.

"The Help," on the other hand is by all accounts patronizing and tries to credit a white woman with spearheading black civil rights. For a bonus, the author of the book has been accused of stealing an actual black woman's life wholesale for the "fictional" story.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:29 PM on September 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Oh, he's not only black, but a handsome gay bear of a man, too.

Good for him.

I haven't seen either of these movies, and won't until they hit the premium channels on my sat service. But is it really such a surprise that a Planet Of The Apes movie deals with racism? They have since the beginning.

Although it's still pretty audacious to do the whole black man = monkey thing. That's about as non-politically-correct as you can get in many ways.
posted by hippybear at 4:30 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I sure hope that Max S Gordon is black, because if a white person were to write a lengthy analysis of a movie comparing black people to apes, there would be hell to pay.

From people with jerking knees and an inability to differentiate between message and messenger, sure.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:32 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


because it casts white people as abominable snowmen amirite
posted by LogicalDash at 4:33 PM on September 12, 2011


I just finished watching this piece of dreck. I don't know how it relates to the black experience, but it certainly made Burton's maligned 'Apes' seem like a masterpiece by comparison.
posted by item at 4:34 PM on September 12, 2011


The first Apes was, to my memory, much more about a ham-fisted religion vs. science analogy than about racism, although I suppose an argument could be made.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Night of the Living Dead is better
posted by KokuRyu at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2011 [15 favorites]


Its almost as if science fiction were able to deal with complex issues of morality and humanity in a way other fiction can't. I can't believe countless essays and conversations haven't realised this before.
posted by seanyboy at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2011 [31 favorites]


well that's my point made in a hamfisted and ungrammatical way. *sigh*
posted by seanyboy at 4:39 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


An interesting read!

drjimmy11 : "It's always been easier to tell uncomfortable truth through metaphor than directly"

Totally agree.

In Australia, the concept of white invasion is apparently very hard to swallow in some circles. It is very hard for many to understand or comprehend an Indigenous Australian view of the last 250 years.

However, movies that show invasion from aliens are seen as acceptable - people can understand the position of those invaded.
posted by greenhornet at 4:39 PM on September 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


The first Apes was, to my memory, much more about a ham-fisted religion vs. science analogy than about racism, although I suppose an argument could be made

Probably, but there was always a "they're so cruel to the humans" dynamic that I associated with racism
posted by Hoopo at 4:41 PM on September 12, 2011


Is this going to be a regular thing? A couple weeks ago I was reading on the blue about how GRRM is a sexist racist for settings his books in olden times. A lot of the high-handed complaints about The Help sound like they come from a similar place.

The particular issues you mention aside, this will always be a regular thing. People can't live without a social cause, and I don't think I'm saying that sarcastically. This isn't to say the issues mentioned above are without merit, but people have natural inclincations towards meaning and self-realization through acting against perceived evil. Where it doesn't come through a natural course of events, it tends to be created. I think people prefer that to dying in some future utopia from boredom. So when people make a big deal over something that isn't obvious at face value in the media, there's always a little skeptical part of my brain that asks if this is a legitimate interpretation with social implication, or if it is somewhat contrived and serves more selfish ends. I put a lot of burden a person making a particular claim in these cases.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:43 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also this guy didn't make fun of my comics and action figures.
posted by Hoopo at 4:49 PM on September 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think the critique of The Help is justified, Edgewise. The Salon review kind of says it all. Further conversation on Salon.
posted by hermitosis at 4:56 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


All I know about "The Help" is that NPR was completely utterly over-the-top obsessed with it for a few weeks a month or so ago. Someone must have pledged them a pretty penny to pitch that project.
posted by fuq at 4:58 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Edgewise: Is this going to be a regular thing? A couple weeks ago I was reading on the blue about how GRRM is a sexist racist for settings his books in olden times. A lot of the high-handed complaints about The Help sound like they come from a similar place.

A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a land of fantasy, not a real time period of real upheaval, social unrest, and in the end, progress towards social justice. Epic Fantasy is not a period in any real timeline, the early 1960s were.

I understand the complaint: by making a good looking movie that waters down and sweetens an ugly period in the United States, this is history for people who don't try to learn more. "The 60s weren't that bad, what's all the fuss?"
posted by filthy light thief at 4:59 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually I think I meant to link to this Salon piece first. (There have been like ten of them about The Help:P)
posted by hermitosis at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


(No one say Eyes on The Prize. While beautiful and brilliantly done, Eyes isn’t fiction, and fiction, paradoxically, has its own truth, allowing one to absorb the material in a way that perhaps documentaries or even real-​life bio-​pics can’t.)

Well, I agree that truthiness is more important than truth to a lot of people, but I'm used to this being presented as a bad thing, rather than a spiritual good.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2011


Well, I agree that truthiness is more important than truth to a lot of people, but I'm used to this being presented as a bad thing, rather than a spiritual good.

Go back and read some SF from the 50s and 60s. Many of the best social commentaries are fiction which reflect the truth around us. Star Trek is a pretty good example, if a bit ham handed. I really like the late 60s novels of Robert Silverberg for this kind of thing, but there are a lot of other examples which work equally well.
posted by hippybear at 5:07 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


That first Salon piece was actually pretty positive, so that makes sense hermitosis. Seems like reviews are all over the place on that issue (as the "Further conversation" article notes).
posted by wildcrdj at 5:07 PM on September 12, 2011


....people who claim Tolkien was a racist because orcs have dark skin or whatever nonsense.

The claims of Tolkein being racist are considerably more substantial than this.
posted by DU at 5:10 PM on September 12, 2011 [26 favorites]


There are The Help-branded teabags at my local supermarket. Some kind of caramel cake flavored awfulness? I don't even.
posted by padraigin at 5:14 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Help tea.

At least it's not Bubba Gump shrimp.
posted by hippybear at 5:22 PM on September 12, 2011


Is it a blend of white and black teas?
posted by hermitosis at 5:22 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I avoided it because I assumed it was propaganda for the 'animals are better than people' crowd.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:26 PM on September 12, 2011


We are starving for portrayals of authentic black life, and may even munch on a thick piece of corn pone like The Help and say it’s great in order to justify our wasted money and time, or to support black actors we admire.
...
And if there’s a choice between the unreal, pastel-​colored South of the film and its paternalistic treatment of blacks, and the movie “reality” of primates who have the courage to liberate themselves, then I’ll stand with the apes.
In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the apes do not seem terribly concerned about portrayals of authentic ape life in the media. It's interesting that Gordon psychologizes what seems to me to be a political movie - the ape revolution doesn't stand for actual revolution, it isn't about collective liberation and solidarity with all that are oppressed, it's an individualistic "sense of self-definition and power." Maybe the reason Hollywood can get away with something that seems subversive is that the possibility of collective action is so remote and fantastical, even as a metaphor it can only stand for personal empowerment and self-esteem.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:31 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


It feels utterly bizarre to suggest people of color see Rise of the Planet of the Apes because of its healing power, but I will say that when Caesar’s black hand opens his cage for the first time, you feel the potential to be released from your own, and you rejoice.

As another black man, I did not get that feeling. I was annoyed with the plot point that enabled Caesar open that cage, i.e. the special serum made by whites which increases intelligence in apes. That's insulting as a metaphor.

Otherwise, yes, I can see all the comparisons to blacks in America, but it just doesn't work for me. Buying into those tropes feels like buying into stereotype of blacks as monkeys and that doesn't work for me. It simplifies white and black relations in America, with an eye towards the past instead of the future.

That said, the movie was good, mostly due to the attention given to the characters.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 PM on September 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


The claims of Tolkein being racist are considerably more substantial than this.

Yes, thank goodness nobody else born in 1892 had racist thought patterns engendered to them by the circumstances of the surrounding culture of the time they lived.

Otherwise, Tolkien might be given some slack for a cultural context he obviously didn't absorb.
posted by hippybear at 5:34 PM on September 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think the claims of Tolkien being racist aren't so much about the color of the orcs' skin as the fact that a race of intelligent beings is being defined as evil.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:38 PM on September 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've got the Hobbit on the list to read to the kids. I don't object to Tolkein per se, but I think it's a bit dismissive to say "pfff, sometimes evil creatures REALLY DO all have the same color skin while all the good ones white and tall and slender and from the North!"
posted by DU at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yes, thank goodness nobody else born in 1892 had racist thought patterns engendered to them by the circumstances of the surrounding culture of the time they lived.

"Other people were racist too" isn't much of a defense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


While I find it interesting that the author derived these politically-loaded messages in each of these movies, I couldn't get past the idea that The Help was a slightly twisted play on the PotA movies. The white debutantes were all acting like the warlike gorillas by the 3rd reel.

(Perhaps it was the Elle models asking that the black servants use a Port-A-John in a wind-storm that put things over the top.)
posted by vhsiv at 5:48 PM on September 12, 2011


Hollywood needs to market movies to people who would pay to see the movie. We're not far enough down the civilized society skill tree for the general public to want to pay to see a movie that eviscerates the lifestyle, culture, ethics, and interpersonal/racial relationships of their grandparents.

Thus we see films like this on the indie track with occaisional penetration into the general masses.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:52 PM on September 12, 2011


"The Help," on the other hand is by all accounts patronizing and tries to credit a white woman with spearheading black civil rights. For a bonus, the author of the book has been accused of stealing an actual black woman's life wholesale for the "fictional" story.

For what it's worth, I haven't seen either movie. I've heard the same thing about The Help, but I've also heard people convincingly argue that such criticisms are shrill. In retrospect, my reaction is a bit poorly thought out (i.e. dumb) because, as I said, I haven't seen either movie.

I understand the complaint: by making a good looking movie that waters down and sweetens an ugly period in the United States, this is history for people who don't try to learn more. "The 60s weren't that bad, what's all the fuss?"

Again, haven't seen it, but that wasn't at all my impression of how things were depicted. Is that the case?
posted by Edgewise at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2011


Tolkien is not problematic due to the orcs having black skin, but other nations of Men described as evil and swarthy, or good despite their swarthiness.
posted by mkb at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the claims of Tolkien being racist aren't so much about the color of the orcs' skin as the fact that a race of intelligent beings is being defined as evil.

I certainly hadn't heard that one before. I'm pretty sure Tolkien's mythology had Orcs as some kind of monsters corrupted from other races created with the specific purpose of making evil monsters. They're not really analagous to any race I can think of. "Dark vs Light" manifested in the way Tolkien did it is unfortunate in details like this, but I don't think its racist in any intentional way.

good despite their swarthiness.

Nothing is coming to mind here, but it's been a while. Who fits this description?
posted by Hoopo at 5:57 PM on September 12, 2011


"Other people were racist too" isn't much of a defense.

It is if the development of enlightenment as a general mindset is seen as something which has to work its way out of a morass of general negative mindsets and into a more generally non-racist culture.

Everything must be taken in context. Someone being racist in 2011? Horrible. Someone being racist in 1911? Requires a bit more context to understand how it worked, especially if you're looking at it from 2011.
posted by hippybear at 5:59 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have read that Night Catches Us is "a portrayal of authentic black life". I'm not really qualified to comment on how true that is, but it's a really good movie.

I haven't seen the Help, but reviews of it make it seem like neither very authentic, nor a very good movie.

Also, that guy's review of Imitation of Life is pretty great: We were encouraged to watch Lana Turner’s costume-​changes and jewelry in Imitation of Life, but watched instead the unconditional love of Juanita Moore’s Annie Johnson, faithful and compassionate to her daughter Sarah Jane who has been psychologically ripped apart by racism, and is “passing” as white. When Sarah Jane chases her mother’s casket at the end of the film, begging for forgiveness, we are chasing that casket too, trying to understand our own mothers, why we resented them for not protecting us from racism, and ashamed that they couldn’t always protect themselves. Sarah Jane feels humiliated by her mother’s being a black maid because in the paradigm of a racist society Annie is economically powerless, not white, and, as Sarah Jane defines her, nothing. It is only after she dies that Sarah Jane can truly see how powerful her mother was; that her ability to love and forgive, despite the cruelty she has seen, and never to stop loving Sarah Jane, makes her spiritually majestic, all-​powerful. I don’t know if that was what Douglas Sirk intended, but it is in Juanita Moore’s heart-​wrenching performance.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:00 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Man The Help was awful, pandering bullshit.
posted by graventy at 6:02 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Tolkien's racism is more apparent if you read the Silmarillion and look at how he talks about the Numenorean race.
posted by Edgewise at 6:03 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why anyone thinks that anything from "Hollywood" has any more ethical or other significance than any given skit in the Zigfield Follies eludes me. It's showbiz folks, turn your brains off for a few and just enjoy.
posted by sammyo at 6:03 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


With regards to Tolkien though, there are some examples that jump out at me as not fitting the narrarative:

Number one is Saruman, white guy in a white robe with all the power of the white people wizards and he turns to the dark side, attempting to crush all opposition with an army of slave-fighters of sorcerous origin. Lesson there being that not all evil in that book had to be from black skinned people. In the same vein would be the Dunlendings, though perhaps Tolkien had a particular dislike of the Vikings/Scots. Number two would be the Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits who are all more or less good with some vices thrown in for realism. Are they white? Probably 100%. Are they still Others? Yeah, and its interesting that someone who's purportedly racist is lionizing other species. I could have sworn there was some race of men that Aragorn rallied that wasn't definitively white too... something from the bay of something something...

Passively biased and prejudiced? Yes, that was definitely something that was still permeating the culture (and his brain) at the time. Actively racist (i.e. spreading narratives via metaphor about how bad the Other was)? It would be an uphill struggle to convince me of that.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:03 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although it's still pretty audacious to do the whole black man = monkey thing. That's about as non-politically-correct as you can get in many ways.

One would think so and yet it still happens. In an otherwise innocuous, contemporary, chick lit-ish mystery, I just read an elderly Black man described by the White female protaganist as reminding her of "a monkey who'd found a way to hide in plain sight on the busy Manhattan streets." Coincidentally, the book was published by the same company as "The Help".
posted by fuse theorem at 6:10 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nothing is coming to mind here, but it's been a while. Who fits this description?

I think the Easterlings and the Haradrim.
posted by LionIndex at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2011


That was a really honest, informed* and provocative piece; thanks for posting it, invitapriore. The folks who are kneejerking the "oh not *this* again" stuff really need to re-read it. He's laying out his biases honestly and sharing why he thinks The Help is a revisionist and degrading piece of mainstream art, backing up what he says with clear references to better works of art and what he thinks should have been there. It's a great example of exactly how this sort of thing should be written.

*He doesn't seem to know anything about Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, though. Would've been a better article if he'd have watched that one, which dealt with the ape revolution from the perspective of 1972, when the racial subtext would have been much more prominent.
posted by mediareport at 6:23 PM on September 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


I was annoyed with the plot point that enabled Caesar [to] open that cage, i.e. the special serum made by whites which increases intelligence in apes. That's insulting as a metaphor.

Yeah, that bugged me when I first saw the trailer; in the 1972 original, Ceasar is a naturally brilliant talking ape born of intelligent apes from the future who escaped the destruction of the earth by mutants by traveling back in time to our era, where they're appalled at the way humans treat apes.

As metaphor, it works much, much better.
posted by mediareport at 6:25 PM on September 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just excellent, and incredibly thought-provoking. Thank you for sharing.
posted by nonmerci at 6:30 PM on September 12, 2011


Tolkien was most definitely racist, albeit less so than many of his contemporaries. I don't think admitting this is the same as hating on his fiction, any more than Lovecraft's absolutely lunatic loathing for anything non-Anglo-Saxon has stopped his fans (among them China Mieville, who somewhat ironically takes Tolkien ferociously to task for nostalgia, political conservatism and racism while enthusiastically lovin' on the HPL) from giving their paeans.

Not sure if Martin stands in the same category - when his characters are racist (or, more often, homophobic or misogynist) - it's usually a conscious attempt by the author to call up a (to his readers) unfamiliar mentality for the purpose of fleshing out his world. Martin writes such a passage and says "yeah, that conveys the idea that this guy is a racist wanker quite effectively." There's no similar sense I get from Tolkien and Lovecraft (or, for that matter, C.S. Lewis, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, etc.) that they are conscious of the underlying assumptions of what they are writing.

/digression

Haven't seen The Help, and after reading this I might not bother. The race angle in Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn't seem quite as prevalent as in earlier iterations of the franchise. There was a lot more focus, it seemed to me, on the ethical problems of corporate science and the dangers of mucking about with nature. Standard Frankenstein stuff.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:37 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Number one is Saruman, white guy in a white robe with all the power of the white people wizards and he turns to the dark side, attempting to crush all opposition with an army of slave-fighters of sorcerous origin.

Yeah, but to signal his corruption he throws off his white robes and becomes Saruman of Many Colors.

Having a couple evil white people doesn't negate any other racist elements that may or may not be present in a book. One aspect of institutionalized racism is that White People act as individuals with individual motivations (Gandalf vs. Saruman, Aragorn vs. Boromir, etc) while not-White-People (say, the Haradrim) act as Haradrim with Haradrim motivations.
posted by muddgirl at 6:40 PM on September 12, 2011 [25 favorites]


Interestingly, the article makes me want to see both films, neither of which I had any desire to see before.

I did go find the trailer for The Help after reading the first few paragraphs. It does suggest a movie that equates the civil rights struggle with the struggle between the poor girls and the snooty rich cheerleaders in high school. And I can't imagine such a movie depicts realistically the consequences of being a sassy black woman in that culture. I don't think most white people in Mississippi in 1961 found uppity black women to be cute.

But I should see the movie before drawing conclusions.

The article was great, though, even if I don't end up agreeing with him. It was really interesting to see the writer grappling with his responses and trying to make sense of them.
posted by Max Udargo at 6:48 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was an excellent article OP. As a Black man, I totally understand where the writer is coming from. I remember the very first time I say the commercials for "The Help", I knew it was going to be one more movie in a long line of movies dealing with blacks needing a white savior. I think for a number of young black men and women who did play by all the rules society said we should (educational credentials at the undergraduate and graduate level, well paying jobs, erudite etc), there's a realization that you're always invisible and voiceless. For some of us, there's no real reflection of our lives in the visual entertainment that's on offer. After a while, you give up trying and just move on, defeated, knowing that your story will always be thought of as being never good enough.
posted by RedShrek at 6:48 PM on September 12, 2011 [21 favorites]


My mom pestered me all summer to read The Help. I finally gave it a shot. As a rule, I'm a complete-ist in that I tend to finish books I start even when they suck. I couldn't finish the book, it was so bad. I fail to understand why it has captured an audience old enough to remember that era.
posted by dejah420 at 7:30 PM on September 12, 2011


I've got the Hobbit on the list to read to the kids. I don't object to Tolkein per se, but I think it's a bit dismissive to say "pfff, sometimes evil creatures REALLY DO all have the same color skin while all the good ones white and tall and slender and from the North!

The Hobbit suffers from much less serious problems than LOTR. There is no good guy race in the Hobbit. Every sentient race in the book is motivated most prominently by greed.

The goblins are baddies, but we get to hear their point of view when they give Thorin's party something like a fair hearing. Imagine that a group of heavily armed Afghan citizens led by Mullah Omar himself was captured in the Appalachians after having killed a few random bystanders. One of the prisoners is carrying an assault rifle inscribed with the name Blaster. It has notches all up the stock, purportedly one for every NATO soldier it killed in Kandahar. They say they mean no harm are are just passing through on their way to Mexico. "Take them away to the dark holes full of snakes and never let them see the light again!" is not the right response, but it's what they'd hear from an American military tribunal if they were lucky enough to even see one.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:36 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


not-White-People (say, the Haradrim) act as Haradrim with Haradrim motivations.

This is not really the best example because the Haradrim were scarcely even in the books; in a narrative sense they seemed to exist solely to add numbers to Sauron's army and to hint at the world of Middle Earth being larger and stranger than it first appeared. I don't recall any particular Haradrim characters. The others were major characters, and that's why they have that sense of individuality. The characters spoke of the Haradrim in vague generalities because they were from far away in a place where few people would have travelled and they knew little or nothing about them.

I would add that one reason I never found the books racist at the time I first read them because I did not know the meaning of the word "swarthy." I thought it meant haggard or rough. Now I see some problems stemming from the geography of Middle Earth, skin color of the baddies, and the place and time Tolkien lived in.
posted by Hoopo at 7:37 PM on September 12, 2011


Wow, that was a pretty great essay, though I have to admit that I avoided both of these movies because they looked crazily racist.
posted by klangklangston at 7:39 PM on September 12, 2011


I don't recall any particular Haradrim characters.

Sounds like a pretty good example to me.
posted by muddgirl at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good read, thanks.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:48 PM on September 12, 2011


HI klangklangston,

I would say that the Rise of The Planet of The Apes is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. I really did enjoy it. There is a scene in the forest at the end with Cesar and Jame's Franco's character that will send chills down your spine.
posted by RedShrek at 7:50 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jame's

I'm in love.
posted by hippybear at 7:57 PM on September 12, 2011


I really liked that new monkey movie.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:58 PM on September 12, 2011


To all: "Rise Of The Planet of the Apes" is a much, much better movie than you think it's going to be.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:58 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


So was Planet Of The Apes, actually.
posted by hippybear at 8:00 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds like a pretty good example to me.

So Tolkien not including any Avari or Noegoethig characters in the Lord of the Rings is further evidence that he's racist?
posted by kithrater at 8:15 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know why people would be defensive about Tolkein being racist. The dude was a white English guy born in 1892 and would have spent his formative years and young adulthood in the midst of the height of British colonial power. The likelihood of him not being racist in some way is astronomically small. I think people are so terrified of their heroes being complex, multifaceted, fallible human beings that they start ascribing contemporary belief systems to them that simply don't make any sense in a historical context. To argue Tolkein couldn't have possibly be influenced by overwhelming attitudes of the time about race is hopelessly naive. This doesn't mean he's a bad person--it means he was in lockstep with the rest of the world in some pretty hateful views as a result of being raised in his culture.

Anyway it seemed pretty clear from The Help's marketing campaign that it was going to be a bunch of whitewashed tripe constructed to make white people feel better about centuries of racial oppression.
posted by schroedinger at 8:16 PM on September 12, 2011 [25 favorites]


Hi schroedinger,

I believe that your post is great. Often times, it's difficult to look at people we hold in high esteem within the context of the human condition. I think when we start to remember only the good things we want to remember about people we look up to, we do a great disservice to those people by denying them a basic humanity, warts and all.
posted by RedShrek at 8:20 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


hippybear: The point of criticism isn't to point the finger and shout j'accuse at authors, (although in the case of a few, that might be appropriate). The point is to look at things like race in narratives (including ones produced today) and say, "hey, that's interesting, let's have a conversation about it."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:24 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a wonderful article. I think the author's fear of a white-washed presentation of the Civil Rights movement becoming the norm for children is justified. This movie has the right age rating and light-hearted tone to make it the go-to film for social studies classes all over the country.
posted by Think_Long at 8:29 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The point is to look at things like race in narratives (including ones produced today) and say, "hey, that's interesting, let's have a conversation about it."

Sure. But if you're going to provoke conversation in 2011 about race attitudes of the past, the exact way to keep it from being productive is to say "this is racist", because of all the heavy meaning laden into that word.

Saying "this is interesting, it's different from how we'd do it today, let's have a conversation about it" is an excellent approach. "This person is a racist" is the conversational equivalent of slamming a door on productive exchange, especially when dealing with figures from the past. It's like reading Huckleberry Finn and only seeing the word "nigger" over and over and over, and missing the greater narrative because you are incapable of placing the author and the narrative in the appropriate historical context.

I approve of quality conversations about attitudes from the past reflected in light of the present. I don't approve of dismissal of historical persons based on modern values.
posted by hippybear at 8:30 PM on September 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


I was really skeptical about any new Planet of the Ape films - I refused to see the first remake.

But now I really want to see this Rise of the apes.

And yeah, the original Ape films had interesting things to say about racism speciesism.
posted by jb at 8:39 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a pretty good example to me.

Why? They're secondary characters from the other side of the world at a place where you pretty much have to walk or ride a horse if you want to go anywhere. They are in no way central to the story. I mean, not that Tolkien didn't take enough random detours in LOTR, but there's no reason to include the Haradrim in a narrative that's a part of an alternate mythology of Europe and draws heavily on the actual myths of Western and Northern European people.

Is Tolkien drawing on some racist "darkest Africa" and Orientalist stereotypes as a short cut? Absolutely. It even works sometimes in a narrative of a world where people don't ever get far from their home land and encounter other people and cultures. They only hear from them in fantastical stories and handed-down rumors. That's kind of how Orientalism would have got started: ignorance, imagination, xenophobia and wonder.

Is Tolkien is guilty of the same racism most people of his time would have been? I see no reason why not to think so. But to me the more valid criticism of LOTR is actually quite as simple as drjimmy11 put it (although not about the orcs, he actually referred to the WWII Allies as orcs once in a letter to his son because of their joy in causing pain and suffering to the Germans): the color of skin and where the bad guys are coming from are problematic. The fact we don't get a chapter from the Haradrim POV is not.
posted by Hoopo at 8:53 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a wonderful article. I think the author's fear of a white-washed presentation of the Civil Rights movement becoming the norm for children is justified. This movie has the right age rating and light-hearted tone to make it the go-to film for social studies classes all over the country.

You need age appropriate stuff, but it should be accurate stuff. I would have school age kids read Roll of Thunder, Here my Cry and its sequel/preceeding books - they deal with lynching, segregation, etc, but from a kid's point of view. They can read The Colour Purple later - though the racial issues stuck out way less for me in that book than the sexual and sexist violence.
posted by jb at 8:59 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly, where Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprised me was it was genuine. There was no winking irony or hipper-than-thou subtext or, I dunno, any of the staples of modern movies in implying that we all know we're watching a movie and aren't we clever for it. While there were occasional jokes and callbacks to the originals, it was a movie that took itself seriously most of the time and told a decently-written story well. Andy Serkis' performance is also something worth seeing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:07 PM on September 12, 2011


"pfff, sometimes evil creatures REALLY DO all have the same color skin while all the good ones white and tall and slender and from the North!"

All I know is a drow stole my Deck of Many Things. That's all I'm going to say about that.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:10 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rod Serling would often say that The Twilight Zone would allow him to present controversial subjects that would never otherwise be allowed to be on television, because it was considered fantasy.

Rod Serling, by the way, was a co-writer of the original Planet of the Apes.
posted by eye of newt at 10:23 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


"This person is a racist" is the conversational equivalent of slamming a door on productive exchange, especially when dealing with figures from the past.

This is true and so very unfortunate, because the result of "racist" becoming a taboo word is that it's now impossible to talk about race and attitudes about race in a frank and open manner. If you admit you're a little bit racist then people act like you're about to burn a bunch of crosses, and if you point out someone else's racism you're hysterical and totally overreacting and Godwining the discussion.

We should not, not be condoning racism, but America would do well to recognize it comes in many shades of gray and people can be racist and not Hitler. The Civil Rights movement highlighted the gross inequalities and terrible abuses a culture accepting of racism brings about. It provided such a deep cultural impact and such a clear narrative of a peaceful Good side battling against the violent Racists that we swung the other way and associated racism with the most terrible, horrible evil. Basically racism = Hitler.

But what else do you call a subtle discomfort around black men, or resentment of the first-generation Asian-American in your classroom, or anxiety about the Middle Eastern guy next to you on the plane? You're not putting people in concentration camps, so you can't be racist. There must be some other justification for it. And people end up creating all these twists and turns and justifications for it in their minds rather than calling a spade a spade, and nobody can directly point out these twists and turns and justifications as just that because then you're saying the other person is trying to put people in camps, and in the end everything has to be couched in code words and pretty phrasing in a desperate attempt to deliver one's message without getting drowned out by hysterics.
posted by schroedinger at 10:36 PM on September 12, 2011 [29 favorites]


I think it's certainly true that Tolkien shared many of the subconscious prejudices typical to men of his time and background in many areas, and that this shows in his work, but it's worth pointing out that on the conscious, ideological level, he rejected racism quite thoroughly. There was, of course, his famous response in 1938 to a German publisher who asked him if he was of Aryan descent. (An excerpt: "I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by “arisch.” I am not aware of any Aryan extraction: that is Indo-iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. . ." And his comment on the matter to his publisher was that he "should regret giving any colour the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.") As well, in his valedictory address when he retired from Oxford, he said "I have the hatred of apartheid in my bones." (a statement which was in part a metaphor for something else, but I believe was meant literally as well.) He also had no fondness for British imperialism at all, and in general seems to me to have been much more humanist (in the "concerned with human welfare" meaning of the word- not so much the philosophical or ideological definitions) in his outlook than I think he's usually given credit for.

Hoopo: Is Tolkien is guilty of the same racism most people of his time would have been? I see no reason why not to think so. But to me the more valid criticism of LOTR is actually quite as simple as drjimmy11 put it (although not about the orcs, he actually referred to the WWII Allies as orcs once in a letter to his son because of their joy in causing pain and suffering to the Germans): the color of skin and where the bad guys are coming from are problematic. The fact we don't get a chapter from the Haradrim POV is not.

I'd agree with this. I think the depiction of the Haradrim is the most racist element of Tolkien's work, but to me it seems like the product of a passive, subconscious prejudice rather than any active belief. The thing is, none of the humans who fight for Sauron or Saruman are fleshed out much at all, whether it's the Haradrim, the Dunlendings (pretty clearly supposed to be white- the Rohirrim call them "straw-heads"), the Easterlings (not that clearly defined in terms of race, but my impression is that they were more intended to suggest Eastern Europeans than East Asians, and notably they're not portrayed as always being on the wrong side- there are Easterlings who fight against Morgoth in the Silmarillion), or the Corsairs of Umbar (not only white, but the same Numenorian ethnicity as Aragorn)- there are no named, individual characters from any of them, there's very little detail given on their cultures, and in general they're pretty much there to, as you say, add numbers to Sauron's army and hint at what lies beyond the bit of Middle Earth that we see.

I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that narrative approach, in itself- if they were all obviously supposed to be white, we wouldn't think anything of it. Where the problem comes in is that, having taken this approach, Tolkien painted the Haradrim as essentially a Middle Eastern/Indian stereotype- brown skin, scimitars, elephants- and without any detail given beyond that other than that they're fighting for Sauron, the result is quite an unfortunate portrayal. At the same time, the Haradrim aren't depicted as inherently evil- there's that passage where Sam sees the body of a fallen Haradrim warrior and wonders "what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies and threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace." This doesn't undo the stereotypical portrayal, but it does add a note of welcome humanization- one can imagine what direction Howard, Lovecraft, or indeed the vast majority of those writing in a similar vein at the time would have gone with the Haradrim in general and that scene in particular, and it's not a pretty thought.

In short, I think there's certainly racism in Tolkien's work, but it's very far from the kind of thing you find in Lovecraft, or indeed most of Tolkien's contemporaries. On a conscious, ideological level, it seems clear that he rejected racism quite thoroughly. On the more subconscious levels, I think he was certainly influenced by the racist attitudes of his time and culture- as schroedinger said above, it would have been impossible for him not to have been so influenced, and this is reflected in his work, as is his rejection of racism in the more blatant forms.
posted by a louis wain cat at 10:49 PM on September 12, 2011 [37 favorites]


More from Max Gordon, on Bringing Down the House (Queen Latifah) and Condi Rice

and more essays by Mr. Gordon.

Great post.
posted by morganw at 11:25 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why so many people think Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be bad. I thought the trailers looked pretty awesome.
posted by delmoi at 12:10 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought Rise of the Planet of the Apes spoke to the experience and daydreams of 9-to-11 year-old boys who resent parental control. The lack of sex, swearing, and gory violence-- as well as the PG13 rating, predictable plot and silly dialogue-- were also a big hint.
posted by eegphalanges at 12:12 AM on September 13, 2011


In some ways, the article reminded me of the way Gordon described black cinema in general, full of quite a few gems, such as the following:

"The Help goes from being inept to diabolical when we don’t see the cruelty, because someone stands to make less money from the film if they put it in. So what we end up with is a “feel –good” civil rights movie. It is inconceivable to me that someone would make a film about Nazi Germany without brutality, a story about Jewish women and a Nazi officer’s wife who befriends them and wants to hear their stories, with none of the “ickiness” of concentration camps, or gas chambers, or mass genocide."

But in order to reach them you have to endure some truly cringeworthy moments.

"I remember in 3rd grade begging my mother to take me to the movie Grease. She relented, but reminded me as we left the theater, 'They didn’t dance like that in the fifties; in fact, they barely danced at all. We danced like that.'"


Seriously, are we going to play the dance card in 2011? No doubt, very few whites in 1950 could cut a rug like the professional actors and dancers in Grease, but that holds true of blacks as well. More importantly, dividing blacks and whites into these discrete groups of those who can dance and those who are forever condemned to be without rhythm, it's, well, racist. Or at least, anti-antiracist. Plus he introduces us to Adam, who's liking, "The Help" seems to be blamed on the fact that he's white. Presumably, Adam's partner, Darren, didn't care for it but remained silent to keep the peace? Presumably, I say, because we never find out about Darren's feelings since it wouldn't advance the narrative that No True Blackman could enjoy the film.

And perhaps picking nits, but I was bugged by his description of the different apes trying to communicate as something which "recalls enslaved Africans trying to communicate with each other whilst speaking different languages during the Middle Passage." Unless Gordon's older than he looks, he can't actually "recall" the Middle Passage. He can certainly recall reading some other author's fictional interpretation of what being in the hold of a ship must've been like, but if that's what he meant, it's not quite the same thing. And I should hope that he did not mean "recall" in the sense of black people having some kind of innate racial memory of the injustice that was dealt to us 400 years ago. Like every other person on this planet, I come from a line of human beings that stretches back hundreds of thousands or millions of years (depending on how you wish to define "human.") I don't want to own a tragic blip in history. I don't want that tragic blip to own me. See what I'm doing here? I'm launching into a polemic that is only tangentially related to the article. Right? Wink.

And parenthetically, there's one 'r' in Forest. (And one 't' in Whitaker). As a black man, Max, you should get that right. ;-)

Finally, I have to note that hippybear wrote: "I sure hope that Max S Gordon is black, because if a white person were to write a lengthy analysis of a movie comparing black people to apes, there would be hell to pay."

In the article, Gordon makes that exact point. There's also a photo of him at the end of it.
posted by xigxag at 12:18 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Groan. who's -> whose
posted by xigxag at 12:19 AM on September 13, 2011


I really second everyone in the thread that's recommending Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Best movie I've seen in years, and I didn't expect much from it going in, which made it even better.

As for the criticism of The Help, first off, I read and really liked the book. On BlogHer, a woman wrote a scathing review about how The Help was racist, without ever having seen the movie OR read the book, so I may be a bit defensive about the subject, because when someone forms an opinion based on what other people are saying and just parrots it back I get my hackles up. It's like when some Baptist preacher here didn't want anyone to read the Harry Potter books because they're about "witchcraft" and the congregation just did what he said instead of each person making up his own mind. It's a very "wake up, sheeple!" moment for me.

So I am predictably annoyed that the author of this piece didn't read the book as well as see the movie, to get the full perspective on The Help.

Because while I liked the movie, it missed the powerful punch of the book by taking the easy way out too often. For instance, the characters leaned too far into stereotypes in the movie.

In the book, Scooter is a plain and gawky woman, and of course in the film they have a lovely actress playing her. She still does a good job, but I do think there are too many 'beautiful' people in the movie to make it feel as real as the book. I liked what the author of the linked critique wrote about needing grittier characters because in real life there are people who make us uncomfortable because they have clearly suffered and are angry about it.

In the book, we had Leroy, the abusive husband (that is never seen on on-screen). Minny stands up to him finally not because of anything her employer does, but because Abileen convinces her that they will make enough money off of the book Scooter is putting together for Minny to safely leave Leroy. That makes a lot more sense than her being 'inspired' by anything Celia Foote does; Minny comes to like her employer but she actually looks down on Celia for being white trash and not knowing how to cook or clean her own house. She even thinks Celia is an alcoholic at one point.

Constantine's scene, which explains the whole reason she was forced to leave, is very watered-down in the movie, too. I think that since the amazing Cicely Tyson plays Constantine, the movie producers wanted her and her daughter to be really sympathetic characters. The thing is, they are sympathetic characters in the book even though, or maybe because they are not perfect. Constantine was forced to give her daughter up when she was very young, and when she comes to visit, Constantine's daughter spits in her mother's face at one point. When Constantine has to leave, it's because her daughter tried to pass herself off as a white woman. Scooter's mother feels humiliated because she was taken in by the deception and threatens to have the daughter arrested, so Constantine leaves with her.

So, yes, the movie had its flaws. But some of the criticisms of the movie in this article are also really unfair. We do see black people beaten, arrested, even killed, so everything isn't completely whitewashed. The black women in the film are clearly the ones who decide to take a stand and use Scooter as their vehicle to do so, rather than Scooter 'saving' them. Scooter is actually very naive and doesn't realize the danger she is exposing them all to; she just wants to get a job as a reporter. When she does, she is afraid to take it because of the mess her writing caused (in the book, Abileen and Minny her force her to grow up and move out of her mother's house, in the movie her Mom does).
posted by misha at 12:32 AM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


And perhaps picking nits, but I was bugged by his description of the different apes trying to communicate as something which "recalls enslaved Africans trying to communicate with each other whilst speaking different languages during the Middle Passage." Unless Gordon's older than he looks, he can't actually "recall" the Middle Passage. He can certainly recall reading some other author's fictional interpretation of what being in the hold of a ship must've been like, but if that's what he meant, it's not quite the same thing. And I should hope that he did not mean "recall" in the sense of black people having some kind of innate racial memory of the injustice that was dealt to us 400 years ago.

He's using "recalls" in the sense of "references" or "suggests" or "calls back to". I don't think there's any implication that he literally remembers these things.
posted by brundlefly at 12:47 AM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, I was typing up a comment but this article deserves much better than the response it's getting here and I don't have the strength for it today. After getting through the first 20 comments or so I'm demoralized. I actually have tears in my eyes reading these disappointing comments. Well anyway, Metafilter is not about the comments, it's about the links, so thank you invitapriore, it was great.
posted by Danila at 12:57 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure why so many people think Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be bad. I thought the trailers looked pretty awesome.

Because I'm not one of the people who passes around every story about a bullfighter dying in the ring with a note that the bullfighter 'deserved it'? That seemed to be the main appeal of Rise of the Planet Of The Apes.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:02 AM on September 13, 2011


What Danilla said.
I almost didn't click on the comments section for this link because of what I was sure I'd find.

Metafilter: Never disappoints.
posted by tbonicus at 1:05 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose the real point is not that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great movie about the black experience but that Hollywood is still happier and more successful at adopting and portraying the point of view of an imaginary variety of chimp.
posted by Segundus at 1:30 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought Rise of the Planet of the Apes spoke to the experience and daydreams of 9-to-11 year-old boys who resent parental control. The lack of sex, swearing, and gory violence-- as well as the PG13 rating, predictable plot and silly dialogue-- were also a big hint.
I just thought it had really cool graphics, and it didn't look ridiculous and cheesy like a lot of movies. And apparently it's not.
posted by delmoi at 1:41 AM on September 13, 2011


Having only seen the trailer, I'll say that the appeal of Rise of the Planet of The Apes was, for me, that I don't remember the last fictional film I saw that had much nice to say about the violent revolution of an oppressed people taking place IN AMERICA. Even if the trailer doesn't explicitly lay out any grand ideas about race, it certainly makes it clear that we're talking about more than just chimpanzees wrecking shit, you know?

I'll drop a suggestion here that people see The Spook Who Sat By The Door. While it's a flawed film (a caveat that applies to most really great movies), what struck me when I saw it for the first time about three years ago was literally just that it existed. That someone had made, and I could now watch forty years later on DVD, a movie that addresses with some seriousness the idea of what a contemporary armed revolution borne out of racial inequality would mean and why something like that might happen, even if it ultimately ends in tragedy.

I cannot begin to conceive of a film being made in 2011 that is, essentially, a sympathetic portrayal of the wholesale liberation of black americans. Even if it were done as a period piece, the never-ending outrage complex that is the 24 News Media would gobble it up so fast you wouldn't even be able to find a torrent. And on the off chance you did, you would be legally obligated to argue with every white person on the internet about it before it would play.

This article is very good.
posted by StopMakingSense at 1:47 AM on September 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


I went in to Rise of the Planet of the Apes expecting a big, dumb summer movie. I walked out extremely annoyed at the stupidity ans poor pacing of the plot, the lack of internal logic throughout the movie, and the overwhelming laughability of practically everything that happens on screen. I thought it was really, really awful.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:03 AM on September 13, 2011


"Other people were racist too" isn't much of a defense.

"Like everyone else, this guy was racist" isn't much of an accusation.

When almost everyone in a certain place and time was X, it's not quite fair to single out one of them and proclaim that that one person was X, as if that one person were unusually X. Almost anyone you might select from all but the most recent past would be considered embarrassingly biased (racist, sexist, classist, ageist, ethnicist, etc.) if dragged into this Age of Moral Perfection and compared to our own sweet selves.
posted by pracowity at 2:14 AM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


I didn't get the a metaphor for the black experience thing from Planet of the Apes. But, I am not black and I have not seen any of the Ape movies.It was fun to watch and I was impressed with the acting abilities of the fake apes.

I got more of a "humans pay for the hubris that arises in the course of trying to control nature" vibe which ends with a very hollywood typical end of civilization storyline (trying not to spoil) - more along the lines of Jurassic Park, 28 Days Later, X-Men.
posted by like_neon at 2:17 AM on September 13, 2011


I don't think Tolkien is racist. I think he is guilty of the much more common and contemporary error of equating evil with ugly and good with beauty. This is one of the areas where GRRM shines because in his books nobody is fully good or fully evil and some of the beauties are the worst while some of the uglies are the best.
posted by srboisvert at 4:31 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tilting at strawmen.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:29 AM on September 13, 2011


the result of "racist" becoming a taboo word is that it's now impossible to talk about race and attitudes about race in a frank and open manner.

I disagree. You just need a lot of context.

"Racist" isn't really a taboo word, it's just not a nice thing to call someone. Why? Because it means a lot of things to a lot of people, and most of those things are quite accurately perceived as harsh judgments. Sometimes you want to make harsh judgments; for that matter, I believe that most people in the world have some qualities that deserve harsh judgment, though possibly not from you, and possibly not done in the manner of "You're a racist."

One of the things you learn if you make a habit of criticizing people is that if you want to be listened to, you have to spend the bulk of the conversation--actually, it's usually the bulk of several disconnected conversations--setting up a context in which your target will listen to what you have to say and make an attempt to understand the substance of it. This is not unique to judgments of racism. My little brother is a slob, but I can't talk to him about how to learn cleanliness, because I called him a slob, and now he can't hear any of my advice on the topic without going like, "you don't have to come to my place, so sue me."

When race-activists get told to be nice, they often hear it as dismissal. This is because people often dismiss race-activists in this way. Turning an argument about racial attitudes into an argument about manners is quite often a way of avoiding ever having to confront racial issues. But because of all that, race-activists, and social activists in general really, often make a habit of interpreting any criticism of their conversational technique as a pat dismissal. This is an example of the very same problem that prevents certain normally-sensible people from ever having a sincere conversation about racial attitudes. People tend to learn to interpret a certain type of assertion as having a certain subtext; their reasons for learning this may be right or wrong or merely a bit inaccurate, but in any case, they end up reading that subtext in cases where it either doesn't exist, or if it does, it would really serve everyone's interests better to just ignore it for the time being.

I certainly don't think that you should be "nice" in the sense of belittling the issues that you want to talk about. I don't think you should "sugar-coat". But I do think that, when you're speaking to a person whom you don't know to be knowledgeable on social issues, you assess their level of knowledge first, and if you can't be reasonably certain that they share your Racism 101 assumptions, you assume that they don't. After all, if you could reasonably assume that everyone you meet understands racial issues, racism would not be a big deal. But it is.

You can still call people out for racist behavior without bothering to verify that you're speaking in the same context that they're listening from. But if you do that, you should be specific about what they said or did that was problematic, what problems it caused, and for what person or group of people. At that point, if they read you as saying something you didn't mean, it will at least be obvious to everyone listening to the both of you honestly.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:03 AM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


(nb. the above is meant to apply only to cases where you're starting a conversation in which you intend to expose someone's racial prejudice. When noobs walk into minority spaces and start going like "Some of my best friends are black!" that's a whole 'nother thing; I suggest simply kicking them out.)
posted by LogicalDash at 6:06 AM on September 13, 2011


Aragorn was black. Tolkien just forgot to mention it.
posted by miyabo at 6:21 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


the real point is not that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great movie about the black experience but that Hollywood is still happier and more successful at adopting and portraying the point of view of an imaginary variety of chimp.
posted by Segundus at 1:30 AM on September 13


repeated for clarity.

Thanks for posting this very compelling essay.
posted by eustatic at 6:32 AM on September 13, 2011


Aragorn was black. Tolkien just forgot to mention it.

You know, I wish this were true.

Everyone has read The Last Ringbearer, right?

(My thought is that, honestly, if you are a straight white dude or you're a happily-accepted member of straight white dude circles, your experience reading high fantasy is likely to be very, very different from that of someone who is....not a straight white dude or happily accepted in straight white dude circles. Really, truly, one of the big moments for me as a white person was watching a woman of color I really knew and really respected become hurt and burned out and in genuine emotional pain over racial slights that seemed real but trivial and ignorable to me. I had to accept, based on my knowledge of her character and judgement and my encounter with her pain that the things that seemed like trivial annoyances to me were not trivial annoyances to her and that her objections to them were not about "the race card" or about the desire to establish some kind of good/evil Meaning of Life; instead they were about how much it fucking sucked to have to deal with racist shit over and over and over in circles where 1. she thought she had friends and 2. it was considered impolite to complain about it.)
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on September 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


I took the movie as chimps didn't want to wear cute outfits.
posted by stormpooper at 7:05 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


What distresses me about this article is that it takes the tropes of blacks as prisoners and victims to such an extent that it's a way of life. The author sounds stuck in the '60s and feels the need for revolution, instead of acknowledging that progress has been.

This Planet of the Apes remake is not a good metaphor for the struggle of blacks in America because almost everything that is good about the apes comes from the white characters. Why is Caesar so smart? Because of the drug created by whites. Why is Caesar even alive, after all other apes of the initial experiment were killed? Because a nice white doctor took pity on him and took him home and raised. Why is Caesar so educated? Because that nice white doctor taught him. How does Caesar get an army of smart apes? Because that nice white doctor refined the smart drugs into gas form, Caesar accidently discovers them and sets them off in the ape cages.

That the intelligence of the apes came from drug/gene manipulation implies that their intelligence wasn't natural and worse that it can be taken away via a different drug or gene therapy. What the the white giveth, he can also taketh away.

The one actual black character in the film is the powerful, rich and CEO of the company that created the drug. So that means what, black people in America shouldn't be powerful, rich or CEO's but instead fight (but not kill, except if it's the black CEO of the company that made them smart) for the right to move into the forest so they can live in harmony with nature? Is this a modern way of saying "Go back to Africa"? Educating and caring for blacks, is that where white America went wrong? What kind o fucked up message is that?

The more I think about this, the more it pisses me off. This remake doesn't work as metaphor for black revolution. It can't, not as a product of Hollywood.

In every other goddamn revolution movie, the oppressed get to kill the oppressors. Except here. Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to have apes using guns, stealing cars as they slaughter their way to freedom? Seriously, they're smarter now, but want to use spears instead of guns? Maybe the smart drug wasn't that powerful. That epic battle should have been like Sherman's March To The Sea, but on the West Coast (which could use some slapping around, especially LA) and furrier.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 AM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have read but not seen The Help (hasn't been released here yet, and probably not for a while judging by the lack of promotional material pasted on buses) and y'know, as a non-American it did introduce me to some things about living in the South then that I didn't know. I wonder if this is why it's a best-seller - because it lets people who don't know how tough it was for black people then to get a quick grounding (and, yes, I suppose congratulate themselves on how much better it is now). There's been no real equivalent to segregation in the UK and, given that we aren't taught much about this in school, it did not occur to me that it extended further than the Woolworths counter protests all the way to maids needing to use their own crockery and bathroom.

Although the film does avoid having a BEV (is 'ebonics' the right word?) written by a white woman, mind, which seemed a wee bit dodgy to me.
posted by mippy at 7:47 AM on September 13, 2011


What distresses me about this article is that it takes the tropes of blacks as prisoners and victims to such an extent that it's a way of life. The author sounds stuck in the '60s and feels the need for revolution, instead of acknowledging that progress has been.
The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.

These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009.

...From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households.

As a result of these declines, the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009; the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth; and the typical white household had $113,149.
posted by muddgirl at 7:50 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


And also, at points it did seem like it was written by an Alloy Marketing-type service specifically for Book Club appeal...
posted by mippy at 7:51 AM on September 13, 2011


Muddgirl, the point was that things were significantly worse for blacks before the '60s, where a better case could be made for armed revolution. Inequalities still exist no one is being locked in a cage.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:59 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Like everyone else, this guy was racist" isn't much of an accusation.

When almost everyone in a certain place and time was X, it's not quite fair to single out one of them and proclaim that that one person was X, as if that one person were unusually X. Almost anyone you might select from all but the most recent past would be considered embarrassingly biased (racist, sexist, classist, ageist, ethnicist, etc.) if dragged into this Age of Moral Perfection and compared to our own sweet selves.


You seem to have a very myopic view of the accusation in this case. I don't actually feel strongly about the accusation one way or the other, but surely it's shorthand for "Tolkien's books uphold, and perhaps even argue for, racist ideas. Just because they are presented as fantasy doesn't mean they don't espouse political ideas that we might find abhorrent if we spent some time thinking about them. Perhaps you should think about how he divides the world, and how he depicts good and evil, if you want to put the books forward as great works." This gets shortened to "Tolkien was racist." No one cares how his tailor thought about race, or even how the pure mathematicians on faculty then thought about race, because their products did not (potentially) smuggle racist assumptions along with them.

Your objection just seems like a way to try to ignore the problem completely by relegating it to the realm of a schoolyard taunt.
posted by OmieWise at 8:40 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Perhaps you should think about how he divides the world, and how he depicts good and evil,
> if you want to put the books forward as great works.

Fuller puts LOTR back on shelf, pulls down Othello and The Merchant of Venice.

Tolkien isn't really big game. Want to go after some big game?
posted by jfuller at 9:06 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Inequalities still exist no one is being locked in a cage.

I would agree that many aspects of life have markedly improved for black people since the 1960s, but "being locked in a cage" is not one of them. During that decade, there were, on average, about 350,000 *total* people behind bars, of all races, combined, of whom only around 135,000 were "colored."

In 2011, if only talking about blacks, there are currently about 900,000 either in jail or in prison.
posted by xigxag at 9:10 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Inequalities still exist no one is being locked in a cage.
About a third of African American men are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and about 12% of African American men in their 20s and 30s are incarcerated.
posted by muddgirl at 9:12 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Note that I don't think things were "better in the 60s" or anything like that. I don't think we can use one-dimensional terms like 'better' or 'worse' to compare an entire social milieu. To do so seems like we're patting ourselves on the back for being So Modern (which is one charge that has been leveled on The Help). It seems like it's arguing that we shouldn't fight so hard because we've come so far, when many social justice advocate recognize that, as a little progress is made we have to fight harder.
posted by muddgirl at 9:15 AM on September 13, 2011


it's shorthand for "Tolkien's books uphold, and perhaps even argue for, racist ideas. Just because they are presented as fantasy doesn't mean they don't espouse political ideas that we might find abhorrent if we spent some time thinking about them. Perhaps you should think about how he divides the world, and how he depicts good and evil, if you want to put the books forward as great works."...

Your objection just seems like a way to try to ignore the problem completely by relegating it to the realm of a schoolyard taunt.


Mostly because Tolkien's books do not really argue for racist ideas unless you want to make them fit with an already racist worldview. I understand people here are on high alert for racism, and that's not a bad thing. But I'm not sure why people can't see the Haradrim/Southrons as a clumsy choice that smacks of racism with few repurcussions for the overall narrative, rather than a racist statement about politics. It's pretty clear that his idea of good and evil in this book, while quite simplistic in many senses, is a bit more complicated than "white guys vs black guys." That is a reductive picky-choosy argument that glosses over a lot of nuance and details in the books that reflect on war and inhumanity towards man and how people can be corrupted, and as well as the views of Tolkien himself that are well known and documented. I suspect some of these opinions may be rooted in a viewing of the films more than a reading of the books. And I would agree with that assessment of the films even though I enjoyed them a great deal.

pulls down Othello and The Merchant of Venice.

They don't teach Merchant of Venice at my old high school anymore. I always tell this one, but while I was reading it I thought it was a tragedy because I found Shylock to be the most sympathetic character and was really hoping he'd get his pound of flesh from that arrogant ass Antonio. The ending surprised me a great deal; I was like "what kind of bullshit kangaroo court is this? Since when does flesh not include blood?"
posted by Hoopo at 9:31 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


In 2011, if only talking about blacks, there are currently about 900,000 either in jail or in prison.

Good point, thank you for making it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2011


the point was that things were significantly worse for blacks before the '60s

Talk to my mom and her siblings and other black Americans of their age who grew up mostly in the rural South during the transition from Jim Crow to desegregation and the Civil Rights Act. You'd hear some surprising (and not necessarily easily dismissed) arguments about how black people have actually lost ground in various areas since the 60's.

In fact, though they likely don't realize it, my mom and her generation often say things about the lack of progress for blacks in America that strongly echo some lines from Mos Def's "Mr. Nigga": "They say they want you successful, but then they make it stressful/You start keeping pace, they start changing up the tempo."

Danila, tbonicus, and others who might be feeling the same as them: don't give up and don't let it get you down. For whatever reason, Metafilter can be a very difficult place to talk about racial issues. There's often a strangely large amount of contrarianism, denial, and tone argument. But I take heart from those who fought that long, arduous boy-zone battle (and who continue to be vigilant about it): we can make it better if we keep at it.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Mostly because Tolkien's books do not really argue for racist ideas unless you want to make them fit with an already racist worldview.

Yeah, you missed the part where I said I didn't care about the debate itself. And I don't. Your position in the debate does not obviate my point that "Tolkien is a racist," is shorthand for a more complex position (whether that position is correct or incorrect), and treating it as if it were not is not a valid argument.
posted by OmieWise at 9:41 AM on September 13, 2011


Talk to my mom and her siblings and other black Americans of their age who grew up mostly in the rural South during the transition from Jim Crow to desegregation and the Civil Rights Act.

Have, all my life. They usually miss the lack of a clear and identifiable enemy, which is easy to unite people to fight against. In this new era, where there are fewer obvious roadblocks, it's easier for a black person to buy into the system, get the nice job, have the nice mortgage and feel that things are better, etc, etc.

This works both ways though. With fewer obvious roadblocks, it is easier to get ahead and getting ahead doesn't mean one forgets where they came from. It changes the battlefield, presents different challenges, but ultimately things are better for blacks in America. Obviously, there's still plenty of problems to be tackled.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:45 AM on September 13, 2011


It's factually incorrect when put in the those terms, Omiewise, and that's not really a minor point.
posted by Hoopo at 9:50 AM on September 13, 2011


Your opinion on the point is that it's incorrect, that doesn't make it the same position as dismissed above. Again, I have no dog in the fight over whether Tolkien was a racist, and whether the books have (essentially) racist content. But dismissing the accusation because singling out Tolkien ignores the overarching context is wrong because Tolkien is a special case by virtue of the enduring popularity of his work. That's all I'm saying. I am not making any claim as to the validity of the "he's a racist" argument, or your argument in his defense. You are disagreeing with me about something orthogonal to what I'm saying.
posted by OmieWise at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2011


When almost everyone in a certain place and time was X, it's not quite fair to single out one of them and proclaim that that one person was X, as if that one person were unusually X.

I don't know why we keep needing these reminders on MeFi of all places, but racism is not the same thing as bigotry. Racism (in one formulation) is the intersection of bigotry and power; in another formulation it is institutionalized and systematic discrimination. Things can be free of bigotry -- such as separate but equal imagined it was -- while infused with racism. Many defenses of segregation were put forth that this was better for relations between races. In the minds of modern conservatives, a system which produces racist outcomes is okay as long as it acts without bigotry. As muddgirl commented, absolutely on point, racial outcomes in the US are actually getting worse right now instead of better. We are still a society divided by race (and other metrics), and even if the most recent Gallup poll showed almost universal approval of interracial marriages, we are not an equal society.

Saying that Tolkien was racist (more properly, that his books were racist) is not saying he was an ignorant hick and bigot. It's saying that his books promote racial stereotypes based on some of the hoariest tropes in European literature (i.e. swarthy = evil). Naturally, this is in part a result of the sources from which he quite consciously drew inspiration. But nevertheless there is little in his books one can point to that indicates an awareness of the shortcomings of this approach. It has other aspects, such as references to "corrupted" bloodlines and clear delineations of racial classification even amongst the "good" races, with attendant moral underpinnings (i.e. men are weaker and more likely to be corrupted by evil than Numeoreans, or Numeroreans than elves). It goes on. There is, however, nothing personal in this as an attack on Tolkien. It is a critique of his work as an enduring popular literature that promotes ideas we would rather leave in the past.

I was disappointed, by the same (uh) token, that Gordon didn't put this film in the context of the earlier movie series and indeed the novel itself -- even by way of dismissing them because he hadn't seen them. Those were very definitely concerned with racism as a topic. Boulle's novel seems perhaps more informed by the French colonial experience, losing Vietnam and Algeria, than what we think of as racism, but the movies often referenced it explicitly, if in a particularly ham-handed Hollywood way. From that perspective, it's almost impossible for the current film to not invoke racism in some way, and could have been offensive if it had tried to avoid it.

I guess the one question I come away with from his review of both films is what counterexample he seeks, what model he would replace it with. There isn't much about that in his essay.
posted by dhartung at 10:55 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am embarassed to say I quite enjoyed The Help (the book), since As a non-American I've rarely thought about the black civil rights movement. I totally see now why people think it's shit - it turns the topic into "black people need white saviour" and not for the first time.

FWIW, I think as a white person I would shy away from writing a story from black perspective, it would feel disrespectful. Maybe the author wrote from a white perspective because she is white?

I'd like to read more, now my appetite is whetted - are there books which both do black history justice AND are a good story? (and fairly well known and accessible?)
posted by Omnomnom at 11:34 AM on September 13, 2011


Aren't several sections of the book actually written from the perspective of a black character? Seems to me that if you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound.
posted by muddgirl at 11:38 AM on September 13, 2011


I don't know why we keep needing these reminders on MeFi of all places, but racism is not the same thing as bigotry

That's because it's not used that way by everyone, even in this thread. "Racism" is often used interchangeably with "bigotry" here and elsewhere, and it's unfortunate that it's how it's used in common parlance but them's the breaks.
posted by Hoopo at 12:45 PM on September 13, 2011


I just re-read Lord of the Rings. The books are full with importance of genetic lineage, perfection of every member of certain race (elves), evilness of dark-skinned races, and "noble savages" of the forests by Rohan, not to mention complete absence of women unless they are there to serve as a trope (adoration object for a male character most often). But what absolutely killed me was the end, when after the scouring of the Shire there is a perfect year, when most children are born with lovely BLOND hair. Blond is just so much more valuable than any other hair color. Damn. And if anyone waltzes up to me and starts on Arwen having black hair I will clobber them silly. One exception does not a rule break.

I don't feel qualified to comment on the Help, I'm not black and haven't seen the movie. But as a non-blond woman I can certainly see Tolkien's deep-seated racism and sexism. Maybe people's reluctance, in this very thread, to acknowledge this about him is grounded in the same feelings that have made The Help the way it is.
posted by Shusha at 1:19 PM on September 13, 2011


Wow, talk about a plate of beans. You know even the most liberal of Tolkien's contemporaries would probably strike us as racist or sexist, right? Consider context, please.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:34 PM on September 13, 2011


You know even the most liberal of Tolkien's contemporaries would probably strike us as racist or sexist, right? Consider context, please.

This has already been addressed, I think.
posted by muddgirl at 1:35 PM on September 13, 2011


I'd like to read more, now my appetite is whetted - are there books which both do black history justice AND are a good story? (and fairly well known and accessible?)

In their open letter about The Help, the Association of Black Women Historians including a reading list of fiction and nonfiction books as alternatives (scroll down to the very bottom).
posted by gladly at 1:45 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just thought it had really cool graphics, and it didn't look ridiculous and cheesy like a lot of movies. And apparently it's not.

I agree, it was awesome to look at, but me and my friend were correctly blurting out the predictable dialogue before it was formed in the actors' mouths. The crowd we saw it with was clever and funny and behaving similarly, but I think it would've been more awesome in a theater full of 11 year-old boys, just like Black Swan was more awesome in a theater full of screaming queens.

The Help, eh, rich white women where I work are reading that en masse, so it's been hit with that crap stick already. I think all narrative is lies we tell ourselves to make organizing our reality maps more peachy and comfortable, anyway. All language and symbolism and metaphor for that matter. None of it is really defensible, but go ahead convince me, you know? I might just give up the certainty of my own five senses for someone else's POV, but only in a dark room staring at a screen for 90 minutes or so at a time. If you're carrying the whims of Hollywood and popular fiction into your day-to-day life, you've got a real problem beyond just racism, I think.

Look at the little birdie.
posted by eegphalanges at 2:45 PM on September 13, 2011


"You know something very bizarre is going on in Hollywood when the movie 'Rise of Planet of the Apes' tells more about the black experience in America than 'The Help'.

FTFY
posted by eegphalanges at 2:52 PM on September 13, 2011


This whole business of "but everyone was racist in the past, why are you picking on [PERSON]"...well, actually, not everyone was racist in the past. There were, um, people of color who were anti-racist in the past, for one thing. And there were perfectly good anti-racist white people in the past - maybe not flawless ones, maybe ones who fucked up a lot, but people who didn't buy into Tolkien-like narratives about the West. Just because Tolkien wasn't a figure of Nazi-like evil doesn't mean that his ideas about race should just be accepted as par for the forties/fifties course.

Honestly, lots of white people are racist today. Would it be appropriate to accept that in 100 years our descendants should see no difference between Mitt Romney and Tim Wise, just because they're both not 100% flawless white dudes?

(I like The Lord of the Rings, I don't think Tolkien was a terrible person, but he sure didn't have especially thoughtful and progressive views.)
posted by Frowner at 2:54 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Racism in Tolkien's Works
posted by stinkycheese at 3:04 PM on September 13, 2011


Crossover between LOTR & Return of the Rise of the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes :P in this discussion that I can't believe no one has mentioned: Andy Serkis! Most expressive actor who never wears his own face.

Back to your regularly scheduled whatever...

posted by epersonae at 3:19 PM on September 13, 2011


I don't think Tolkien is racist. I think he is guilty of the much more common and contemporary error of equating evil with ugly and good with beauty.

I think he set forth to create a universe where possessing beauty was the logical corollary to being good. Only in the end to subvert his creation by having Galadriel, the personification of beauty, play a largely inert role, and to have the most wretched creature he could devise, Gollum, wind up saving the world.

Having said that, there's no question that Middle-Earth is racist in its purest sense - it is a world where every "race" (species really) is strictly delimited by its creation in terms of its maximum potential. There are no good Orcs, nor could there be any; no dwarves unpossessing of greed. But there are elves and "Istari" who have succumbed to (needless to say metaphorical) darkness, and of course a world full of craven men waiting in the wings, less innately noble than the creatures who came before them. Even Gollum was able to transcend his ugliness only because he still contained within himself a core of resilience that the Hobbit race uniquely possessed.

FWIW, I think as a white person I would shy away from writing a story from black perspective, it would feel disrespectful.

I appreciate this sentiment, but there is none the less something deeply irksome to me about it (through no fault of yours). Shall we restrict men from writing from a woman's point of view? Condemn Americans who tell stories from a third world perspective? Prevent San Franciscans from adopting the perspective of Compton residents? Bar English Lit majors from crafting the identity of a low-income blue collar worker in their earnest first novels? Tempting as that may be, it seems like a surrender to the forces of exclusion. I think it's hard, really hard, to convincingly write from a perspective outside one's own experience. But a given work should stand or fall on its own merits. Not whether or not the author fits into the appropriate demographic.
posted by xigxag at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just because Tolkien wasn't a figure of Nazi-like evil doesn't mean that his ideas about race should just be accepted as par for the forties/fifties course...I don't think Tolkien was a terrible person, but he sure didn't have especially thoughtful and progressive views

I think the opposite is true actually; Tolkien the man was outspoken against antisemitism before WWII and also apartheid and "the treatment of colour" in South Africa. I could be mistaken about this, but my impression is these were actually thoughtful and progressive attitudes for his time. They would have been progressive and thoughtful in 1930s Canada anyway.
posted by Hoopo at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2011


mippy: I have read but not seen The Help (hasn't been released here yet, and probably not for a while judging by the lack of promotional material pasted on buses) and y'know, as a non-American it did introduce me to some things about living in the South then that I didn't know.

I've been told point-blank that it wasn't just the South. While segregation didn't have the same level of government support in the North and West, there's too many stories of restaurants serving famous black people only to break the dishes, intimidation of black families at beaches and parks, redlined neighborhoods, and sundown towns and suburbs to ignore.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:39 PM on September 13, 2011


In every other goddamn revolution movie, the oppressed get to kill the oppressors. Except here.

And in the 1972 Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which was originally filmed to end like so:

Caesar has Breck marched out to be executed. MacDonald appeals to Caesar to show mercy to his former persecutor. Caesar ignores him, and declares henceforth apes everywhere will repeat the revolt that happened in the Ape Management complex. The revolution will lead inevitably to Mankind's fall after which the apes will dominate the Earth and enslave the few remaining humans. Breck and all the other humans are then beaten to death as the film abruptly ends.

Test audiences reacted badly to the original ending. The studio re-edited the ending with existing footage. The plot twist of the chimpanzee Lisa saying the word "No" was added to the film via dubbing a new voice-over and Roddy McDowall was brought back to record new dialogue. The new ending allowed Caesar to show some degree of mercy and to leave the audience with the hope of peaceful co-existence between apes and humans.


Makes it a very different movie. A minor point, but the oppressed not getting the chance to kill the oppressors has been going on for a long time.
posted by mediareport at 3:44 PM on September 13, 2011


The article is fantastic. Turning it, a powerful essay about recent black historical narratives, racial representation, and Hollywood's unwillingness to tell an unwhitewashed civil rights history, into a discussion about Tolkien, who I think we can all agree has absolutely nothing to say about the black American experience, is incredibly disappointing. But I'm not surprised that people would rather talk about a dead English white guy than black people anywhere; that's about par for the course, here and everywhere else.
posted by Errant at 3:48 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Errant, that kind of confrontational guilt-tripping is the exact reason why people shy away from conversations about the black American experience. Life is too short to be raked across the coals over the discussion of a movie review. Conversations about Tolkien may get heated and passionate, but nobody's swooping down on someone with a blanket condemnation of their entire world view because they can't appreciate the finer points of Quenya.

Instead of dropping a drive-by disappointment bomb, maybe you can thematically jumpstart the more refined level of conversation that you evidently believe should be taking place about the article. Do you have some insight to share regarding the points that Gordon raised?
posted by xigxag at 4:12 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article is fantastic. Turning it, a powerful essay about recent black historical narratives, racial representation, and Hollywood's unwillingness to tell an unwhitewashed civil rights history, into a discussion about Tolkien, who I think we can all agree has absolutely nothing to say about the black American experience, is incredibly disappointing.

Yes, you're right, and having thought about it I regret my part in that derail- it's (rather obviously, I suppose) a subject of interest to me, but this wasn't the right thread for that particular digression at all. It was an excellent article, and though I don't feel qualified to further comment on it in much depth, it (for many reasons) deserved a more on-topic comment thread, and I'm sorry for any part I played in steering it further off-course.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:52 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This remake doesn't work as metaphor for black revolution.

I have yet to see the movie, but I agree based on what I've read here and I think it's important to realize that cautionary sci-fi stories are not exclusively giant allegories that can be perfectly mapped onto what it is they're supposedly representing. Very seldom will you find a metaphor that's going to work on every level, and good storytelling will almost certainly necessitate a few plot twists and details that might not serve any allegorical or metaphorical purpose but advance the story. Staying too faithful to the subject of the metaphor can result in a clumsy and awkward narrative. The best you can hope for is that those details that the story requires you stray form the source, you handle it as sensitively as possible and don't undermine your own message.

That said, I'm not entirely clear on whether the author thinks Rise of the Planet of the Apes actually supposed to be an allegory for the black American experience, or if the author merely saying that it does a better job than The Help on the topic. As an allegory it seems...flawed, to say the least.
posted by Hoopo at 4:55 PM on September 13, 2011


Great article. I do want to add that people dropping disappointment bombs in the comments about how they "should have known better" than to engage with Metafilter comments do a great disservice to the discussion going on here (warts and all).

As for Tolkien: I was always under the impression that the reason Lord of the Rings is considered racist was for so firmly establishing the precedent that a race could be evil—that the justification that the orcs were "perverted" out of elves and dark magics may have been narratively useful, but that it nonetheless paved the way for drow and goblins and the wholesale slaughter of Chaotic Evil villages in countless D&D games and fantasy derivatives of Tolkien in the years to come. I assumed the argument was that, regardless of his personal views, Tolkien's work caused a great flourishing of the meme that there are Others out there who want to kill you just because of what they are, and that you can safely kill them without knowing anything about them, and that 4 times out of 5, they're the black-skinned version of a classical creature from folklore.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Errant, that kind of confrontational guilt-tripping is the exact reason why people shy away from conversations about the black American experience.

Wish they actually would shy away. They have a lot to say, but it's just derailing and obfuscating. It's all so ill-considered.

Instead of dropping a drive-by disappointment bomb, maybe you can thematically jumpstart the more refined level of conversation that you evidently believe should be taking place about the article. Do you have some insight to share regarding the points that Gordon raised?

Since I too dropped a "drive-by disappointment bomb" I'll answer this for myself. I had something to say but it's a waste of words. The article was chock full of content but it was written by a black man about black people so, you know, no "white protagonist" to help people see the relevance (another point addressed in the article). So what we got were dismissive comments and then a discussion about a massively influential white guy and how it's unfair to call his works racist for whatever reason. And that derail began because someone wanted to dismiss the criticism of another popular white guy called out on his sexism and racism. It is very hard to have a "discussion" when a fair number of the participants let you know right from the start that they don't even think this is important and in fact, feel oppressed by having to hear about it. It's becoming "a thing" you know, talking about racism. Ugh do we have to do it again?

No, no we don't. The white people are talking so I figure it's best just to let them talk.

It's disheartening because it just seems black people are not important again. It's also disheartening because the writing deserved so much better. Why should I or anyone have to wade so much against the tide just to stay on the topic? It feels like they're yawning in my face. Looking right through me. That's what it feels like, I've been there a million times before, I hate it. I should have walked away and said nothing though and just been appreciative for the nice link.
posted by Danila at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Errant, that kind of confrontational guilt-tripping is the exact reason why people shy away from conversations about the black American experience.

That's really, really not the reason. Plus, you appear to be accusing me of causing people to avoid a conversation by criticizing the avoidance of the conversation, which is ridiculous.

But, with Tolkien, a white English fantasist with no history of overtly addressing race in his fictional work, showing up in this thread in the 5th comment, whatever avoidance was going to happen was already en route well before I showed up.

Life is too short to be raked across the coals over the discussion of a movie review.

This is a variant of the "it's just a movie" argument, which Gordon refutes fairly eloquently. I won't attempt to improve on it.

maybe you can thematically jumpstart the more refined level of conversation that you evidently believe should be taking place about the article

I really have no idea why you think my objection is that this conversation isn't "refined" enough. My objection is that this conversation isn't about the article at all, and I find that telling. Discussing the whitewashing of black history in popular culture and the stories that get left out, or, perhaps worse, warped into an inversion of the true narrative, is a difficult and fraught proposition. I am not surprised that people would rather chew over the use of the word "swarthy" in a printed book from over half a century ago and an ocean away from most commenters here. I am not surprised that people would prefer not to confront the ways in which their culture attempts to erase a violent past and replace it with the story of how white people were actually mostly pretty cool to black people, except for a few outliers who are made to literally eat shit without reprisal from a murderous hierarchy.

So what's the story here? Rise of the Planet of the Apes, by all accounts, relays a surprisingly nuanced story of overcoming a fictional oppression. The Help, by all accounts, diminishes and whitewashes a real and historical oppression into women being kind of mean to each other but ultimately getting along. I read it as: there is such a thing as oppression, but we as a culture didn't really do that. We weren't that bad. We weren't that great, but we came around. Honestly, the whole Civil Rights movement seems like a bit of a to-do over not much, doesn't it?

Popular culture has a very difficult time acknowledging the truth about its society. It would rather erase that truth, and the people bound up in it, in order to invent a world in which your masters are generally benevolent. When a people win self-determination in the face of overwhelming oppression, it is because they are a fantastical race that does not actually exist. When a people survive against continuing oppression, it is because they had a Skeeter or a Sully to intercede on their behalf, to "speak white", and to "prove" that the oppression is neither systemic nor total.

The story of the Civil Rights movement is a story of the oppressed striving for the right to be a people, against us who suppressed them. Until you put yourself in the role of the slavemaster or the man with the firehose or rope, you are not telling the true story. That's the actual reason why people shy away from conversations about the black American experience. Everything else is excuses.
posted by Errant at 5:27 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


"No, no we don't. The white people are talking so I figure it's best just to let them talk. "

I found the Tolkien talk boring and started talking about something else that was more related the article.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2011


It is very hard to have a "discussion" when a fair number of the participants let you know right from the start that they don't even think this is important and in fact, feel oppressed by having to hear about it

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. What I see at the beginning of the thread are people saying "yeah, a major theme of Planet of the Apes is oppression" and people agreeing that The Help was kind of crap. There were a couple of "HERE WE GO AGAIN" comments, but most seemed focused on the idea that Planet of the Apes as a sci-fi film was able to communicate a message about oppression more effectively than a movie set in the South in the 60s that deals specifically with American race issues.

Until the Tolkien thing. Sorry about that.
posted by Hoopo at 6:57 PM on September 13, 2011


"In a narcissistic society, the mirror that reflects you is the television and movie screen, and if you don’t see yourself in the accepted cultural image, you don’t exist.... blacks come to the movies to see their experience portrayed, and are disappointed year after year. We are starving for portrayals of authentic black life, and may even munch on a thick piece of corn pone like The Help and say it’s great in order to justify our wasted money and time, or to support black actors we admire. And what’s the alternative, the Soul Planes, Barbershops and Madea?" FTA


Years ago, the first time I visited LA, I asked a young black man in Compton if life there was like Menace to Society. "Naw, man, that's all bullshit," he told me.

I'm interested why the Apes movie that completely yanked the critics chain, made him angry and near tears, while everyone in the theater I was with--a mixed bag of white, black, Latin, Asian--but mostly young in demographic, laughed and screamed out jokes and mocked the dialogue, and had an awesome time cheering on Caesar and the action all the while, yet completely knowing exactly how and when and with what precise pressure their chain was being yanked.

The guy seemed like he had a crummy time at the movies because he was with dull people; his white friends loved The Help, which from the poster alone can be judged to be utter crap, and obviously he was not a theater full of 11-year old boys and screaming young adults and teenagers for Apes. When the whole heaving grief of Black History prevents one from having a good time at the movies, I dunno, you need new boyfriend or crowd to hang with, or someone to listen to your feelings and maybe separate those feelings from the royal "we" of your Blackness, because that is a heavy load for one man to carry. Carry on, nonetheless, and we shall be entertained and have our thoughts provoked and our blurb will read: "Thought-Provoking!" and you'll believe it and not feel cheated at the end, because it was "authentic."
posted by eegphalanges at 7:01 PM on September 13, 2011


"We come to art, to literature, to film, to understand ourselves, to understand how to love. And, of course, to be entertained, which is sometimes reason enough. But when our need to be entertained is so great that we distort facts, only allowing in what we want to see, then our relationship to that art becomes pathological."--FTA

Truth.
posted by eegphalanges at 7:12 PM on September 13, 2011


"I appreciate this sentiment, but there is none the less something deeply irksome to me about it (through no fault of yours). Shall we restrict men from writing from a woman's point of view? Condemn Americans who tell stories from a third world perspective? Prevent San Franciscans from adopting the perspective of Compton residents? Bar English Lit majors from crafting the identity of a low-income blue collar worker in their earnest first novels? Tempting as that may be, it seems like a surrender to the forces of exclusion. I think it's hard, really hard, to convincingly write from a perspective outside one's own experience. But a given work should stand or fall on its own merits. Not whether or not the author fits into the appropriate demographic."

I'm not. You know why? Because folks for whom telling a black character's story or a woman's story or a poor perspective is important still will, and those who would just slap their same world view into the mouth of a subaltern should be generally be discouraged.

And let's not pretend that this isn't a bit of special pleading on behalf of the exceptional writers, and a bit of imagined nonsense over anyone being barred from writing anything. Framing it like that makes it seem like there'd be an active preventive measure, rather than just a lot of well-earned criticism.

I write black characters every now and then, and I generally do two things — I base them on black people I know really well (I base pretty much all my characters on people I know really well), and I avoid putting words in their mouth that make them more archetypes than people. I also try to be sensitive to how I'm portraying them, so that if it's not important to have a thug be black, I tend to not add one more black thug to fiction.

But even with that, I'm fine with black people telling me that I've got it wrong and fucked it up. Because I probably will, and because I'm an other to them (to some extent), they'll notice it more readily than a white guy would.
posted by klangklangston at 8:17 PM on September 13, 2011


"Errant, that kind of confrontational guilt-tripping is the exact reason why people shy away from conversations about the black American experience. Life is too short to be raked across the coals over the discussion of a movie review. Conversations about Tolkien may get heated and passionate, but nobody's swooping down on someone with a blanket condemnation of their entire world view because they can't appreciate the finer points of Quenya.

Instead of dropping a drive-by disappointment bomb, maybe you can thematically jumpstart the more refined level of conversation that you evidently believe should be taking place about the article. Do you have some insight to share regarding the points that Gordon raised?
"

Oh, also, this is bullshit too. Errant's point should be well-taken, and instead of defensively dismissing it as another guilt trip from some minority when you were only talking, man — seriously, "raked across the coals" for saying he was disappointed? Over-sensitive much? — you can acknowledge his point and move on to talking about something else, or tie it back in to the broader discussion.

This smacks too much of putting the onus on the minority to discuss minority issues intelligently, when everyone else gets to talk about Lord of the Rings.
posted by klangklangston at 8:20 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Danila:) Why should I or anyone have to wade so much against the tide just to stay on the topic?

We don't "have to." Not at all. On the other hand, if we want to occasionally discuss these topics on a fairly open site like me-fi, wading through sewage is going to happen. And I agree that it happens with particular frequency whenever the topic of R*CISM comes up, maybe because a large number of people believe that all that bad slavery/KKK stuff is over and any remaining interest ("obsession") that blacks have is because we don't want to give up all the special privileges we've menacingly extorted from guilt-ridden whites who live under constant fear of being called the r-word.

Errant, first of all, thanks for responding. But:

(Errant:)my objection is that this conversation isn't about the article at all,

seems rather unfair since plenty of folk, myself included, did discuss their impressions of the article, or at least of the movies mentioned in the article.

(Errant:) Until you put yourself in the role of the slavemaster or the man with the firehose or rope, you are not telling the true story. That's the actual reason why people shy away from conversations about the black American experience. Everything else is excuses.

I'm not entirely getting what you're saying here. Perhaps I misunderstand, but it seems dealing with two things at once, that perhaps you feel are entirely equivalent, but I feel a distinction should be made. The two things I'm referring to are 1) the popular culture narrative of racism and 2) this discussion we are currently having on mefi. I agree that the pop culture narrative is hopelessly distorted for reasons eloquently stated by both yourself and Max S. Gordon. Because pop culture distills a consensus, it tends to appeal to the lowest denominator; it eschews bona fide controversy and replaces it with ersatz catharsis, which as Gordon has argued, is worse than no catharsis at all.

Exhibit A would be the election of Obama, which provided the nation with similar fake healing. But now that mainstream society has proven to its own satisfaction that it is no longer racist, it feels liberated to pursue naked racial antagonism with a vengeance. It's like, finally that whole thing where you'd go to a party and somebody would look at you tauntingly and say, "But you have to admit that OJ was guilty as hell, right?" was over. And now in 2011 it's "you have to admit that Obama's been a total failure, even for the blacks, right?" But I digress.

So yes, I think it's fairly hopeless to have high expectations for commercial pop, because it won't confront the searing reality of white supremacy head on. But a conversation on mefi is between individuals, not a consensus. I don't expect every (white) person who wants to have a conversation concerning black-white relations to assume the mantle of guilt as an individual racial oppressor. I strongly disagree with that being a prerequisite to engaging in a worthwhile conversation. But I'm quite likely misinterpreting your remark, so please correct me.


(xigxag:)Life is too short to be raked across the coals over the discussion of a movie review.
(Errant:) This is a variant of the "it's just a movie" argument, which Gordon refutes fairly eloquently. I won't attempt to improve on it.


Again, the contexts are different. A movie is an end product - the conversations have already been had, the decisions already made, and people have put their money behind this thing they are pushing out for public consumption. It deserves to be raked across the coals if it fails on a fundamental level. Or if it succeeds at something abhorrent. Whereas a thread on mefi is just a starting point, a place for ideas to be exchanged. This isn't the exam, this is just study hall, so to speak.

eggphalanges: I'm interested why the Apes movie that completely yanked the critics chain, made him angry and near tears,

Angry and near tears, because he was deeply moved. Looking at it through a critical lens, he found it to be a powerful film that rose above the typical Hollywood pablum.
posted by xigxag at 8:49 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can take my Miskatonic U sticker from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Scoo at 9:15 PM on September 13, 2011


Errant's point should be well-taken, and instead of defensively dismissing it as another guilt trip from some minority when you were only talking, man — seriously, "raked across the coals" for saying he was disappointed? Over-sensitive much? — you can acknowledge his point and move on to talking about something else, or tie it back in to the broader discussion.

This smacks too much of putting the onus on the minority to discuss minority issues intelligently, when everyone else gets to talk about Lord of the Rings.


First of all, since I am black, and I rambled on a bit about LotR myself, obviously I don't subscribe to the latter position.

Secondly, I did take Errant's point seriously. My response wasn't meant to be flippant, and I appreciate that Errant did not take that way.

Anyway, my point about being "raked across the coals" is that if people get the impression that jumping into an online conversation is going to be more trouble than it's worth, then they probably won't. I'm not saying it's wrong to quash irrelevant conversation, but just that doing so by arguing "here we go again with white folk avoiding talking about us" may have perverse consequences. Personally, I don't have a problem with a little genial but off-topic high-fantasy banter, so long as the topic at hand is eventually covered. Actually I feel kind of silly saying even that because I don't think I get to play hall monitor just because this is a "black" topic.
posted by xigxag at 9:24 PM on September 13, 2011


Angry and near tears, because he was deeply moved. Looking at it through a critical lens, he found it to be a powerful film that rose above the typical Hollywood pablum

Which is curious to me, because I found it utterly predictable and laughter provoking, as did the person I viewed it with, and the crowd of people around us who shared similar sentiments afterward (and during). It wasn't bad, and I don't see enough movies to know what "typical Hollywood pablum" is. My movie going partner and I choose films, viewing times, and theaters which we think will be preeminently open to banter, loud laughter, yelling at the screen, and other participatory cinema rites with others who share our mien. We laughed hysterically at Black Swan, too, and delighted when it became a midnight movie with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence one night at the Lumiere. Whereas some other female friends were aghast at what Black Swan was as a "feminist" statement, you know, creative career=madness and all, the horror!

While there's nothing wrong with being deeply moved by a film that from all appearances seems geared toward the angst of preteen boys, it's a strange extrapolation to take on the entire "we" of Blackdom as sharing the same feeling about the film as the author does. It seems the author came out of the Apes movie and into The Help movie in one double-feature go, meeting up a similarly-partnered, biracial couple for the viewing of the second feature. The white partners loved The Help, but apparently his partner did not feel the same pathos the author did viewing the Apes movie. So instead of it being a personal problem, a bad date night out, all of White and Black and history gets pulled into it, like for my "other female friends" who didn't laugh at but were deeply troubled by Black Swan as a statement on the choices of modern womanhood, well, that's a rough lens to be looking through all the time.

I do think he's spot on about the mendacity of The Help, though. But I think we all like to tell lies to ourselves to remain comfortable. I call it "going to the movies".
posted by eegphalanges at 10:26 PM on September 13, 2011


Perhaps I misunderstand, but it seems dealing with two things at once, that perhaps you feel are entirely equivalent, but I feel a distinction should be made. The two things I'm referring to are 1) the popular culture narrative of racism and 2) this discussion we are currently having on mefi.

I wouldn't say that I believe a MeFi discussion and the whole of popular culture are entirely equivalent, but neither would I say that a MeFi discussion does not reflect popular culture and the general trends of social interaction. I don't believe that we're some sequestered enclave here, immune to the vicissitudes and zeitgeists of the world at large. So while I agree that the conversations here are generally between individuals, I don't think it's out of line to consider the interactions here in light of, as you say, a general consensus.

I don't expect every (white) person who wants to have a conversation concerning black-white relations to assume the mantle of guilt as an individual racial oppressor.


You are misunderstanding me, but I may have been unclear. More likely, I think, is a much-expressed tendency to conflate "guilt" with "responsibility". You suggested that my "disappointment bomb" is an example of what causes people to avoid difficult discussions about racial history. I say instead that what causes people to avoid those discussions is that difficulty. Primary among those complications is the lurking awareness of a well-meaning person that they cannot escape their complicity in and profit from the horrors of the past. People do not like to be reminded of the spilled blood that gave them power, but that blood is inescapable if we're to have a real conversation about historical legacy and the narrative that leads us to this place and time.

That isn't a call for guilt, however. I have said elsewhere that I find guilt to be fairly unproductive as an emotion. The Baldwin quote with which Gordon prepends his piece is perfectly chosen, and I'll reproduce it here:

There is…a myth about America to which we are clinging which has nothing to do with the lives we lead…this collision between one’s image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-​on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish.

It is important, deeply important, to acknowledge the reality of what was and is. Acknowledging that reality does not require guilt but humility and responsibility. What I am saying is that, for the majority of both people in general and people here, the likely role during a time of oppression is not as a freedom fighter or activist but as a complicit bystander or a whipholder. I don't think that's secret knowledge, and I think that that cultural dissonance between the ideal and the real is reflected in the way that most people choose to approach these discussions, by not approaching them at all. But the difficulty must be faced if we are to move forward.

It is too easy to sink into an academic discussion of dead authors and their far-removed legacies. That discussion, with its benefits of distance and hindsight, obscures the discussion that we need to have about who we just were, who we now are, and who we will be or hope to be. My disappointment is that we succumb too easily to the temptation of denial and omission, those hallmarks of privilege, and in that submission we reflect the general cultural trend of avoidance and erasure. My hope is that we will do better, here and elsewhere.
posted by Errant at 12:27 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well as far as white authors writing the stories of brown people, I don't think it is inherently problematic. I just think if you're going to do that then you have to rigorously examine the choices you make in characterization. You have to seek assistance from those who'd know more than you and have the humility to accept the critique. You have to be aware of the fact that you will have significant racist blind spots, including things you think you know but are really inaccuracies and stereotypes.

Many times the white author's perception is very distorted and based on memory. In fact, going by your own memory and personal experience when writing the experiences and perceptions of someone from another race should be number one on the Do Not Do list. For example, in The Help most of the black characters speak with an exaggerated Southern dialect, e.g. “Sho nuff they’s a big pink polky-dot box”. This is immediately off-putting and suspicious to me, but I MIGHT have been able to accept it as "authentic" if not for the fact that none of the white Southerners have any kind of dialect. The only black characters who do not speak with the exaggerated dialect are the ones with light skin, such as Lulabelle, who "looked white as anybody". And Lulabelle does not speak with the dialect. Which is strange because she was the child of two dark-skinned parents, grew up poor, was eventually placed in an orphanage, etc. So why would she speak "correct"? Magic properties of her skin? There's also Yule May who is a maid just like Aibileen and Minny. She's also depicted as a resentful thief. But Yule May's words are all unaccented. On account of her light skin. It's bogus.

The dialect issue is really just an example to show the perils of using memories distorted by racist perceptions. This is what happens when you go by memory and don't seek out the perceptions of the people you are writing about. Kathryn Stockett (author of The Help) really did not do any due diligence and it shows. It was only after my encounter with the book that I learned just how little research she cared to do but it certainly didn't come as a surprise. When questioned about the dialect, she always makes the excuse that this is how she remembered it. She says she did not do any interviews with black maids of that era or any research in order to keep the process "natural". She went off of her memories as a white child who had a black maid. So no wonder the story is very white-washed.

misha, I have read the book and been engaged in discussions about the book for about a year, but I haven't seen the movie and won't see it. I'm afraid I'd be like Melissa Harris-Perry, snarky and ragey. I learned my lesson after The Blind Side; my family still makes fun of me over that.

As far as the book goes, you're probably right that it's a lot more complex in its depictions but I think it gets the experience very wrong from the black point of view. It's also offensive, in the use of dialect, the descriptions of "cock-roach" black skin, and the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of black men. It's especially egregious since the white men do not come off as badly as the black men, which makes no sense. Even though Max Gordon didn't read the book, he too picked up on the "innocuous white men" of The Help so I guess it's in the movie too.

My favorite resource for critiques of The Help is A Critical Review of The Help, which arose from a long Amazon discussion I and many others took part in. Incidentally, it was from reading Amazon reviews that I finally understood what The Help was about. See, before I read it I was under the impression that this was "the story of the lives of black women who worked as maids", you know, THE HELP. This probably contributed greatly to my anger over the book. But upon reading the many positive reviews and learning about Stockett's background, I realized that this is the story of the white children who grew up with beloved black maids. The point of view is racist (I feel like I now have to say, not that there's anything wrong with that).
posted by Danila at 4:31 AM on September 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


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