In the wake of protests denouncing the state of race relations in the United States, “The Help” became one of the most-watched movies on Netflix. The 2011 film follows a white female author writing the experiences of African American maids serving white families during the Civil Rights Movement. However, the movie’s use of the “white savior narrative” has proven to be problematic. If you want to educate yourself on racism and the day-to-day experiences of Black individuals, “The Help” should not be on your viewing list.
The “white savior narrative” is a cinematic trope in which a white character “rescues” a non-white character from poor circumstances. This concept reinforces the idea that a white individual is needed to aid people of color from situations they “cannot save themselves from.”
Hollywood’s white savior obsession reinforces harmful stereotypes and causes people to believe in the old colonial idea that people of color need white people to “save” them.
This concept also praises the ideology of color-blind racism, aka the “I don’t see color” perspective.
In The Help, the white savior takes form through the role of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone). Skeeter is your standard, hyper-feminized country bumpkin who is idealized as a liberal-journalist searching for change within her white circle of friends. As she grows frustrated with their racist attitudes towards their maids, she decides to write a book about the experiences of African American maids – Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer).
What critics found most upsetting about the film is that it’s centered around Skeeter’s fight for justice, without raising questions about the Civil Rights Era.
The Help ends with Skeeter being offered a job because of the book, while the Black maids receive small pensions from the book’s publication.
The movie’s narrative is about a white woman profiting off of racism and the African American experience during an era of their societal oppression. The movie fails to address that Skeeter made such little impact on their social position within society; she just cashed in on them.
Although “The Help” did, in fact, receive criticism for this issue, many individuals still seek out this film as a resource for learning about racism and are still believing that a white savior is needed for justice to incur for black oppression.
Down below is a list of films and T.V. shows that seek to highlight and prioritize black voices better than The Help does, along with the streaming service they can be found on: