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August 23, 2011 by · 5 Comments 

As The Help continued to amaze box-office pundits by coming from behind and taking over first place for two consecutive weeks, controversy over its plot began percolating on the Internet. Actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme) posted a series of tweets charging that the filmmakers had watered down the actual misery in which blacks lived in the segregated South in the ’60s. He said he had taken his mother to see the movie and that she “told me for the first time that she was ‘The Help.’ … She was hurt by the film. She thought it was an insult.” Pierce described the film as “a passive version of the terror of Jim Crow South. He said his mother “couldn’t drink water from the kitchen but had to go to the faucet outdoors.” The movie, he said, represented another case of Hollywood making a movie with black characters so long as they are accompanied by a “great white savior.” In Jackson, Mississippi, where the movie is set, Donna Ladd, the white editor and co-founder of the liberal Jackson Free Press, also agreed that the movie focused too earnestly on a “white 40-something Mississippian who wants to make it all better.” Film producers, she writes, “believe it takes a white hero saving poor blacks to sell the story.” And the fact of the matter, she continues, is that the movie’s “naive ending” would never have occurred. The powerful White Citizens Council in Jackson, she says, would have seen to it that “Aibileen would have been severely beaten and never hired again in the state; anyone related to Skeeter [the white protagonist] would have been destroyed economically and at least one cross burned in her mama’s yard; and Minny would have been killed and her house burned.” The Association of Black Women Historians has also joined in the criticism, maintaining that the movie “distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. … Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.”