Blacks ambivalent at Oscars’ snub of Davis, ‘Help’
That’s why Miss Brooks was not surprised by “The Help” being made or crestfallen when Miss Davis didn’t win: “Whoever writes the checks writes the rules.”
As the Oscars approached, “The Help” was lambasted in some quarters of the black community. Many perceived it as another instance of black characters being “saved” by whites, or of serving only as vehicles to improve and enlighten white lives.
“Think of Will Smith in ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance,’ Michael Clarke Duncan in ‘The Green Mile,’ Anthony Mackie in ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ and Sir Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus in ‘The Matrix,’” said Toure, the cultural commentator who uses just one name, writing in Time.
Wrote screenwriter and author James McBride: “It’s the same old story: Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens.”
Watching “The Help” was torture for Toure. But as a black man, he was disappointed that Miss Davis lost.
“I hated the film, but respect Viola’s immense talent,” he said in an interview. “I wanted her to get recognition for her talent and to get the power that comes with winning.”
Oakland activist and journalist Davey D said it seemed like a contradiction for critics to slam the film but support Miss Davis and Miss Spencer.
“Y’all should be happy the maid flick didn’t win,” he tweeted. “The Help” was nominated for best picture, but lost to “The Artist.”
“The fear was, Viola winning or ‘The Help’ winning would’ve validated keeping alive an image that many black folks found stereotypical, inaccurate and overall problematic,” he said in an interview. “A win was seen as a setback.”
Not for Barbara Young, who has worked for 17 years as a domestic worker and is an organizer for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Watching the film, Miss Young cried when Miss Davis’ character was separated from a white child — she had endured several such partings in real life.
Miss Young traveled from New York to Los Angeles for an Oscar viewing party organized by the alliance. When Miss Streep’s name was called instead of Miss Davis’, the room of 50 people let out a huge groan.
“It was a very sad situation in that room,” said Miss Young, an immigrant from Barbados. “I was disappointed, but I was very grateful to the producers of the movie for bringing domestic work to the forefront.”
She saw a simple reason for the criticism of the maid role: “It’s not recognized as real work.”
Miss Davis certainly knows that it’s real work — her mother and grandmother both toiled as maids.
During Oscar season, Miss Davis consistently advocated for a wider range of black roles. “I’ve played a lot of drug addicts,” she said in an interview with Terry Gross of NPR.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.