Allow Me To Help You Understand

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It should not be that difficult for people to understand why some are happy with Viola Davis’ most recent successes in acting, but not necessarily its source. Sadly, I tend to keep up with the habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m working on letting that virtue go. In the meantime, let me try to help explain sentiments that I assumed were as obvious as the color of Mary J. Blige’s roots.

Viola Davis is a wonderful actor long overdue for the type of acclaim she’s currently enjoying this award season. No one who takes issue with The Help has said otherwise. Those with criticism of the critics love to suggest so, though. Why? I gather it makes it easier to dismiss valid critiques of the film as nothing more than a bunch of bougie Negroes showing that they can’t satisfied with anything.

I can see why people found the movie entertaining (while I cringed a whole bunch). I do think it was well made. That said, it’s fair to point out that the narrative is something we’ve seen play out again and again. It’s also within reason to note The Help toys around with the facts of that era — essentially giving viewers an unrealistic portrayal of the time period the story is set in. Given what period that is, why wouldn’t some – especially those who actually lived during those times – find that dangerous? It’s not as if the black experience in this country routinely trivialized.

Regardless, should Viola Davis win an Oscar most will be thrilled for her. But, the notion that skeptics go silent because her win will pave the way for other, more well-rounded roles: Let that go. Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award in 1939 for playing a maid/mammy. And here we are.

After all these years, we have Spike Lee continuing to say out loud that Hollywood knows nothing about black people. A point that gets him painted as some loud mouth on a “tirade” for what feels like the millionth time. Meanwhile, George Lucas is revealing that despite being one of the top filmmakers in history, he couldn’t get a studio to back a black war action movie. Part of it is his sales pitch to motivate moviegoers to show their support opening weekend. To show those studios that black movies can make money — despite several decades of receipts already providing that info. Then you have screenwriters like Barry Michael Cooper lamenting over the good ole days (nee, the 1990s) where you had a bevy of black writers and directors making movies. Movies that were versatile with respect to story, character, and direction.

And now? We have The Help and movies like Pariah being ignored by the Academy. Zoom, look at how far we’ve come. It’s a pattern worth pointing out. Some call that perspective negative; those who have feel they’ve simply got higher expectations, especially for someone like Viola Davis. I hope she wins just because she deserves it, but I’d be even happier if she were given projects beyond flicks like The Help The Softer Side of Segregation. She deserves that a whole lot more. We all do.

If anyone still can’t grasp that, maybe no one can help you.

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