It's been interesting watching the reaction to "The Help" this week. The movie, like the best-selling novel that spawned it, is a big slick slice of cheese anchored by some very strong performances, and I liked it well enough when I reviewed it.
I've been told repeatedly, both directly and through the media, though, that it is inappropriate to like the movie, and that it is insulting to both the reality of the civil rights movement and to the performers that are asked to play the maids in the film. I've been told that these stories are only valid if told by black filmmakers. Never mind that most young black filmmakers today have as much direct experience of the South of the '60s as I do… skin color is obviously the primary qualifier for what stories we are allowed to tell, right?
I think the entire debate is wrong-headed, frankly. I think any time people start telling other people what stories they can or can't tell, it's ridiculous. Do I think there is a long history of telling significant stories about other cultures or ethnicity through a white American filter? Sure. Absolutely. I think when you make a film like "Ghost Of Mississippi" about a real-life figure as remarkable as Medgar Evers and you tell it from the POV of a white lawyer, you have made a disastrous creative choice. I think when you make a film about Stephen Biko and you spend most of the running time dealing with the struggles of a white family to escape South Africa, you have missed the point.