Monday, August 29, 2011

Not one, but three summer films worth debating

Summer films are known for their blockbuster ambitions: usually sticking to the formula of big action, epic story, or romantic fun.

The only movie that I've seen this summer combines all of these (The final Harry Potter movie).

Rarer for summer movies are films that provoke controversy because of their subject matter.

Today, Episcopal Cafe highlighted one such movie: The Help. An article by Elizabeth Geitz looks at the movie that is swirling with controversy and asks, "Does The Help, help or hurt?"

It was a terrific book, I thought, for it revealed the South as I knew it and lived it.

And therein lies the controversy surrounding the work.

There is only one perspective portrayed in both the book and the movie, the perspective of white people. Black women are portrayed as one-dimensional, stereotypical ‘characters’ – not as real flesh and blood people with families, feelings, hopes, and dreams of their own.

Geitz continues:

The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement about The Help: “Despite efforts to market the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experience of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.” I commend to you the rest of the statement made by Black women scholars who speak the truth of another perspective. It can be viewed at the website named below.

In an interview with NPR Stockett responded to the controversy surrounding her book: “I’m a Southerner — I never take satisfaction in touching a nerve,” she says. “I guess if I’m forced to find a good side, I’m glad that people are talking about an issue that hasn’t really been discussed all that much. I’m glad that people are talking about it from the black perspective and the white perspective.”

Turns out, it's not the only controversial summer movie. New York Times columnist A.O. Scott highlights three movies that have sparked debate. In addition to The Help, Scott cites The Tree of Life and The Future.

You'll have to read Scott's article (be careful for spoilers) to get the full story. Having not seen any of these movies yet, it is this observation that I pull from his story:

So it is cause for rejoicing when something comes along that raises hackles and polarizes opinions, stirring up passionate quarrels, both private and public, in which more seems to be at stake than who liked what. The ardent embrace or skeptical dismissal of certain films can feel less like a matter of opinion than of principle, and to talk about them is not so much to compare contrasting impressions as to engage opposing positions. Love it or hate it. You might be ambivalent or confused, but you can’t be neutral. Mixed feelings are strong feelings.

Oh yeah, I learned one other thing: I need to get to the movies!!!

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