Recap of community discussion on 'The Help'

ASU Professor Angelita Reyes at Changing Hands Bookstore

On Friday evening, October 21, 2011, an audience of about 60 people from diverse generational, ethnic, racial, educational, religious and gendered backgrounds gathered at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., to discuss some of the controversial issues surrounding the box office hit "The Help," based on the bestselling novel of the same title by Kathryn Stockett.

The book and the film have been criticized for troubling stereotypes of African American women as domestic workers and inaccurate portrayals of African American life in the Jim Crow-era American South. On the flip side, the book has also been celebrated for its fine storytelling style by a talented writer.

Where do we draw the critical demarcations of ‘”accurate” historical representation and "inaccurate" artistic license for a feature film? Would a multi-cultural Southwest community have perspectives similar to those voiced in the national controversy? Or is the controversy located only in specific gendered, racial or regional communities? Are African Americans still more sensitive about the historical realities of having been the ever-present "help" against the backdrop of slavery and domestic servitude in the Big House?

“These questions looking for some answers were part of my motivation to propose and host a community discussion on 'The Help' at Changing Hands,” says Angelita Reyes, professor of African and African American studies in the School of Social Transformation and professor of English, in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Reyes moderated the event, which included panelists Stanlie James, professor of African and African American studies; Pamela Howard, lecturer in speech and hearing sciences; Jonathan Young-Scaggs, ASU alumnus and community member; Kathi Hofferth, of Novel Ideas Book Club; and Joel Orona, independent scholar and consultant among Indigenous peoples.   

“My personal reaction to the book and film were contrary to some of the criticisms,” Reyes notes, “for I found both to be entertaining. The lively townhall-style discussion we enjoyed that evening reminds us about how powerful art can be,” she reflects.    

[download PDF of remarks by panel organizer Angelita Reyes, which includes links for further reading]

[download PDF of remarks by panelist Joel Orona]