Lately the whole pop cult world has been annoying me a lot. I watched the preview for Django Unchained and thought, oh goodie a movie with lots of guys, interracial bonding, killing, broad comedy: Why would I want to see that? The trailer was enough excitement for me, in the way of manly posturing and gunplay. And feminist critics have pointed out that The Help has a lot of roles for women who actually talk to each other, and even about matters other than men, but it is such a fantasy world.
So is this a problem? Aren't movies supposed to be "just movies, " non-serious entertainment? If this is so, why, then, do filmmakers and critics make extravagant claims about the breakthroughs in race relations these films are supposed to be? Aren't they satisfied to make all that money and lead those great lives, without claiming to be the saviors of the black race?
Adolf Reed, Jr. has written an important essay, Django Unchained, or The Help: How "Cultural Politics" is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why, in which he poses a lot of questions about the claims of films like these.
One trope I see over and over is that it really doesn't matter how you do in life as long as you remain true to yourself. So if you tell your boss off and get fired, as Skeeter does at the end of The Help, "The implication is that having been fired, rather than portending deeper poverty and economic insecurity, was a moment of liberation." Most workers can't take chances like that. Telling off the man, or in this case, the woman, "finding her voice," is for most, "pure neoliberal bullshit." Of course it's only a movie, right? A fantasy. That's exactly right.
This is a long, complex essay, and I have only discussed the first page. But it is a breakthrough, making important points.
There is a lot more to say, but I really am tired and not well yet.
Anyway, I can recommend the film Adolf Reed Jr. mentions in this essay, The Long Walk Home. It shows how people don't want to change, are scared to change, but how they can change. It's about the Montgomery boycott: a wonderful period piece, very true to the times. As Reed puts it, it's the film people thought they were seeing when they saw The Help.