The Help tops US box office but hits controversy
The adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's book The Help, about white women and black housekeepers, is criticised by Wire actor Wendell Pierce as 'segregation lite'.
The Help, a controversial film that has attracted lawsuits and criticism from a leading American actor, is top of the US and Canadian box office, after taking £12.4million over the weekend.
The adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel tells of the relationship between white women and their black housekeepers in 1960s Mississippi. Its success knocked blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes down to second place in the charts.
The Help has been published in 35 countries and sold more than five million copies. It has spent more than a 100 weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list.
But actor Wendell Pierce, who played detective Bunk Moreland in the hit HBO series The Wire and plays trombonist Antoine Baptiste in Treme, described the film as "passive segregation lite that was painful to watch".
The New Orleans actor took his mother, Althea - a former elementary school teacher who raised him in Pontchartrain Park - to see the film and later tweeted on his account @wendellpierce: "My mother told me for the first time that she was ‘The Help,’ I never knew my mother had raised white children until we saw this movie. I was shocked. She was hurt by the film. She thought it was an insult."
In a sustained bout of tweeting that last for hours, he added: "The Help was well done but was a passive version of the terror of Jim Crow South . . . My mother told me how she wasn’t allowed in the kitchen. She couldn’t eat during a 12-hour shift . . . She couldn’t drink water from the kitchen but had to go to the faucet outdoors . . . Watching the film in Uptown New Orleans to the sniffles of elderly white people while my 80-year-old mother was seething, made clear distinction … the story was a sentimental primer of a palatable segregation history that is Jim Crow light.”
Pierce, who also said in his posts that his grandmother was The Help, went on to praise the work of the film’s actors, especially leads Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. “Actors never cease to amaze me. What they do with the material given to them is craft.” He added that Hollywood often wants films with black actors as long as they are accompanied by a "great white saviour".
Stockett was also caught up in a court case last week when a housekeeper asked a judge to reinstate a lawsuit against the best-selling author.
Ablene Cooper, who works for Stockett's brother, claims a character in the book, Aibileen, was based on her without permission.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Tommie Green ruled last week that a one-year statute of limitations elapsed between the time Stockett gave Cooper a copy of the book and the lawsuit's filing in February.
The motion for reconsideration argues Cooper didn't read the book and file the lawsuit sooner because Stockett told Cooper the character was not based on her.
Stockett was not in court this week in Jackson - the same city where the book is set - when the lawsuit was dismissed. The Help does not use Mrs Ablene Cooper's name but does have a character called Aibileen Clark.
The New York Times praised the book saying: "The two principal maid characters...leap off the page in all their warm, three dimensional glory. Book groups armed with hankies will talk and talk...[A] winning novel."