Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

" 'The Help' Bothers Me"

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mississippian Says Film's "Naive" Ending Is Implausible

Police Mistake Photographer on Assignment for Suspect

Commentators Weigh In on Obama's Rough Patch

Is Perry the Best Thing to Happen to Obama's Prospects?

Jobs Gap for J-Grads of Color: What's the Problem?

News Lacking on Mobile Devices of Young People of Color

Ex-Reporter Says Papers Slanted Crown Heights Story

Wife Was Right: Don't Write About Hair Weaves

Short Takes


Emma Stone as Skeeter, left, Octavia Spencer as Minny and Viola Davis as Aibileen in "The Help." (Credit: DreamWorks Pictures)

Mississippian Says Film's "Naive" Ending Is Implausible

"When I read 'The Help' two years ago (I couldn't put it down) and watched the film last Saturday (which made me laugh and cry), I could feel the pain of another white 40-something Mississippian who wants to make it all better.  

"She's pining for a happier ending for our state, and she's using her talents to make it so," Donna Ladd, editor of the Jackson Free Press, an alternative paper in Jackson, Miss., wrote on Wednesday. Jackson is the setting of the much-discussed film and novel "The Help."

Ladd, a native of Philadelphia, Miss., was in this column last month as former chair of the Diversity Committee of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, commenting on efforts to diversify alternative newsweeklies.

"Did she intentionally write a fairy tale?" Ladd continued. "Certainly, her tale is infused with bits of truth about the horror of the time for black women and tragedy of white women raised to love, hate and abuse them all at the same time.

"But those nuggets are, seemingly, uninformed by voices of real black women, from former maids . . . to female intellectuals like bell hooks and, now, [Melissa Harris-Perry], who can teach us if we'll just listen.

Donna Ladd ". . . For me as a hell-raising white woman, 'The Help' bothers me even more. I love the strong women in it, but I know our history well enough to see how the movie's naive ending softens our history for newer generations. The story touches on the Citizens Council and Medgar Evers' murder by a Citizens Councilor, but viewers will not know just how entrenched Jackson was in 1963-64. Bill Simmons, the head of the Citizens Councils of America, used to spread race hatred from his Fairview Street home before it became an inn. He used to say he knew where every white person in Jackson stood on the race question.

". . . 'The Help' just could not have ended as it did. Hilly, or her man, would have called the Council on Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. My guess is that Aibileen would have been severely beaten and never hired again in the state; anyone related to Skeeter would have been destroyed economically and at least one cross burned in her mama's yard; and Minny would have been killed and her house burned."

"The Help" has received mixed reviews from African American critics and columnists, but is doing well at the box office.

"After debuting in the No. 2 spot last weekend, the film about sisterhood in the racially divided 1960s' South has [led] the midweek derby on strong word-of-mouth and should closet a total of $70 million by Sunday night," Paul Dergarabedian wrote Friday for the Associated Press.

Police Mistake Photographer on Assignment for Suspect

"A Journal photographer on assignment for the newspaper ended up in police handcuffs Wednesday afternoon in a case of mistaken identity," Astrid Galvan wrote Friday for the Albuquerque Journal.

Adolphe Pierre-Louis "Staff photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis said he was forced to get on the ground in handcuffs for about half an hour after a State Police officer pulled him over on eastbound Interstate 40.

"Pierre-Louis, who is 49 and has been with the Journal for more than 16 years, was in a Ford Explorer registered to the Albuquerque Publishing Co.

"State Police spokesman Tim Johnson confirmed the incident occurred but said officers acted appropriately and were following standard operating procedure. He refused to release a report, citing a State Police policy that requires the news media to file a public records request for any report.

"Pierre-Louis, who had been photographing an assignment in Los Lunas, said the incident was degrading and should not have gone on that long.

" 'I feel that the fact that I wasn’t offered a formal apology, that’s more upsetting than anything,' he said.

"The episode started shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday, when a man standing on the side of the highway flagged down State Police Officer Joseph Schake, who works in the Farmington area but was in town for a conference at Route 66 Casino Hotel.

"The man told Schake that a bald man in a white Ford Expedition had just pointed his gun at him and driven off on eastbound I-40, Johnson said.

". . . Afterward, the victim told police his perpetrator was a Hispanic man who had picked him up and was giving him a ride. Johnson said he did not know if police found that man. Pierre-Louis is not Hispanic. . . ."

President Obama holds a town hall meeting Monday at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, during a three-day Economic Bus Tour in the Midwest. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)

Commentators Weigh In on Obama's Rough Patch

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza this month judged President Obama to have had the "Worst Week in Washington" after a drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Standard & Poor's credit downgrade and swing-state polling showing the president vulnerable. Add to that a "poverty tour" by Obama critics Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, a push for jobs by the Congressional Black Caucus, dissatisfaction over the administration's immigration policies and a presidential vacation, and it makes for plenty of material for commentary:

Is Perry the Best Thing to Happen to Obama's Prospects?

Rick Perry "A few weeks ago, President Obama's most likely scenario for re-election was facing a moderate Republican who had made few controversial remarks in his years in public life and could easily cast himself as a business-focused technocrat," Perry Bacon Jr. wrote Thursday for

"But that potential opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is no longer the heavy favorite to win the GOP nomination. And the emergence of Texas Gov. Rick Perry could be the best thing to happen to the president's re-election prospects in months.

". . . If Perry won the nomination, the contest between him and Obama would not simply be one in which the Republican railed against the president's record on the economy and Obama had little grounds on which to attack the Republican. Unlike Romney as candidate, a Perry candidacy would allow Obama's team to highlight the Texas governor's more controversial history: remarks about Texas seceding from the union, his push to require sixth-graders to get vaccines for cervical cancer, his links to George W. Bush, his description of Social Security as a 'Ponzi scheme.' And Perry, as illustrated by his remarks since he got into the race, doesn't simply want to have an election on Obama's record; he wants a broad debate about the overall role of the federal government."

Jobs Gap for J-Grads of Color: What's the Problem?

George L. Daniels, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama, is chairman of the Diversity Committee of the Society for Professional Journalists.

He wonders why, were he an African American student going into journalism, he would "have far less of a chance of finding a job in journalism and communication than another student who is not from a historically underrepresented racial group."

Citing a newly released survey of 2010 graduates of the nation's journalism and mass communication programs, Daniels wrote that he asked the survey's author, Lee B. Becker, director of the annual surveys in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, "what might account for this gap.

". . . He referenced 'things ingrained in the system that work against minority students.'

"Those include the lack of access to the networks that might land them a job, likelihood of needing to work while in school thus making them less able to take what are increasingly unpaid internships in news organizations and less opportunities to work on campus media."

Daniels cited the Black College Communication Association's annual HBCU Newspaper (now Media) Conference; "the impressive staff of The Monitor, the conference publication produced during the National Association of Black Journalists Annual Convention"; and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Parity Project, though that program has been hit with funding cutbacks.

Daniels asked, "So I’m back to the earlier question — WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?"

News Lacking on Mobile Devices of Young People of Color

A report released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, "How Americans Use Their Cell Phones," suggests that most African Americans don’t use their cell phones "to stay informed, connected and productive," as do he and his wife, Mira, Herbert Lowe wrote Friday for the Poynter Institute.

"Yes, the study says, blacks and Latinos have higher usage rates, compared with white owners, across a wide range of mobile applications.

"As other surveys have found consistently, however, most blacks and Latinos primarily use their cells for texting and for entertainment. Even if their phones make it easy to access the Internet, it’s not news they’re after.

". . . Media companies must better engage people of color as content creators and producers, not just users, said Chioma Ugochukwu, Ph.D., an assistant dean and my colleague in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University.

". . . Monica Rhor, a Houston-based freelance writer who writes about education for Latino Ed Beat and Mamiverse. . . said media companies should develop more access points with teachers seeking to present news in their classrooms."

Ex-Reporter Says Papers Slanted Crown Heights Story

". . On the night of Aug. 19, 1991 — the night that Gavin Cato and Yankel Rosenbaum were killed — my editor called me at home to tell me that riots had broken out on the streets of Crown Heights" in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ari L. Goldman wrote last week for the Jewish Week. " 'We’re covered for tonight but I want you to start your day there tomorrow,' he said.

"Over the next three days, working 12 hours shifts and only going home to sleep, I saw and heard many terrible things. I saw police cars set on fire, stores being looted and people bloodied by Billy clubs, rocks and bottles. One woman told me that she barricaded herself into her apartment and put the mattresses on the windows so her children would not be hurt by flying glass.

"Over those three days I also saw journalism go terribly wrong. The city’s newspapers, so dedicated to telling both sides of the story in the name of objectivity and balance, often missed what was really going on. Journalists initially framed the story as a 'racial' conflict and failed to see the anti-Semitism inherent in the riots. As the 20th anniversary of the riots approaches, I find myself re-examining my own role in the coverage and trying to extract some lessons for myself and my profession.

". . . In all my reporting during the riots I never saw — or heard of — any violence by Jews against blacks. But the [New York] Times was dedicated to this version of events: blacks and Jews clashing amid racial tensions. To show Jewish culpability in the riots, the paper even ran a picture — laughable even at the time — of a chasidic man brandishing an open umbrella before a police officer in riot gear. The caption read: 'A police officer scuffling with a Hasidic man yesterday on President Street.'

"I was outraged but I held my tongue. . . ."

Goldman is director of the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Wife Was Right: Don't Write About Hair Weaves

John W. Fountain

"My wife told me so," John W. Fountain wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times. "And yet, I had to go and open my big mouth anyway on the very sensitive subject of sisters and the hair weave epidemic currently gripping our nation. Man, oh man. It’s been, uh, unbeweaveable.

 "For my musings — even though they were meant for good, for the promotion of natural black beauty — one sister wrote to me saying she wanted to come downtown and punch me in the face. Another wrote disparaging me as a 'bald black man' and saying that as such, I had some nerve for daring to broach the subject. Who did I think I was?

" 'My head is my head and I wear on my head what makes me feel happy and pretty,' wrote another sister, who said she had long healthy natural hair but often indulges in wearing weaves, changing from blonde to redhead to brunette. 'I believe I can speak for most black women: "Don’t mess with [our] hair!" Beweave that.'

"Alas, I do beweave it.

"And though I may have made one small step for man in my attempt to make one giant one for weave-kind by my examination of this hairy cultural phenomenon, I must now recede, like my hairline, from any further discussion of this most sensitive matter that can hold dangerous consequences. But I have discovered I am not alone. . . ."

Short Takes

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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The Help: Feel Good Reviews

I am so tired of the 'noble negro' themes that always emerge from films and novels which expore the inhumanity of being Black in an America that produced slavery, segregation, etc.. This attitude of trying to find humanity in the naked reality of white racism from my vantage point only clouds a real discourse and just extends the shelflife of denial, avoidance and racial amnesia...Yet again the victim must find a way to appease the oppressor's feelings..WTF

"The Help"

I start by saying that until I moved to Tennessee in 1995 and two years later to Virginia, I had never lived in the South. So I don't have the same deep-seated emotional reaction that many do when they read a book like "The Help" or see the movie. Living in California was no piece of cake, as Southerners like to imagine (e.g., the 1965 Watts Riots and the 1992 Rodney King-inspired sequel), but I did not live through the Jim Crow-style era that shaped the world of Black Southerners in the 1960s. So watching a movie like "The Help" may not hit me the same way as it does someone like Donna Ladd and others who have turned up their noses at it. But here's what I do know: it's a movie.

Tate Taylor, the director, did not set out to do a Henry Hampton "Eyes on the Prize"-esque documentary. Yes, he romanticized a lot of what was going on in Mississippi in the '60s, especially that "walking off into the sunset" ending. But he wasn't trying to do anything else -- and neither was Katheryn Stockett. During the viewing of the movie during NABJ, a couple of people were very upset that the killing of Medgar Evers and other historic events were brushed over -- and said as much to the director and the author during the subsequent panel discussion. But both said, in so many words, that's NOT what the movie or the book was about. It was primarily about three women -- two of whom could easily have been my Aunt Rachel, who raised three generations of one white family's children, or my Grandmommy, who scrubbed toilets in a Wilmington, Del., hotel that she could not register in. In Viola Davis' and Octavia Spencer's portrayal, I felt that ancestral tug that was my aunt and my grandmother, telling me "yes, it was like that, and so much more." Their voices and their stories were given a big screen for all the world to see. So here's my two cents: don't get all worked up that some white woman or some white director didn't tell OUR story the way WE want it told and didn't include all the deep historical elements that WE wanted (although we don't seem to mind that Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence and whoever else continues to make well-attended movies that don't even come CLOSE to touching on real history). They were serving Hollywood -- and they were up front about saying so. And maybe around Oscar season and Golden Globe season they'll be rewarded for it, because it's a good movie.


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