Today in egregiously problematic, The Help is now the most watched movie on Netflix.
As anti-racism protests continue across the country, media outlets and activists are suggesting people — especially white people — better educate themselves on the United States’ systemic history of intolerance and oppression towards black people.
Book lists and streaming guides (including Mashable’s round-up of racial justice documentaries) have come in droves, but the popular 2011 period drama The Help seems to have risen above those recommended titles for many Netflix subscribers. At time of writing, Netflix listed The Help as the most popular film on the service and the fifth most popular offering on the site overall.
“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard.”
The film by Tate Taylor, the white director who helmed the 2014 James Brown biopic Get On Up and the 2019 Octavia Spencer-led horror flick Ma, has repeatedly drawn criticism from activists, critics, and filmmakers as a classic example of whitewashing. Based on the novel of the same name written by white author Kathryn Stockett, The Help tells the story of a white woman (played by Emma Stone) chronicling the injustices faced by black domestic workers in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s civil rights movement.
Star Viola Davis, who received a Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of The Help‘s Aibileen Clark at the 84th Academy Awards, said she regretted participating in the film in a 2018 interview with The New York Times.
When asked if she had any roles she regretted passing on, Davis responded: “Almost a better question is, have I ever done roles that I’ve regretted? I have, and The Help is on that list. But not in terms of the experience and the people involved because they were all great. The friendships that I formed are ones that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than Tate Taylor.
“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie.”
I was just thinking about The Help trending on Netflix and I laughed remembering the time I interviewed Tate Taylor for "Get On Up" and the look on his face when I asked him why he as a White director felt he could tell this very Black story after the backlash from The Help…
— Rebecca Theodore-Vachon (@FilmFatale_NYC) June 5, 2020
Film critics have been quick to emphasize the importance of streaming wisely, pointing out Davis’ statements and offering alternative titles for Netflix subscribers seeking to educate themselves.
“I’m so sorry but the last thing folx need to be watching are bootleg ‘racial reconciliation’ movies like The Help,” tweeted film critic Rebecca Theodore-Vachon (h/t Entertainment Weekly). “If you need a list of Black films, Black film critics are on here happy to suggest some really good ones.”
Suggestions have included Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th (also streaming for free on YouTube) and drama series When They See Us — as well as Chris Rock’s stand-up special Tambourine, Justin Simien’s dramedy series Dear White People, and David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.
In addition, the Criterion Channel is streaming a large selection of films that “focus on black lives” for free. Throughout the month of June, DuVernay’s 2015 Best Picture nominee Selma and Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy are also available to stream for free through most digital rental platforms.
Netflix did not immediately respond to Mashable’s request for comment.
To be silent is to be complicit.
Black lives matter.
We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.
— Netflix (@netflix) May 30, 2020