Viola                 Cicely              Octavia

By Harold Bell

I have often said my heroes and role models could not run the 100 yard dash in 10 seconds, throw a football 60 yards in the air, hit a jump shot beyond the free throw line or hit a baseball out of the park.  My heroes were black women with names like Grandma Bell, Mommy B, Ma Brown, Sister Grace Paige, Ms. Powell, and Harriet Tubman.

The black women that starred in the movie “The Help” brought back memories of those great women who touched my life!

This movie is based on a best-selling novel with the same name.  Emma Stone stars as Skeeter, Viola Davis as Abilene and scene stealer Octavia Spencer as Minny.

These are three different but extraordinary women in Mississippi during the 60s, who build and unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk.  From their improbable alliance a remarkable sisterhood emerges, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to crossed-even if it means bringing everyone in town face-to-face with changing times.

Washington, DC take notes, especially, Capitol Hill politicians.

Emma Stone plays the writer and white woman who was raised by one of the maids.  She returns home from college to discover her maid (Cicely Tyson) no longer works at her home and her parents are very invasive about why she is no longer there.

Ms. Tyson who plays the missing maid makes a cameo appearance.  She has long been one of my favorite actresses.  As an actress she was one of a kind she refused to play roles that that were distasteful and put black women and black people in a bad light.

Ms. Tyson is a furiously independent woman who still marches to her own drum beat.  There was little doubt in Hollywood that she was one of the best actresses black or white during her era.

I remember seeing her for the first time up close and personal at the Florida Avenue Grill.  She was having lunch with famed DC civil rights and criminal defense lawyer, the legendary Dovey Roundtree.

My friend and high school and college teammate the late Attorney Allen “Stu” Roberson worked in the firm of Attorney Roundtree.  I had met her several times when I visited the office.  I was trying not to stare when Attorney Roundtree beckoned me over to the table and introduced me to Ms. Tyson.

I was impressed she was gracious and a beautiful black woman.  She later starred in a 1994-1995 television series that depicted the life and times of Attorney Roundtree.

“The Help” was turned down by dozens of movie studios before it was given the green light!  The book has been on the bestseller list now for several years.  Now those who had an opportunity to the screen rights but said “No” are eating Ninny’s Chocolate pie!

This movie is definitely a roller coaster ride with numerous highs and lows.  You will experience anger, tears, laughter and an inspired ending.  This movie I recommend to today’s black men and women who think that they cracked the “Glass Ceiling” in Corporate America all by themselves and owe nothing to anyone.

The performances by Emma Scott and Viola Davis were great but the show stealer was “Ninny” played by Octavia Spencer (Mommy B).  I think the Chocolate Pie might have been border line too nasty and dirty for my mother but her never give up or give in attitude reminded me of Mommy B.

I can’t remember the last time I spent 2+ more rewarding hours in a movie theatre than the one I spent watching “The Help.”

The movie was based on a true story of some courageous black women in Mississippi. They worked as maids cleaning, cooking and raising some lazy ass white women’s children.  Their thanks they were treated like less than human beings.

The movie should follow the best selling book and should be a no-brainer for an Academy Award.  The best actress award nominee should be Emma Stone and the best supporting actresses should be Viola Davis and Octavia Davis.  There is no way you can nominate one and don’t nominate the other.

But knowing Hollywood and its history it will be a difficult task for Ms. Davis and Ms. Spencer to win the best supporting actress.  First, their roles are not ones where they are rolling in bed with some white actor or playing a crooked cop with a gambling habit!

This movie is a reminder for those of us who are keeping it “Real” the struggle continues full throttle.

The struggles of the black maids were during a time when racist and racism was a way of life in America.  It was in the turbulent 60s when civil rights leader and advocate Medgar Evers was gunned down in his Mississippi driveway by a coward hiding in the dark.

On June 12, 1963, at the young age of 37 he was assassinated by a White Citizen’s Council member by the name of Byron De La Beckwith.  Mr. Evers as field secretary for the NAACP was involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi.  He fought in World War II only to return home to die on American soil facing the real enemy of black people—racism in America.

President  John F. Kennedy followed Mr. Evers in death when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.   These two events should give you some idea how brave and courageous these black women were with murder waiting just around the corner.  The beat still goes on America!

Sometimes it takes a policeman’s billy club to land upside our heads before we get that needed wake-up call.  There was a scene in the movie where the town’s police officers pulled one of the maids off the bus and arrested her for theft.  The maid made the mistake of struggling and as the other maids looked on one of the cops took his billy club to her head!

It was this brutal scene that brought all the maids in the struggle together (sisterhood).

Hopefully, this movie will be a wake-up call and a lesson for media personalities like Tavis Smiley, Professor Cornel West, Tom Joiner, Al Sharpton, Steve Harvey, etc.  The lesson, a house divided will surely crumple and fall!

It maybe wishful thinking but it would be great gesture if President Obama would invite all of the feuding personalities to the White House for a beer and to view the movie “The Help.”

If the President could spare the time for a photo shoot with a can of beer on the White House lawn with a racist cop and a black Harvard professor—-why not?  President Obama has a stake in this because the feud centers on him!

The struggles in the black community are ongoing in 2011 for example; a white man makes 20 times more than a black man, 1% of the America population controls all the wealth.  The unemployment rate in Black America doubles that of White America, black youth unemployment is 43% and white youth unemployment is 20%!

Justice in the American Court system is still defined for the Black Community as “Justice and Just-Us.”  Have you checked out the prison population lately?

The most vulnerable are children and senior citizens.  They have no one to lobby for their rights in Washington, DC.

The AARP will make a claim they are looking out for the welfare of seniors.  If that is the case how did they just sit on their hands and let the politicians sign a bill not allowing us a cost of living increase for three years?

That decision was a death sentence for most of us.  Black male leadership is non-existent.  I will jump over ten James Clyburns and take one female similar to the black women in Mississippi.  “The Help” had the balls to stand up and say, “Enough is enough.”

The thing that really scared me was a conversation that I was having with NFL legendary running back Jim Brown.

He is one of the foremost authorities on gang violence in the country.  I was venting my frustrations about how everyone was using our kids for just a “Pay Day” for themselves.  His response almost knocked me out of my chair.  He said, “Harold you have got to get over that kids don’t vote so who cares?”  I have looked at Jim in a different light since that day.  Now I see the great NFL player only!

If you think racism is a thing of our past lets go back to presence day Mississippi and be re-introduce to “I just ran that nigger over.”  Follow this link /

It was several years ago in Texas that a like group of white men tied chains to the legs of another black man and dragged him through the streets behind their pick-up truck to his death!  Mississippi is closer than you think.

The month of August 2011 comes to a close on the mall in Washington, DC with a “Celebration” of a stature that resembles the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, instead of a celebration we should be in a state of mourning.

Dr. King has to be rolling over in his grave to know that his family and friends allowed a sculpture of his likeness to be commissioned and carved up outside of the black community!  The decision was a slap in the face to black sculptures world wide.

The sculpture was made in China.  I would guess the decision makers were thinking like, everything else in America is made in China why not a sculpture of Rev. King!

Someone in the family or in the black community (John Lewis) should have demanded that a line been drawn.  The Chinese could care less about black people!  There is no way the Chinese would commission a black sculpture to carve up a likeness of any Chinese leader.

There was a no-show by black men in the movie with the exception of a news highlight of Medgar Evers untimely death and a black brother working in the restaurant. We are still a no-show today when it comes to our community.  Black women like in “The Help” are an endangered species.  Our new theme song is “Its all about me.”

My wife Hattie use to have to make me sit through the end of the movie and see all the credits as they rolled down the screen.  Vocalist Mary J. Blige made it easy for me to sit through these credits.  She sang the musical score for the movie and it was beautifully done.

We arrived just in time for the start of the movie and the only seats available were down front where it looks like you are sitting on top of the screen.

When we got up to leave we turned around only to discover three rows of white folks sitting in the upper tier of the theater waiting for the movie to completely end.   Hattie and I were the only two blacks left.  The whites stood up in their seats but never moved toward the exit until we made our move!  I guess they were not taking any chances of us starting a riot.  Man, a guilty conscience is a bitch.

On the ride home I thought about how those white folks felt watching “The Help.”  It was great movie but it re-opened a lot of wounds.  And some of us still have not yet completely healed.  It is sad that some whites are returning to their roots (plantation mentality) and still have the balls to ask “When are you people going to get over racism?”  It looks like never as long as you keep reminding us!

In closing, I still live by the phrase that I coined to end my sports radio talk show,  “Inside Sports” in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  “Every black face you see is not your brother and every white face you see is not your enemy.”

Harold Bell is the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, DC.  Throughout the mid-sixties, seventies and eighties, Harold embarked upon a relatively new medium–sports talk radio with classic interviews with athletes and sports celebrities.  The show and format became wildly popular. Harold has been an active force fighting for the rights of children for over 40 years with the help of his wife through their charity Kids In Trouble, Inc.   To learn more about Harold Bell visit his official web site H. B. Sports


  1. I’ve decided NOT to see “The Help”.

    I saw “Driving Miss Daisy”, “Crash”, and “Avatar”. On one level, I enjoyed some of these movies. But by the the time “The Blind Side” came out, I had a decision to make: Could I sit through one more film that perpetuated the falsehoods of “the white savior myth”? I decided I couldn’t and so I did not see “The Blindside”. And I will not see “The Help”. I do not want to risk the chance that my financial contribution to its box office receipts might encourage Hollywood to continue plying the nation’s consciousness with this misinformation.

    A movie written by a man about the pain experienced during childbirth would get little attention because obviously there are women who could write more credible accounts. So why do we always pay so much attention to books written by whites about the pain of the black experience in America? For me, a movie written by a white woman about the pain of the black experience has no value. In fact, the ability for so many whites to get rich off of this literary formula insults and belittles my experience as a black woman.

    The signature on my email messages has always read:
    “Until the lion has his own historian, the tail of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
    And so it goes. “The Help” once again glorifies a white woman as the savior of a black woman.

    In addition to “the white savior myth”, the negative image of Black men in this movie is also a problem for me. As far as many of us know and have experienced in this life, Black men are awesome. However, this fact is rarely represented in film. Once too often I’ve seen the reinforcement of an insulting and false Black male stereotype used as a handy plot device. This is one more reason why I will not be seeing “The Help”.

    One might say that I should not pass judgment on a film I have not seen, but this is no different than my decision not to see the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. I read about the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie and concluded I don’t actually have to pay money to see people’s limbs being severed in order to decide this movie is not for me. Based on having seen other horror movies of its type, I knew that I literally could not stomach seeing it. And likewise, after researching “The Help” I believe the movie is most definitely not for me.

    The owner of FOX television, arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch, also owns The Wall Street Journal. Here’s what The Wall Street Journal said about “The Help”:
    “ ‘The Help’ is bound to be a hit. Just as readers loved the book, for good reason—its resonant themes transcended its imperfect craftsmanship—audiences starved for substance after a long, dry summer will embrace the movie. They’ll do so not only for the white guilt it addresses, and deftly mitigates, but for the plot’s entertaining contrivances (chief among them a climax of cyclonic uplift), the bonds of love between whites and blacks and a cast of outsize characters…”

    So Rupert Murdoch’s movie reviewers think one important reason people will love and “embrace” “The Help” is for how it “deftly mitigates” white guilt (mitigates, as in “to reduce”, “to lessen”, “to decrease”). Hmmmm… interesting that THIS is a theme (purpose?) that resonates throughout the movie for them.

    Below, I have copied some interesting opinions that helped me make up my mind about the nature of this movie. I invite you to copy this message to all you feel might benefit from it. Please participate in my informal survey – drop me a line to let me know whether you intend to contribute to The Help’s box office receipts and why.
    ~ K.

    Anthony Kaufman’s ReelPolitik Blog

    “Why should I complain about making $7,000 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.”—Hattie McDaniel

    Despite Hollywood’s best intentions and well-meaning saccharine storytelling, it gets race wrong, repeatedly. From “Driving Miss Daisy” to “Crash” to “The Blind Side” to “Avatar,” whiteness remains Hollywood’s dominant force, and its stories of racial redemption continually fail to grapple with the realities of America’s horrible racism, past and present.

    For all those giving a pass to “The Help,” forgiving the film’s reactionary core for its strong performances or heartwarming uplift, I suggest you consider the deep-seated problem of perpetuating the white savior myth—once again. It reinforces stereotypes, powerful images of subjugation, that endure in the public consciousness.

    I like what Boston Globe critic Wesley Morris wrote in his review of the film:
    “The best film roles three black women will have all year require one of them to clean Ron Howard’s daughter’s house. It’s self-reinforcing movie imagery. White boys have always been Captain America. Black women, in one way or another, have always been someone’s maid. These are strong figures, as that restaurant owner might sincerely say, but couldn’t they be strong doing something else? That’s the hardest thing to reconcile about Skeeter’s book and ‘The Help’’ in general. On one hand, it’s juicy, heartwarming, well-meant entertainment. On the other, it’s an owner’s manual.”

    In a post called “Why Can’t Critics Just Get Along,” David Poland criticizes critics for criticizing the fact that “The Help” was made, at all, and not reviewing the film on its relative faults and merits. But Poland doesn’t seem to read Morris’s point—and mine, as well—that the film’s faults are integrally mixed with its premise. To make a film that purports to be about the struggles of black servitude that is actually just another tale about a white person’s empowerment is grossly irresponsible, from a political perspective, and kind of lame, from a narrative perspective.

    In his 1965 essay, “White Man’s Guilt,” James Baldwin writes about America’s racism: “One wishes that Americans, white Americans, would read, for their own sakes, this record, and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives. The fact that Americans, white Americans, have not yet been able to do this – to face their history, to change their lives – hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.”
    Forty-six years later, it seems, the American white establishment still can’t seem to understand that they are responsible for racial discrimination and subjugation, and not, as “The Help” would have it, responsible for breaking down those walls.

    I also can’t help wonder what does it say about “The Help” that Ablene Cooper, an African American nanny and housekeeper who works for “The Help” author Kathryn Stockett’s brother and sister-in-law, filed a lawsuit against Stockett, claiming that the central African American maid in the novel — a woman named Aibileen Clark and portrayed in the film by Viola Davis — was based largely on her likeness without her approval. A judge will decide on the case next week, as millions of Americans will fork over cash, enriching more white Americans. The exploitation continues.


    THE HELP: Boston Globe Movie Review
    by Wesley Morris

    …Skeeter’s exposé is meant to empower both the subjects and the author, but “The Help’’ joins everything from “To Kill a Mockingbird’’ to “The Blind Side’’ as another Hollywood movie that sees racial progress as the province of white do-gooderism. Skeeter [a white woman] enjoys all the self-discovery and all the credit… The novel made a lot of people feel good. It was sneaky. Stockett wrote tolerably in Aibileen and Minny’s voices – in a way that keeps black vernacular inside dignified English, and avoids the literary dehumanization that Toni Morrison has written about. But as much as the book was about race and class, it was really about how feminism empowered Skeeter, and Stockett, to address other injustices… Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of Stockett, adapted and directed the movie. He applies a thick coat of gloss to most scenes. It’s hard not to imagine what trouble the passive, largely absent husbands of these bigoted women are up to off-screen. The death of the civil rights activist Medgar Evers is reported on television, so white supremacy is in the air, but the movie would have us believe that the racism of the time was the stuff of bridge clubs. Indeed, the meanest male in the movie is the abusive, mostly unseen black husband who, in a poorly made sequence, comes after Minny… “The Help’’ comes out on the losing end of the movies’ social history.



    by Jessica Wakeman

    …Some critics, both armchair and professional, say the new flick starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Allison Janney is a white-washed, even racist version of the civil rights movement that praises a white woman as the savior of the poor black folks. (Cough “The Blind Side” cough.) They ask why Hollywood makes films about civil rights through the lens of white people, instead of giving due credit to the African-Americans who fought for their rights. And that is certainly a worthy question to ask.
    Others (me, for instance) read and loved the book and are excited to see the movie, imperfect as the narrative may be. (Though I agree it would be better for Hollywood to make more films that tell a less white-centric narrative.)…

    …Whether you decide to see the movie or not, or to read Kathryn Stockett’s novel or not, is up to you. To help give you an idea of some of the controversy surrounding “The Help” I’ve rounded up the criticism from all angles:
    From Akiba Solomon at Colorlines:
    “As a racial justice and gender writer, a pop culture observer, and an African American woman who rides for Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Cicely Tyson and Aunjanue Ellis, I feel obligated to see this film. But, damn it, I’m jaded, and it has absolutely nothing to do with watching black women portray domestic workers onscreen. (There’s no shame in domestic work, unless you’re talking about their employers’ abuse and wage exploitation.) I just can’t bring myself to pay $12.50 after taxes and fees to sit in an aggressively air conditioned, possibly bed bug-infested, New York City movie theater to watch these sisters lend gravitas to Stockett’s white heroine mythology. I’m sorry, but the trailer alone features way too many group hugs to be trusted.”
    From Martha Southgate at Entertainment Weekly:
    “Implicit in The Help and a number of other popular works that deal with the civil rights era is the notion that a white character is somehow crucial or even necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation. … This isn’t the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. … Why is it ever thus? Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That’s a shame.”
    From Ann Hornaday at The Washington Post:
    “One of those truths, which “The Help” deserves praise for bringing to light, is that racism should be understood less as a matter of black grievance than of unexamined white privilege and pathology. … [Racist character] Hilly’s monstrousness is in keeping with “The Help’s” tendency to reduce its characters to stock types, but it has the effect of enabling white viewers to distance themselves from racism’s subtler, more potent expressions.”
    Tami at What Tami Said:
    “This is my worry: That even if “The Help” film gets it right, viewers will see just another movie about a spunky, young, white girl, setting the world on fire, while the lives, stories and agency of black women remain invisible.”
    And last but not least, what I thought was the strongest review of “The Help”: Wesley Morris at The Boston Globe:
    “The movie is too pious for farce and too eager to please to comment persuasively on the racial horrors of the Deep South at that time. … The death of the civil rights activist Medgar Evers is reported on television, so white supremacy is in the air, but the movie would have us believe that the racism of the time was the stuff of bridge clubs. Indeed, the meanest male in the movie is the abusive, mostly unseen black husband who, in a poorly made sequence, comes after Minny. … “The Help’’ comes out on the losing end of the movies’ social history. The best film roles three black women will have all year require one of them to clean Ron Howard’s daughter’s house. It’s self-reinforcing movie imagery. White boys have always been Captain America. Black women, in one way or another, have always been someone’s maid. These are strong figures, as that restaurant owner might sincerely say, but couldn’t they be strong doing something else? That’s the hardest thing to reconcile about Skeeter’s book and “The Help’’ in general.”



    I cannot contain my anger and disappointment that Viola Davis decided to star in the new film The Help. Hollywood produces very myopic representations of black women. Black women are either whores like Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball or maids like Viola Davis in The Help. The social construction of the binary of black female sexuality is very limited. The film roles available for black women tend to be two dimensional and not nuanced. Black women in North America are still presented as inferior to white women. The white woman is still placed on the pedestal as the true image of womanhood.

    …Of course, the white woman saves the day since the purpose of The Help is to promote the narrative that as black people we cannot save ourselves… The genesis of The Help is that in order for white people to be interested in movies about black people, a white person must always be the protagonist.
    The Help is just another form of the classic white saviour movies. Usually in a white saviour movie, the white protagonist has an epiphany and decides to help the black people that are constructed as victims. I am so tired of the racist white saviour narrative that black people need to be saved by whites.

    Another problem I have with The Help is the film promotes the racist narrative that black women have no agency. The only purpose black people have in the film is to serve white folks. Black womanhood is constructed as just to be loving and nurturing. The Help does not present Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer’s characters as three dimensional women. Hollywood consistently promotes the discourse that a black woman’s purpose in life is to exist in an anterior time. I cringed when I heard the line in the trailer “we love them and they love us.”

    Yes, black women loved working in the domestic sphere and served rich white women. Of course, The Help ignores the fact that in America, black women were blocked from higher educational opportunities for decades… The majority of black women had to work in domestic work because that’s the only form of work they were offered!

    Two years ago, Sandra Bullock’s racist film The Blind Side, also promoted this abhorrent narrative disavowing black agency. The Blind Side made over $200 million dollars at the North American box office. Hollywood will continue to make racist movies such as The Help because the public supports this bigotry. Would the general public really want to see an honest movie about black female domestics that were raped by white men?

    …The trailer for The Help is so racist and sexist against black women. I just feel sick watching this racist garbage! It is so sad that the best role Viola Davis can get since her Academy Award nomination for Doubt is just being the black mammy! …The Help engenders the discourse that a black woman’s purpose is to be subservient to white folks. I also find the racist narrative of the white saviour in The Help problematic. In the 1960s civil rights movement, my black elders helped themselves – they did not sit and wait for white folks to gain freedom!

    “I want to read the African-American version of The Help.”
    Erin Aubry Kaplan wonders “Why must blacks speak dialect to be authentic? Why are Stockett’s white characters free of the linguistic quirks that white Southerners certainly have?” The Christian Science Monitor notes the same problem, wondering about the “decision to convey only black voices in dialect, with nary a dropped ‘g’ among her generally less sympathetic Southern white characters.”
    “Many have taken issue with the core theme of the movie – a young white girl helping to ‘empower’ black women in the South. And then there’s anger that strong black actresses like Viola Davis are ‘reduced’ to playing maids in 2011.”
    “I did check the book out at local public library about 2 weeks ago. But after reading the inside jacket I got on the computer to find out who the author was. After finding out the author was a Caucasian and, based on the topic, I returned book to the library without even reading a page. Why? I personally felt that if this writer wanted to write a book about her personal life experience as a young woman growing up in Mississippi in the 60’s, she should have told the story from her own personal perspective. To try and tell the story from her maid’s perspective I felt would be superficial.”
    “My concern is over the specific types of stories about race that get such critical, mainstream acclaim. Stories like Precious, the Blind Side, etc. suggest that there is a very specific set of requirements for a movie dealing with race, and anything outside of that mold isn’t going to get that level of attention.
    …I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I do worry (and have seen support for this worry in the reviews I’ve read) that this script was chosen for its ability to be boiled down into the preferred narrative about race, one that too often simplifies a complex issue and leaves white people feeling all warm and fuzzy about their enlightened perspective.”



    -African Proverb

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