much talked about early oscar contender. it’s rocky to start off, but it finds its legs later on. emma stone isn’t especially good here which is a disappointment since she’s been hot lately. the rest of the cast picks up the slack though. it’s ostensibly a film about race in 1960s mississippi (do we really need another about this time and place?), but to me it was more of a film about being a woman. there really aren’t a heck of a lot of men in the film and they play very minor roles anyway. i appreciated the spectrum that the film showed. a lot of times when you have an all-black or all-woman film the men or the whites in the picture are stereotypes – the men are all brutes and the whites are all racists. here, though, we see a wide variety of southerners and whites and men. the truth is much more complex than black and white and the film portrays this gradient fairly well. unfortunately it’s probably true that some blacks liked the simplicity and stability of staying with one white family for most of their lives. it’s also true that some in mississippi probably saw the fundamental unfairness of the situation and wanted to move past the jim crow, separate but equal type thinking. and, of course, we know well of the deeply-engrained racism and how that played out.
the tone of the picture belies, somewhat, the subject matter. it was more light and playful than most stories that cover this time and these themes. it was off-putting and a bit unsettling at first, but either it found the right balance or i got used to it as the film progressed.
some of the talk i’ve heard surrounding the film revolves around the question of what it means to like the film. does it make you a racist for thinking that only whites can help blacks out of their situation? is it an uplifting film about race relations or does it just perpetuate the tired cliches? i think there’s something to be said about this, but i don’t buy it completely. on the one hand i think the 70s films were much more honest about race relations in america. pam greer and rudy ray moore films showed a country that was still uneasy about its race relations and still had things to work out. they acknowledged the differences in cultures in an honest way. today’s films on the topic are more hopeful, but perhaps more unrealistic. this film has a bit of all of that which makes both sides of the debate easy to argue.
in the final analysis i think that the film shows a range and what you latch onto may say more about you than it does about the film. you can latch onto the deeply racist women who push their housekeepers into different bathrooms. you can latch onto the emma stone’s housekeeper as an example of whitey trying to feel good about basically enslaving a black woman (“she wanted to be emma stone’s housekeeper so it was okay”). you can point to octavia spencer’s character as a stereotype (she’s got an attitude and a husband who beats her). or, you can look at the whole thing and see it as one person’s representation of the times. i think it was both representative and aspirational. there were elements that were honest and true and there were elements that were reflective of how we wish things were.Watched in theater