I can probably count on one hand the number of movies I’ve paid to see in the past five years. And I mean that literally. That includes renting them as well as actually showing up at the movie theater. On vacation this summer, my wife and I picked one that we thought looked like a nice, romantic comedy with a happy ending to watch in our hotel room on the HD flat screen, mainly because we don’t have one of those at home. And that counts as one. I’m not a big fan of what passes for entertainment on the big screen these days, especially romances, action or science fiction. So when you get a movie recommendation from me, it’s a big deal.
The Help is another movie in the modern history genre that focuses on events of the civil rights era and movement. It is designed to tell a story, based on actual events and characters. Like other similar movies, there are moments which are very entertaining. But the idea isn’t to entertain, it is to make you think. In this case, it is centered around a group of African American house maids in Jackson, Mississippi who eventually decide to tell their stories to a young author who writes a book about their experiences, mainly raising the children of the white families for whom they work. The author, herself heavily influenced by a maid who basically raised her, includes her own story in the book that she writes, and gets published. The impact of the book, written anonymously and set against the backdrop of racist Mississippi in the early 60’s, turns things upside down in an affluent, white community that feels the frustration of being able to do nothing about it.
It isn’t possible, in my humble opinion, for those of us of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant backgrounds, to have any kind of understanding at all that will allow us to relate to the suffering and hardship that has been inflicted on the African American community of this nation from the time they first set foot on North American soil right up to the present in some places and circumstances. Maybe movies and books like this will help at least change some attitudes, or generate some level of comprehension of what the whole civil rights movement was about, but we never felt the fear, the frustration, the hopelessness, and never experienced the deep grief of senseless loss, to ever put it into a clear perspective. We can only do our best to avoid doing something ourselves which would perpetrate further heartache.
But what bothers me more than just about anything else about movies like this, and the facts of the history of that period of time that face us head on when we watch them, has to do with my own faith. I was raised Southern Baptist. And though I grew up in Arizona, and in a church with a mixture of southerers and others, well away from most of the events that shaped the history of the civil rights movement, I do remember seeing some of these things hit the news, including the march from Selma and the assassination of Dr. King. But the questions I raise now are not easily answered. Given the predominance of Southern Baptists in the deep South, and in particular in Mississippi, where so much grievous evil took place, where were they when all of this was going on. And the realization has slowly dawned on me that many of the perpetrators of the terrible cruelty and horrendous discrimination that took place were individuals who seated themselves in a pew in a cooperating Southern Baptist church on any given Sunday morning.
That’s a sobering thought. Having individuals who are leaders in their churches turn around and participate in the persecution of people of a differing race, and express belief in their own racial superiority at the same time is a credibility issue. It explains a lot of attitudes and actions that I have witnessed over the years, evidence that racist attitudes haven’t gone away. Things may have improved in society as a whole, though not completely, and they may have improved among Southern Baptists, but in my lifetime, I am sorry to say that I haven’t seen much. Not along these lines. There are still pockets and traces of racism among Southern Baptist church members. In the years I’ve served in Christian discipleship ministry among the churches, I’ve seen plenty of it. God forgive me for the times that I did not have the courage to stand up against it.
Most likely, among those whites who did try to help, there would also have been some Southern Baptists. Would they have been ostracized and excluded for their involvement, as others were at the time, and by members of the same churches they attended?
See the movie. Let it affect your conscience.