The distressing popularity of the ultimate white savior movie
White people, what are y’all doing? You’re sitting at home streaming the 2011 film The Help as a way to feel like you’re participating in this moment in history? Don’t tell me you’re not watching it, because it was the top rated film on Netflix last week. Someone is watching it. And it’s not black folks.
A film about black maids and their white employers in 1960s America, adapted from a book written by a white woman, directed by a white person, and centered around the journey of a white savior character, is the top rated film on Netflix right now. What is this telling us, exactly?
Sure, Netflix recently released it, and therefore it’s showing up at the front of people’s feeds. Yes, some people are getting “you might like” emails encouraging them to watch. But watching it is still a choice, and here’s why it’s the wrong one:
When you watch The Help in the midst of an uprising about police brutality and the value of black lives, you are saying, “Let’s spend a couple hours back in 1963 when black folks were even more oppressed, but the white heroine has a happy ending. That’ll make me feel better.”
This isn’t the time for that. This is a time for white folks to dig in and educate themselves, support black artists, and find inspiration to become more truly anti-racist. This is the time to watch Selma, or Time: The Kalief Browder Story, or Ava Duvernay’s 13th, or When They See Us. Even Get Out works, if you need lighter fare, and BIPOC make so much of the content on OTV – Open Television.
Don’t watch a film where one of the lead actors (Viola Davis) says she regrets doing the film because ultimately no one hears the voices of the maids. Don’t watch a film where the woman who Viola Davis’ character was modeled after has sued the book’s white author, Katherine Stockett, for the way Stockett portrayed her. Even Bryce Dallas Howard, who played the white villain in The Help, is encouraging white people to watch films that center on black lives and artists. Please, folks, stay away from white savior films altogether. That includes The Blind Side and Green Book.
And Netflix. DEAR, DEAR NETFLIX. You know how you have those categories for films in your menu? Now is a good time to create a list of films by and about black activists and highlight them on their menu. You have them on the service, because you have everything. So feature them. Near the top. Don’t make people scroll down. The Criterion Collection has lifted its paywall for a variety of films by black filmmakers, and Warner Bros is offering free rentals of Just Mercy for the rest of June. Think about how you might make some efforts here, Netflix. Think about how you can contribute to this moment.