Opinion: The maid and the mammy: Why I’ll grin and bear it
Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to win an Academy Award for her role as "Mammy" in Gone With the Wind. Seven decades later Octavia Spencer is nominated for her role as a maid.
February 25th, 2012
11:37 AM ET

Opinion: The maid and the mammy: Why I’ll grin and bear it

Editor’s Note: Sheryl Lee Ralph is a Tony nominated actress and Independent Spirit Award winner for best supporting actress. Her new book "Redefining DIVA" is published by Simon & Schuster will be available March 13.

By Sheryl Lee Ralph, Special to CNN

(CNN) – This year, the Academy Awards had my attention because of the 1960s coming of age film "The Help."

As thrilled as I am about Octavia Spencer winning an Oscar, and Viola Davis being nominated for best actress, I am not thrilled about the roles they played.

That’s right:  I am sick and tired of the maid, mammy, and big mama on the couch.

The movie upset me. It wasn’t about 'the help", it was a young white woman’s coming of age story and “the help” helped her get out of the south leaving the women who risked everything for her “freedom,” in the bondage of racism, sexism and exploitation.

My nerves were worked! I’d seen this story before. White girl makes good and leaves her mammy behind.

Seventy-two years ago, Miss Hattie McDaniel graced the Oscar stage and became the first Negro, as we were called back then, to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress with her portrayal of Mammy, Scarlett O' Hara's house slave and second mother in “Gone with the Wind.” Mammy was another wonderful character; a woman who knew what was right and refused to let her white charge do wrong.

Hollywood loves a good black maid.

See Octavia Spencer's acceptance speech

I cannot tell you how happy I am to see the talent of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer celebrated.

I remember when Octavia did one of her first TV performances with us on the set of "Moesha." She was wonderful then with that trademark sassy, and just watching Viola come into her own fashion self has been delightful.

Viola Davis: I've really stepped into who I am

Sunday night, Oscar night, the maid once again went home with the gold.

I will float on the cloud of her win knowing that I am more than a maid, and with this victory, maybe I am  closer to showing all the different sides of me as a black woman and actress.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to reflect Oscar news.

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Filed under: Black in America • Discrimination • History • Pop culture • Race • What we think • Women
soundoff (453 Responses)
  1. proof

    Simply amazing. As a white male I thought this was a great movie that showed that not all white people were racist and in fact there are white people in this world that respect black people and will treat them with kindness. Then I read an article like this are realize that no matter what, there are always going to be people who can't see good for good and instead read into it their own racist views and stereotypes. Heaven forbid that a white person actually treats a black person well, simply can't be true unless there are other motivations behind it right?

    February 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dennis

    Is it just me or did anyone else notice that this article was REWRITTEN after the Oscars but with the same orginal date (Feb 25, 11:37am) and no reference that changes had been made to the article AFTER the Oscars?? If you're going to re-write the article, at least make mention that it's been edited from it's original content, CNN!?!

    February 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Binky

      If you hadn't pointed it out, I would not have reread the article. Rewriting the original article was clearly done to "SAVE FACE". Shame on Missy Sheryl for being so immature. When you make a statement saying that Octavia, Viola AND the movie were definitely going to win Oscars, then you must be willing to LOSE FACE if your statement doesn't pan out. What a coward!!

      Anyone with half a brain and who had seen ALL the nominated movies knew that the Best Picture Oscar was going to either The Artist or The Descendants. And same with Best Actress; with 17 nominations and 13 LOSSES, Meryl Streep was finally going to win with her excellent portrayal of Thatcher. I'm wondering.... if Meryl was black and had lost 13 times – would there have been race riots??

      February 29, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Binky

    OK, Sheryl, let the RACE CARDS FLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kelsey

    Sheryl is one of the last people who should be commenting on this. Actually nobody who has had a show on UPN should accuse any other black actor for taking part in What They think is a "stereotypical" role. You were on Mohesha correct? Viola and Octavia are both smart enough and talented enough to take on this role and handle it in the best way. I'm more offended by Sheryl just ranting and being upset that she wasn't offered the role. Yes she IS more than a maid. She's a pot calling the kettle black. Please stop pointing the finger at the help and these amazing actresses When you already set us back previously with a stereotypical show on a stereotypical network

    February 26, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SKY

    First off, The Help, novel or film, is not a Black story. The author, Kathryn Stockett, is a white woman from the south. The director and screenwriter, Tate Taylor, is a white man from the south. The producers, 12 credited in all, do not include one Black person.

    Stockett and Taylor, lifelong friends from Jackson, Mississippi, and the story they tell is from the perspective of a white woman, adapted and interpreted by a white man. It is no surprise this story has stirred a myriad of emotions, it is nearly impossible for any writer to capture the true essence of an oppressed group of people that he or she is not a member of.

    It seems the issue it not so much the roles that are available for underrepresented people to play, but the lack of representation in key production roles. Until underrepresented writers, directors, and producers emerge and are given the opportunity tell their own stories with their own voice and vision, films like The Help or The Blind Side will continue to be the norm and not the exception.

    February 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ann

    We wonder why kids are too good to do certain types of work. My grandmother did laundry and was a maid. My mom worked in a cotton mill. I worked my way through college packing peaches, being a maid, and waittressing. I'm white. Talk about stereotypes. There is a lot of respect I feel for hard work. Honestly I was treated with more respect as a cleaning lady than as a teacher.

    February 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Panda Fan

      Everyone should be treated with respect, including the cleaning lady. Good for you for your hard work.

      February 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. AJ

    You know it's ironic that The Help, the second most racist movie ever (Precious and Blindside tied for number one), is going to win every award tonight during Black History Month.

    "Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life" ... I also like the fact that somehow in the deep south during the 50s/60s they only had two racist people. Must have been the communist spitting on little black girls just trying to go to school because watching that movie everyone was a peach and a daisy. Hell, I met two just waiting in line at the RedBox to rent The Help.

    Last year when I saw the poster for that movie I said that movie is going to win every award out there because of a simple formula created by Stepin Fetchit and Amos & Andy – America loves to see whites in a superior position playing savior over minorities (see Blindside). If Chris Brown really wants to resurrect his career he should play a slave being taught how to read by Ben Affleck, that would be Hollywood gold.

    February 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • proof

      Wow....you must really just hate being yourself huh? If its a movie where white people help blacks it is racist. If it is a movie where whites take advantage of blacks its racist. I can tell you are one that will never take accountability for yourself because no matter what it is always someone elses fault (of course that person is most likely white also). Be happy that others are moving on with the world while you are stuck in the land of your forefathers and only whites are racist. Don't forget also that without the help of a few white people in this country, slavery might still exist and you wouldn't be using the computer in the cotton fields would you?

      February 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. not hiring the black one

    Ok, let's all pretend black maids don't exist now & never did. That will fix everything. I recently interviewed for cleaning people. There was a black one, a hispanic one and a white one. I will make sure not to hire the black one to so as not offend her or her race. No problem. That helps me narrow my decision considerably. Of course, I'll probably get accused of discrimination. sigh. Black people are so problematic. They are so focused on their skin color that they actually are just too hard to deal with. The rest of the world would like to look past their skin tone, they just won't let us.

    February 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • sjn

      so true!

      February 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Panda Fan

      I believe that this author is out of line. That being said, were I able to afford a maid (which I can't), I'd never base the hiring decision on his or her color, much less let the opinion of this article's writer influence my decision.

      February 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • AJ

      Wow, those last two sentences you wrote really says a lot about you my friend. I'm going to guess you are none of the following races – Asian, Jewish, Black, Hispanic or Indian. I'm also throw in there that I'm guessing you are against gay rights and have no Muslim friends either. Let me know if I'm wrong.

      February 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
      • proof

        And now you just proved him right AJ. Unless you are a white, hate gays, and have no Muslim friends you cannot have an opinion such as his huh? You are part of the problem and none of the solution. You complain if minorities are discriminated against and you complain when an actress who with free will took a lot of money to play a part in a movie. Some people such as you will never be happy.

        February 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • ReallyFolks

      YOU PEOPLE WILL NEVER GET IT!!! The issue is stereotyping, how hard is that to understand. How would white folks like it if every character created by black authors were racist southerns. We don't like seeing those kind of characters representing us SIMPLE!!!! And if you don't understand that, you are simply racially insensitive or plain racist...

      February 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
      • proof

        Kidding me? Every stereotype of white people either shows us as hating minorities, being money grubbers, nerds, or idiots who watch T.V. all day while the wife does all the work. Either that or we are the bad cops arresting the innocent black people because we just do that for fun. Everyone is stereotyped no matter what you think.

        February 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dee

    Awe get your panties out of a wad. These characters were written to be stereotypical of the late sixties. The book and the show were written to tell a story in that time. The book was excellent, both hilarious and sad at times; however the movie does not deserve an academy award in my opinion.

    February 26, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janie

      Exactly, she needs to get over herself.

      February 26, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob

    Ah. Sassy black woman = ok. Mammy = bad. Got it.

    February 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. anyango

    Amen Sheryl Lee Ralph! I only justified watching this movie by watching it on an airplane.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kweli

    A lot of the responders to this story just do not get the big picture. Though this is a civil rights film, the characters still followed the same stereotypes that have been assigned to black actresses since before the days of Gone With The Wind. Though I enjoyed the film, in the back of my mind I was still troubled. Hollywood has a habit of doing their best to make every film relevant to white America, for the ticket sales. So even when they make a civil rights film about black maids in the South the studio just could not break the established habit of subjugating the story of black Americans through the eyes of whites. The studio's thinking is that the only way white's will listen or pay attention is if the focus is on a white character, they might be right. Hollywood lags the nation is a lot of ways, characters in film are almost always based on stereotypes and it will take a lot of time to break that habit.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. danc

    sheryl's show, 'moesha', was one of the worst offenders when it came to perpetuating black stereotypes.

    get off that high horse ms. ralph.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • snawler

      I knew I recognized her giant horse face from somewhere 😉

      February 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Q

    I only wanted to comment on this article because it's obvious the author put some work into. And it's no fun to work on something and then have it followed by a predominantly negative stream of ranty, whiny, uninformed comments. But very often it's the ranters, the whiners, and the uninformed who so enthusiastically take to their keyboards to tell someone why their wrong, over the appreciative, like myself, who can be silent with their accolades. So, I just want to say that I agree with the author and even if I didn't, I appreciate her viewpoint because it was informative and not whiny. Thanks for speaking your mind despite the predictable backlash from some folks who get huffy when confronted with an opinion that doesn't match their own. And if they can't understand it then, obviously, it must be wrong. :/

    February 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Aaron

    I watched Mississippi Burning again not long ago and I remember being stunned by the year it was set in; 1964. My own parents were in their late teens and early 20's at that time. My friend's mother was actually in Arkansas when black students had to be escorted to class by the National Guard. That's 48 years ago. And in 48 years things have done, by any measure, a staggering 180.

    We have seen societies resist change of any significance for centuries at a time. We've had whole ages where people have lived under some oppression or another, and by comparison, the changes that have taken place in America in just 48 years have happened in the blink of an eye. For a society to change that radically, that quickly, is impressive.

    I live in a southern state. I know a level of racism still exists. I've seen an employer throw away job applications because the names on the applications sounded "black". I'm not trying to imply things are perfect and there's nothing left to be done, but I do think some people fail to give the progress that has been made it's fair recognition. Is there still some kind of Hollywood bias? Maybe. But then again, it was a period piece. There were maids during that period and someone has to play them.

    If the only roles available to black actors were those of the maid or slave, then I would understand, but that's not the case. Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, Michael Duncan, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker, Queen Latifah, Wanda Sykes.. and the list just goes on and on. These people have been in some of the most popular movies of all time and they haven't been reduced to playing stereotypical roles of the 60's.

    I think someone is being a little too sensitive and failing to recognize the progress that has been made. The role of the maid is not the most common role for black actors anymore. It sometimes comes up. And it always will as long as people make movies about the past. It is no way a reflection of the way things are now, though.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Smokin with the J-Man

    sheryl, please go throw your self-pity party elsewhere ... like in the privacy of your own home

    February 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  17. masdom

    'This year the Academy Awards have my attention because of "The Help." '
    Well then, your opinion means nothing to me, I'd rather read an Oscar related article from someone loves films as much as I do, not because there were black people in them.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  18. nocarenomore

    It's true. Blacks can't do any better than maids and janitors. Movies reflect real life.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheXDude

      Go away troll wannabe. No one is biting. You're not very good at it.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  19. paul1121

    I pray that we have moved beyond this. As horrible as it was, I view people for who they are and not some racist stereotype. It is good to never forget but PLEASE can we learn to just move on?

    February 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • nocarenomore

      Nope. Can't get passed the racial stereotype when it's true.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
      • paul1121

        True. There are those that do play out on their stereotype. I can give a lot of examples. I just ignore and run from them. They are dangerous.

        February 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  20. NorCalMojo

    Always whining

    February 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  21. JShad

    Always gotta be "offended" by SOMETHING...give me a freakin break already

    February 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  22. MM

    Are you kidding me? Instead of looking at the bigger picture and supporting the accomplishments of these very, very talented women, she's digging and looking for scraps. When minorities or actors of different ethnicity are not nominated, people complain. When they are nominated, they still complain.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • JShad

      Yep, you said it

      February 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Philip Livecchi

    Yeah, and us Italian-Americans are tired of seeing every portrayal of us as either a member of the Gambino crime family or a cast member of The Jersey Shore. Quit complaining. And incedentally, your decendents (Africans) enslaved mine (Scilians) for 250 years. We got over it.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • nocarenomore

      But Italians are good-looking and have great food. These people don't have any of your good fortune, so they're all angry.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
      • Braga

        wow, they have internet in the trailer parks too. amazing.

        time for you to go raise your kids that you made with your sister.

        February 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  24. BP

    First off, "The Help" is based on a book, so if the author has a problem with the story, she should be ranting about the book, not the movie. Second–and probably more important–was Viola Davis not also nominated for an Oscar for her role in "Doubt"? And didn't Halle Berry win an Oscar for "Monster's Ball"? I think this throws a significant wrench in the author's argument.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  25. JM

    About Gone with the Wind: Mammie was the only character in the book or movie that I actually liked. She was the only one w/any sense and who was "right". That means something. Character counts.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  26. KLVA

    I don't think Halle Berry was portraying a black mammy or maid when she won best Actress for Monsters Ball and her opponents including Nicole Kidman, Renee Zelweger, Sissy Spacek, and Judi Dench (all white women). This author should be ashamed of the way she belittles the current nominees talented and amazing performances.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • nocarenomore

      Come on. Everyone knows she won because of her blackness. Every white actress has done a better job at acting.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  27. anon


    February 26, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  28. You GOT to be Kidding

    OMG REALLY??Are you for real? GET THE ***** over it!!! Blacks sold themselves before the whites did!

    February 26, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Lyn McDaniel

      Yea you foll with guns pointed to our heads. Get your history right.

      February 26, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
      • RespectForALLLife

        Well said Lyn. At least YOU tell it like it is . Unlike some people who rewrite history to make themselves feel less guilty about the vile slave trade.. And BTW – I'm white, English and "The Help" was a real eye-opener on the treatment of black people in America LONG after slavery was abolished.

        February 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
      • guest

        @Lyn, maybe you should get African history right.

        February 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • nocarenomore

      Well, Africans never liked each other anyhow. This is why no one cares.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  29. NJretailRPh

    I will not comment on the vitrues of the actresses mentioned in this article, nor will I spend much time addressing the horrible writing skills of the article author.

    What does bother me the most is the subterfuged message in the article that blacks (or african-americans for the PC-minded) are still opressed and discriminated against. To the author of the article – have you noticed the skin color of the President of USA?

    Get off the White vs. Black topic, and lets judge everone on their merits, performance, and accomplishments, regardless of their color.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • JM

      Oh my. Really? I only read 2 comments and I can't believe the cluelessness. So now, we are suddenly beyond race and have reached the promised land of racial equity? Say what?? Our president has been called every name in the book and these people self-righteously act like none of it happened/is happening...is still an issue.

      Oh my.

      We are far beyond where we were even 15-20 years ago; however, we have a long way to go in this country to start treating everyone with equal respect. We are always demonizing someone in this country on the basis of skin color or religion w/o actually bothering to get to know the person. That's a generalization. There are many people who are so beyond race. Thank God.

      February 26, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  30. Susan

    I agree, it is too bad that we are not that far from 1939. Hopefully soon – but pouring awards on movies like this does not help. I realize this is how things used to be – but at some point, when can we move on and look to the future? It's a symptom of the fact that we are in some ways still back there.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      ITS A MOVIE!

      February 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  31. snawler

    Wake me up when Black History Month is OVER.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      Wondering when its going to be White history month??

      February 26, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
      • Dathan

        It's a white country 24/7. Let's not forget that whites allowed blacks to even have Black History Month.

        February 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  32. R

    I guess the answer is to hire white people in black face to play these "demeaning" roles. Then these excellent actresses would not have been able to show their Oscar worthy talent or earn livings as actresses. AND, there would be outrage that black women were not hired for these roles. You wrote "Hollywood loves a good black maid.... Play the maid and a black actress is winning the Oscar....when my sisters shine, I shine." What a slap in the faces of these fine actresses for you to allude the only reason they are winning is that they are black, playing a maid. If your point is the roles for black actors are too stereotypical, then you do something about it. You have a lot of nerve writing an article that is a slap in the face to these great actresses and a slap in the faces of all the hard working women whose experiences are represented in The Help. You wrote "I will float on the cloud of their wins knowing that I am more than a maid, and with their victories, maybe I am two steps closer to showing all the different sides of me as a black woman and actress." All this article did was show one of your sides is very shallow. Another side is jealousy, because in either role your performance would not have been Oscar worthy.

    February 26, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      time to shut down the comments. R wins.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Av

    I would assume that most acting roles that are considered Oscar worthy have to do with someone with serious issues to deal with. Let's forget her skin-color, but when's the last time the successful business-woman with no problems won an oscar? That sounds like a boring movie I didn't watch... And I don't see why who is picked for Oscars has anything to do with your abilities as an actress. Just because movies with successful black women didn't win Oscars doesn't mean they don't exist. Isn't the acting profession about connecting with your audience, and not getting in line for your award? Has anyone asked Viola how she feels about it?

    February 26, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  34. ComeOnMan9

    I wish I was naive enough to ask what is all of the hoopla about. Two fine actresses protrayed roles of two maids during the turbulent times of the civil rights struggle. Simple as that. My grandmother was a maid during this time and made sure she told us of her ultimate show down with her caucasian boss who did not understand that all people are human.

    February 26, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  35. Susan

    Why don't we hear about white maids? My grandmother came from Ireland in the 1890s and was a maid. My mother did maid work while she was in high school and so did I. We didn't do this work forever. We continued to go to school. My mother and grandmother invested in real estate after they married and I became a teacher. We weren't treated well as maids and knew we would be treated better when we finished our educations and got other jobs, which proved true.

    February 26, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • A

      The Irish faced very similar persecutions as blacks have, including being enslaved (though moreso by the English than Americans). However, because we have white skin, apparently it's not a big deal.

      Native American Indians are underrepresented in film and culture in general too, but you don't see this website allowing them to write whining articles like this one.

      February 26, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
      • Janie

        Thank you! someone who speaks the truth!

        February 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
      • G

        Blacks are not underrepresented in film. There are plenty of roles for less than human people. They are, for the most part porttrayed as caricatures and Hollywood does not view them as human beings who have a human story to tell. Just ask George Lucas.

        February 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • G

      Susan, what a wonderful comparison. The only difference being that your grandmother,as a White woman could eventually assimilate, as could her children and grandchildren. Once the your family learned the language of the land, hard work and could get you far. If you felt that your Irish name or background dragged you down, you could easily move and change it if the Whites in your area were prejudiced against Irish people. Only certain Blacks were able to pass for White but many of those who could did so that the best would be assumed about them, not the worst. All people want to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

      February 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Binky

      Wonderful!! Thank you for putting this historical fact in print. Very few people are aware of the ethnic hatred that the Irish suffered in this country. They were nothing more than indentured slaves. Why are people aware? The Irish continued to do their best and put the past behind them. They never blamed what happened years ago for any personal failures or inability to succeed in life. They melded into American life. It would never have occurred to them to "pull the race/ethnic card", as is the status quo among African Americans today.

      February 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  36. DDG

    History and cultural situations were portrayed accurately. "The Help" was a vivid reminder of where we were in the not-so-distant past. Those too young to remember the sacrifices and struggles our forefathers endured, will see this film and hopefully inspire them to continue to strive to fulfill their potential. In the words of George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

    We will always need reminders!

    February 26, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  37. mmaz

    Even after winning the academy award for best actress in Gone of the Wind, Hattie McDaniel was banned from attending the premier in Georgia. the following is from wikipedia:
    "The Loew's Grand Theater on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia, was selected as the theater for the premiere of Gone with the Wind, Friday, December 15, 1939. When the date of the Atlanta premiere approached, all the black actors were barred from attending and excluded from being in the souvenir program as well as southern advertising for the film."

    February 26, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  38. krys

    the author of this article is trying to preach about something so silly. why not celebrate their successes? and GET OVER YOURSELF! it's a movie about a certain time in American history. many black women were maids during the 60s, and many black women were consequently extremely influential to the young white children around them, loving and treating them like their own. why is it a bad thing to celebrate their stories?

    to the author- find something real to harp about

    February 26, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • mmaz

      I agree, the servants in these films were the strong moral characters, the actual heroines.

      February 26, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  39. LM

    Wow, I am white...and I certainly did not "cheer" for the "white girl" in this show. I was deeply touched by the strength of black women in demeaning positions. The way they held their dignity and their moral compass when all around them was beating them down. I cried when she had to leave the little girl screaming at the window, I rejoiced when she feed the "pie" to the ugly spirited young woman. Is it a horror that ANYONE would have to live this way...yes. Was the movie poignant in the fact that it showed that anyone, regardless of race, color or social standing can stand tall and be a good person in the face of all the inhumanity. So, for me (and I am sure this will be only because I am white and have not been truly hurt in this way) I loved these women, I rooted for them, I hurt for them when they were treated poorly. For me it wasn't horrible that these african-american actresses portrayed a truth that happened in our society any more than it would have been for Farrah Fawcett to be criticized for playing a poor, white, abused woman in the Burning bed. It seems awfully shallow to look at this at face value and say it's "a black woman playing a maid." The movie was so much more than that....It was love without color, it was loyalty, devotion and true human spirit.

    February 26, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Terri

      Well said....

      February 26, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  40. Sourndguy456

    I believe Ms. McDaniel said about always playing the maid, "I'd rather play a maid than be one." 'nuff said.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  41. Mattski

    The movie is supposed to be disturbing, so 100% victory for author's intent on that score. But I can see Sheryl's point - it's a story about the plight of black people in the 60's South that portrays a white person as the savior. Maybe the story should have had a black character writing the book.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  42. Robeert

    Get over yourself! I am sick and tired of African Americans gripping about the roles other African American actors protray in films. It's called acting! As an African American I found the roles both Davis and Spencer did in The Help to be amazing, just as the other nomimees in their categories were. Ms. Ralph comes across as another bitter angry black woman for not reason and this article was a waste of space and time!

    February 26, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Mattski

      If you could have seen life in the early sixties and the reality of race relations back then, maybe you wouldn't be so quick to scream about them getting over themselves. If you had been in their shoes or been alive to see it for yourself, you might feel differently.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
      • CP

        You're right on point. Walk in the maids shoes then speak to me about getting over it.....

        February 26, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
      • A

        It's a necessity to learn about and understand the past. However, it's also a necessity to get over it and move on. We'll never ease the racial tensions in this country until people are willing to look past race and the past.

        February 26, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  43. Myra

    I had almost forgotten this part of my life. My grandmother was the Help. We lived in SC. Even though its not plesant to see and remember . These kinds of things did happen. I had a wonderful childhood. My grandmother always came home with new dresses for me. From her white employer. They took good care of her. I do remember her saying she hated ironing the sheets etc. But that was then.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  44. Tom

    With all the problems we have in America, she focuses on a movie that was made to entertain people. It was factual Black people in that time worked for middle class white people and times have changed. CNN contributors and their leftist agenda seek only to further try to divide average Americans. We have one screaming about how racist it is to close the border with Mexico while leaving the Canadian border open, last time I checked we were not flush with Canadian gangs who are trafficking persons and drugs. No mention of the Pa judge enacting Sharia law but I guess that is not a problem to CNN. But I would imagine many of the people who read CNN stop with the article and do no other research.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • kurtinco

      My goodness...rant much? The point Ms. Ralph was making is that she wishes more black women could win the academy award not as subservient roles, but as successful black women who are finally able to feel strong, beautiful and comfortable in their own skin naturally.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
      • Rollo

        Maybe those roles aren't as interesting. Look at the other nominated women's characters this year – a transgender, Marilyn Monroe, who suffered, Margaret Thatcher, who was isolated and crucified, and a tattooed freak. People don't get nominated for playing happy housewives.

        February 26, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim in Georgia

      You know, the real "shame" as you call it is that white, middle class people in the south, or anywhere else in this country cannot afford to have "help" either full or part time. Unless you are the 1% you have to do it yourself.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • krys

      FYI- yesterday my best friend and i tried to go to Buffalo, NY on a shopping trip. we were turned back to Canada and treated like criminals because we had "dishonourable intentions". I am the farthest thing from a Canadian gang member, simply someone who wanted to enjoy a day off and shop where my dollar will go farther than it does in my own country. You should feel confident that your borders adjoining Canada are secure- at least against 25 year old females with good jobs, their own vehicles and a place to live. it just screams terrorist doesn't it?\

      February 26, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  45. SteveCher

    Get a life sister.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  46. G

    FORMULA FOR BLACK MEN – you will need to be a stereotypical baffoon (Uncle Remus, Song of the South), savior to Whites (Poiter, Lillies of the Valley), criminal (Denzel Washington, Training Day), "insane" (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland), dope addict (Jamie Foxx, Ray). With exception of Song of the South, each of those movies were EXCELLENT and the acting superb. However, the formulas for that are dependant on race and gender are predictable. If you don't believe me, just check out the Oscars database and you will see for yourself.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • AM

      It was 'Lilies of the Field'

      February 26, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
      • G

        Ok, I typed in the wrong last name, but obviously, you got my point. Did I leave anything else out or did I misrepresent the facts?

        February 26, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  47. G

    FORMULA FOR Black women – you will need to either be a Mammy, or fit into some other Black stereotype (see the movie Precious for two prime examples) or have questionable morals (see the movie Monster's Ball). The shame of it all is of those actresses that I am familiar with, Taylor, Woodward, Berry, Davis, Spencer and Berry are fine actresses who played the parts given them well. FORMULA FOR WHITE MEN – they will need to be hero or a handicapped man who overcame to become a high achiever, or insane but they can be more diverse as in your slice of life kind of acting. Note the AW of 1929, Emil Jannings The Last Command, a film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Or 1955 for Ernest Borgnine in Marty.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  48. G

    White women,need to be ladies of the night (or a street urchin, code for the same thing), be promiscious or have some sort of mental condition to better ensure yourself the chance of winning the Oscar. The 1st Academy award in 1928 given to Janet Gaynor for her role in 7th Heaven, Mary Pickford got hers in 1929 for her role in Coquette, 1930 for Norma Shearer for The Divorcee, Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8,Joann Woodward in the Three Faces of Eve. Hollywood's master plan to reward women was set. To Be Continued...

    February 26, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  49. DSW

    Seems to me that the the only one keeping the race issues stirred up are black people. Give it a rest. Live your life, leave others alone and the world will be a better place.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • G

      Then you are blind. I see and hear White people making an issue of race constantly, with no prompting from Blacks. Especially when it comes to criminal or other bad behavior.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
      • VET

        Imagine that...

        February 26, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  50. G


    February 26, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  51. GD

    I forget – in Monster's Ball, was Halle Berry (Oscar winner) the maid or the mammy?
    Sheryl Lee Ralph needs to stop looking at everything through race-based glasses.
    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  52. brian

    I kinda see your frustration, but let's be honest, the two parts and actresses have nothing to do with each other. I remember hearing how upset some people were about Morgan Freeman playing a chauffeur in "Driving Miss Daisy." That he should of waited for a better part in another movie. Really? There weren't black chauffeurs in the south? I think there were. And Driving Miss Daisy was a story about one of them. Lots of people are servants, or "The Help." Even white people.
    I was born in Chattanooga and my mom had a black woman come in and help maybe once a week. Believe it or not, her name was Eva. It would be better to have hired a white woman? And not let Eva earn some money that day?


    February 26, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • CP

      You're right. Actually, there were more poor whites than there were poor blacks during this era but the whites hired blacks exclusively as their maids, chauffeurs, etc. Poor whites didn't need money? Since you're obviously well versed on the subject, explain this to me.

      February 26, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
      • brian

        Poor whites exclusively hired blacks? This I never heard. I'm no expert. Our family moved to New Jersey in 1958 and I was the youngest of 6. Mom again hired woman down the street help do the laundry sometimes. The new "Help" was now a white woman. I guess it balanced out. Though I don't know what she was balancing.

        February 26, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  53. Mike

    The movie was good the book is better. Read it. A lot of whites and blacks continue to play these roles very well. I live in NYC and I see black ladies taking care of white kids daily, while their own families are neglected or not raised as well. They put more energy into the white family than they do there own. I don't agree with the article, but not much has changed except that they get paid a little more and can use the restroom. LOL

    February 26, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  54. Lars J

    Sheryl Lee Ralph – I like her ethnically proud and distinctive hair.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Allea

      Sort of like the bleached blond, weaved out, perms of white hollywood right?......"unnatural is unnatural" its not a Black thing 🙂

      February 26, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  55. Faber

    The movie I saw showed me how disrespectful many white people were to their "colored" maids. It made me at least comforted to know that my parents paid their "help" well, paid into their social security, and took care of their medical needs. It reminded me how precious these generations of women were who helped raise many of us (me included).

    February 26, 2012 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  56. Brad

    More complaining. I'm shocked.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  57. timothy

    I honestly don't understand why things must always come down to race and people white and black trying to force an issue out of everything. I thought this was an excellent movie about a dark time in our history and our history is filled with dark periods. The movie showed the beauty of both sides of the story, I don't understand why people have to focus on the race. Obviously a black woman is gonna play the role of "the mammy" because they were black women....how would a white woman play the role? I do understand what the author is trying to get at but she acts like those are the only roles that win awards when it's not true. I'm just really tired of people always trying to force some race thing out of everything.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  58. Mike S.

    The movie I saw showed 'The Help' writing a successful book and living happily and affluently ever after. I don't think the movie would have worked if Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer played doctors and lawyers in rural Mississippi during that era.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • fawn z


      February 26, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Lars J

      Exactly. I have to smile to myself when I think of the myopic view of the world this writer has. It'd be more comical if we didn't live in world with real problems impacting millions of real people. Has she forgotten that this is just a story – it's make believe created by people who are free to pay their bills with their talents however they please. Apparently their efforts have succeeded. With these nominations, I suspect they could care less about this writer's perspective. Real racism is out there – write about that.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
      • Kaye

        Agreed! And real racism like that we WHITE people experience!!

        February 26, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  59. Peggy Odeh

    If that is the only thing you got from this movie, i can tell you that as a Afro Canadian,... you just didn't get the movie. It's not about the white girl.... It's about the proud black women.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  60. Nancy M. B.

    "Affirmative action" rides again. Get over it.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  61. Alicia

    I don't know what is more painful – how bad the article is because of content or how bad it is because of her actual writing "skills." Ugh.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • MidMoMedic

      Then please feel free to go somewhere else if the writing is so bad. You obviously are the pentacle of writing. Or at least being a troll on the internet.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
      • Alicia

        The immaturity... *sigh*

        February 26, 2012 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
      • MidMoMedic

        It is not immaturity, its tired of internet trolls that do nothing but bash. Ever heard of; "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all?" You obviously are a negative person that has nothing better to do with their life.

        February 26, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
      • Alicia

        Trust me – I'm as far from being a negative person as you can get. I was giving my honest opinion. Sorry if you can't handle it, hon.

        February 26, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
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