The Help becomes most-viewed movie on Netflix amid anti-racism protests

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The Help (2011) L-R Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis
The Help (2011)
L-R Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis

The film was criticized by star Viola Davis in 2018, and its renewed popularity in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests has drawn criticism from black activists on social media.

Despite the bounty of films by black artists available to stream (some of which are now available for free) in this time of crisis, many viewers are turning to The Help — a movie written and directed by a white man, based on a book by a white woman, about a white woman’s quest to document the plight of black maids — instead.

As nationwide anti-racism protests continue, demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other black people killed by police, the 2011 film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel became the most-viewed movie on Netflix in the U.S. on Thursday, according to the streaming service’s metrics. The film’s resurgence has drawn criticism from many black writers and activists on social media, who are urging viewers to seek out other resources and films to educate themselves on racism.

“I’m so sorry but the last thing folx need to be watching are bootleg ‘racial reconciliation’ movies like ‘The Help’ – if you need a list of Black films, Black film critics are on here happy to suggest some really good ones.

Criticism of The Help is nothing new, incidentally. In 2011, ahead of the film’s release, black novelist Martha Southgate penned an op-ed in which she wrote, “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 eve n necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation.”

Even star Viola Davis critiqued the film in retrospect, telling The New York Times in 2018 that she regretted taking part in the project. “It wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” Davis said at the time. “I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie.”

Directed by Tate Taylor, The Help earned Octavia Spencer an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and also stars Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

If you’re currently looking for relevant viewing, Ava DuVernay’s film Selma, about Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 campaign to secure equal voting rights for black Americans, is currently available to stream on all digital platforms for free for the rest of June as is Just Mercy. Streaming service The Criterion Channel has also made films highlighting black lives free to watch, including Daughters of the Dust, the first film directed by an African American woman to be theatrically distributed in the U.S.

To help combat systemic racism, please consider donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero, which is dedicated to ending police brutality in America through research-based strategies.
  • Color of Change, which works to move decision makers in corporations and government to be more responsive to racial disparities.
  • Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal services to people who have been wrongly convicted, denied a fair trial, or abused in state jails and prisons.