Tate Taylor’s 2011 drama “The Help” is the No. 1 most-watched movie on Netflix (per the streamer’s June 4 chart), which isn’t sitting right with a handful of critics and journalists as the movie’s popularity in streaming coincides with the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd. “The Help,” based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel of the same name, has been criticized for its white savior narrative and for sidelining the perspective of black characters like the maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer). The film was a box office hit ($216 million worldwide), an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, and an Oscar winner for Spencer’s supporting performance.
That “The Help” is pulling in such streaming numbers to top Netflix’s charts amid the George Floyd protests has prompted notable writers such as Ashly Perez, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon, and Ira Madison III to speak out against the film’s surge in viewership. Madison III reacted to a separate Black Lives Matter post by Netflix by writing, “Okay but be a soldier and delete ‘The Help’ from Netflix.”
“I’m so sorry but the last thing folx need to be watching are bootleg ‘racial reconciliation’ movies like ‘The Help,’” film critic Theodore-Vachon wrote. “If you need a list of Black films, Black film critics are on here happy to suggest some really good ones.”
Perez worried that a surge in popularity for “The Help” would extend to other “racial reconciliation” films like the Sandra Bullock-starring “The Blind Side.” The writer added, “Do not watch the fucking ‘Help’ right now…literally anything but ‘The Help,’” and offered better Netflix streaming options for the current moment including three Ava DuVernay projects: The Oscar nominated documentary “13TH,” Best Picture nominee “Selma,” and Emmy winner “When They See Us.”
IndieWire’s Tambay Obenson published a list this week of 10 films to stream in support of black liberation, including “The Battle of Algiers,” “Bamboozled,” and “Get Out.” The Criterion Collection’s streaming platform Criterion Channel has also lifted its paywall to make a wide variety of films by black filmmakers available to stream for free. Users do not need a Criterion Channel subscription to stream the likes of Julie Dash’s seminal “Daughters of the Dust” and other movies this week.
One reason for the sudden surge in popularity of “The Help” on Netflix could be because it is a new offering to the streaming platform this week. IndieWire’s box office expert Tom Brueggemann notes that it’s a normal trend for newer films to Netflix to rank high on the chart, which could explain “The Help” going to the top position. Regardless, critics are right to point out that amid the George Floyd protests there are a number of more vital films on race worth streaming. Even Viola Davis, who was Oscar nominated for Best Actress with “The Help,” has acknowledged she regrets acting in it.
“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” Davis told The New York Times in 2018. “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.”
Fortunately, it appears home viewers aren’t only just watching “The Help” this week. Brueggemann reports films such as “Just Mercy,” “Waves,” “Do the Right Thing,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Selma,” and “Remember the Titans” are all surging up the charts on iTunes. Warner Bros. announced earlier this week it would be offering free rentals of “Just Mercy” for the rest of June to help educate people on systemic racism.
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