‘The Help’ tops Netflix during protests, and Twitter is shaking its head


After a historic week of protests decrying the state of race relations in America, a 2011 movie about black servants and their white employers has become one of the most popular movies on Netflix, the streaming service said.

Starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone, “The Help” got a best picture nod at the Academy Awards and earned Spencer a supporting actress Oscar. Even though it banked more than $200 million at the box office, if social media is any indication, “The Help” hasn’t earned much respect in the #BlackLivesMatter community.

As the film hit the top slot on the streaming service on Thursday, Twitter lit up with tips on better films to view during this moment. The sentiment was captured by writer and Washington Post global opinions editor Karen Attiah.

Others recommended documentaries that focus on those killed or otherwise victimized by police in America, such as “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.”

“What a Day” podcast host Akilah Hughes suggested new rules for viewing “The Help.”

The criticism echoes those that have long followed the movie, which was directed by Tate Taylor and adapted from a book of the same name written by Kathryn Stockett, both of whom are white. “The glaring offenses from the book are displayed in high definition, 10 feet high,” wrote Roxane Gay in a 2012 essay leading up to the Academy Awards telecast. “The misappropriation of black vernacular grates, particularly when Aibileen, one of ‘the help,’ repeatedly tells her young white charge, ‘You is smart. You is kind. You is important.’”


In her review after it was released, then-Times critic Betsey Sharkey was more kind. Writing of the balancing act between seriousness and levity, she wrote, “That ‘The Help’ can take the incendiary issue of ‘separate-but-equal’ bathrooms and spin it into a series of side-splitting gags without losing sight of the underlying pain of discrimination, represents a kind of comedy I thought Hollywood had forgotten how to do.”

In a 2018 interview, Davis, who was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of Aibileen, acknowledged her regret at being in the movie. Asked by the New York Times whether she had ever passed on a role and regretted it, she replied, “Almost a better question is, have I ever done roles that I’ve regretted? I have, and ‘The Help’ is on that list.”

Stressing that her experience on set was positive, she explained, “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard.”

As the outcry over the killing of George Floyd continues, a host of streaming services, movie studios and charity organizations have answered the call to amplify black voices. As outlined in The Times on Thursday, studios or platforms including Warner Bros., Paramount, Magnolia Pictures, Criterion Collection and PBS have lifted paywalls on essential films.