The Help: Two Takes on America's #1 Movie

by Arnum Cohran and Sirami Cohran

Editorial Note: I never planned to see the movie The Help. Really, such things do not interest me beyond a bit of ridicule based on what I see in the commercial for them. I can remember literally laughing out loud when I saw the trailer before seeing Thor, of all things.

However, my nephew Arnum, whom I have profound respect for, and with whom I share a pretty similar world view, saw The Help on Friday night against his will, and LOVED it!

I called him on Saturday morning with a question: Would he write a short piece on why he loved the film, if I agreed to immediately go to the cinema, watch The Help, then write a piece on why I hated it? He readily agreed to the terms, and this is the result. We did not have the benefit of seeing each other's work before publication, so this is not in the form of a rebuttal. Just our thoughts on what has become the #1 film in America.

One major warning: ****THERE ARE SPOILERS GALORE****. Other than that,we hope you enjoy our work.

by Arnum Cohran

Every so often, Hollywood makes an attempt to cinematically express the harsh reality of racism and its effects on the African American community, as well as the country as a whole. Great films such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Glory, Amistad, Rosewood, Remember the Titans, and countless others have made valiant efforts to capture the realism and depth of what it must have been like to have suffered at the hands of White Superiority. Sadly, all of the above have fallen short in one way or another. In my opinion, this is due to the fact that although Hollywood loves to appear to care about the plight of African Americans, their true goal is to capitalize on the emotional content that this topic effortlessly incites, tugging at the underlying sympathies of many ticket buying moviegoers. In an effort to appease and or soothe the target demographic, they often rely on what many refer to as the “High John the Conqueror” technique, which means that even though by definition, the antagonist in a movie about American racism must be white people, the hero of the story must always be, whether directly or indirectly, a white person.

Sadly, the 2011 movie “The Help” is no different in that respect. It is the sole reason my girlfriend had to drag me kicking and screaming to a theatre in Highland Park, IL to see the film last night. I intentionally mention the location because, for those that don’t know, Highland Park is one of the wealthiest suburban cities in the country. Its residents according to the 2010 census happen to be 91.2% white and 0.18% black. Suffice it to say, we weren’t just the only black people in the theatre, we were also the only non-whites. I remember walking into the theatre thinking to myself, “Even if the movie sucks, this should make for an interesting experience.” As I would soon find out, that was an understatement.

Referring back to the “High John the Conqueror” technique I mentioned earlier, “The Help” proves the old adage “It’s not what you do, but how you do it.” If you are going to make some random white person emerge from a sea of racism to stand up for the plight of oppressed African Americans in the old Jim Crow south, at least respect our intelligence enough to show how that might be possible. Basing the movie around the premise of white children being groomed into racism while simultaneously being raised by black women seems to fit the bill, at least in my opinion. My limited knowledge of that era in our history leads me to believe in the mere possibility (however improbable) of that sort of moral conflict.

Speaking of morality, or the lack there of, the movie depicts the behaviors and views of citizens in an openly racist society quite accurately. So much so, that it nearly obliterates the unbelievably prevalent myth that racism in America is on a rapid decline. Although the movie takes place in the Old South, the inhumane, disgusting and morally depraved behaviors portrayed in the movie seem all too familiar. We see them every day. Not only do we see them, not only are we affected by them, but we are often tormented by the fact that people go out of their way to convince themselves and others that they don’t understand what’s wrong with this type of behavior. People who display these attributes often rationalize and pretend not to be unscrupulous to the point where eventually, they become convinced.

“The Help” does an amazing job of forcing the aforementioned disillusions into non-existence. When the movie ended, we sat and watched the people around us in the theater, and could not believe what we saw. As the credits rolled, no one moved. They just sat there, looking straight ahead. People who had come in groups weren’t even speaking to each other. It was like they were under some sort of trance. If I were to guess what they must have been thinking, I would start by assuming that whatever it was, they were ALL thinking it. I believe that the movie had done such a good job of showing the TRUE face of racism, and that many of my fellow moviegoers were seeing their own behaviors, as well as those of their communities, unabridged, for the first time.

Now, by no means am I saying that all white people are racist, or that they are all monsters. What I AM saying is that racism is far more prevalent than most Americans like to admit, and I am also saying that this fact is and has been well known by non-white Americans for quite some time. The inconvenient truth is that racism is woven into the very fabric of our great nation, and if anything is ever going to be done to alleviate it (which every American I know will vow means a great deal to them), we must first be able to properly identify what racism truly is. In my opinion, “The Help” does a superb job of this, while being simultaneously entertaining. I hope that this movie serves as one of many catalysts for “The Help” needed to push our society closer and closer to the dream had by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., rather than the pretend version we have today.

by Sirami Cohran

There are only a few films I knew I would hate before watching one frame of the film: Birth of Nation, Gone with the Wind, Madea’s What-What Extravaganza. What leads me to watch such films is their supposed sense of having a “wider cultural importance.” In each instance, I walked away from the viewing unchanged in my original opinion.

On Saturday, The Help joined their number.

I could easily rip to shreds the film’s historically inaccurate—or should I say, purposeful obfuscation—of Jim Crow-era Mississippi, which I found doubly-vexing, considering I am the son of two Civil Rights pioneers and a student of History. Instead, I will try not to impose the gravity of what surrounds the movie’s place in time, and just take apart what I saw in the film, itself.

The Help, as it’s press release states, is described as:

“A look at what happens when a southern town's unspoken code of rules and behavior is shattered by three courageous women who strike up an unlikely friendship.”

To start, I was led to believe I would be seeing “three” courageous women in this film. What I saw were many courageous women, in excess of 30, and even a few courageous men, but not the three the filmmaker promised.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer play two Black maids, Aibileen and Minny, who work for seemingly middle-class White families in early-1960’s Jackson, Mississippi. They, and others who toil in their trade, deal with a multitude of every day indignities, threats, tasks and challenges, all while never being elevated beyond the status of an afterthought in the minds of the families they care for.

Emma Stone plays Skeeter, a White, southern society girl who returns home college determined to become a writer, is forced by a NewYork publisher to “send her something fresh,” so decides to document the plight of the maids that populate the same space of her social class, without the benefit of basic human consideration.

And so we are off on an adventure.

Problem being that, while I clearly understand the bravery that Aibileen and Minny display—waking up Black in the South is still courageous in 2011—by agreeing to risk their very lives, and the lives of their families, to speak out about the injustices they encounter on a daily basis, I am left with an absolute blank as to what Skeeter does that is praised by those in the film and you, the real-life public, that can be remotely considered courageous?

Here is a list of opportunities Skeeter had to display courage, and failed:

  • When she asked her parents what happened to her own beloved maid, they tell her an obvious lie. She presses the issue a bit, but then leaves the room instead of searching for an answer she wants to know.
  • When attending the society bridge game, she hears a proposal to make all White homes have a toilet in them for exclusive use by the Help (thus the title), and directly from the creator of the proposals mouth. Does she shout her down? Does she vigorously, or even mildly, debate the insanity of the issue? No, on both accounts, she makes a glancing remark then continues on with her game.
  • When asked at a Society meeting, why she is stalling on doing what was asked of her, she stands up and does not have the courage to say what is really in her heart, instead promising to follow through and get it done.
  • She is forced to go on dates, by her friends and her mother, that she has no interest in going on. Yes, she walked out, but she also showed up before she walked out.
  • Seemingly every opportunity, great and small, to show courage and fortitude by Skeeter is, instead, passed up.
  • Even the book she writes, published as a tome authored “by Anonymous,” allows her to remain in the shadows amongst all, save a very select number of people who have deeply personal stories written about them in the book. Yes, I know her name could not be on the cover because it would have threatened the lives of the maids who shared their stories. Yet, I can’t help but feel it to be another example of Skeeter’s willingness to never confront anything!

Played against the two women who, again, routinely risk their lives, and the lives of their families, to meet with her, Skeeter’s cowardice is magnified. To believe Skeeter is courageous, is to believe there are different types of courage—and I don’t believe that to be the case.

I believe it courageous to be an Societal pariah and yet, not move away and take on the most popular woman in town, as Celie Foote did.

I believe it courageous to continue to try to have children when your body rejects them, and quietly and poignantly keep your suffering to yourself, as Celia Foote did.

I believe it courageous to try to organize a group of your friends to try an change a system that oppresses you, as Aibileen and Minny did with other maids.

I believe it courageous to lead an economic boycott against Jim Crow merchants, as Medgar Evers did.

I believe it courageous to take the side of righteousness, even against family, when it is presented to you, as Holly’s mother did.

I believe it courageous to pass information about organizing in the segregated South on to members of another race, as Henry the Waiter did.

I believe it courageous to take a one in a million chance at providing your children with the best possible future (this time by attempting to send them to college), no matter how wrongheaded, as the maid who took the ring did.

I believe uplifting the earthly lives and giving purpose to a community, while under the threat of lynching, is courageous, as did Preacher Green.

I believe it courageous to face the certainty of your mortality while battling cancer, with grace and without complaint, as did Skeeter’s mother—an otherwise unsympathetic figure.

And I certainly believe all those Black people in the background, who decided not to flee north, instead choosing to stand their ground while living amidst terrorists, were courageaous.

All of this courage was swirling around Skeeter, yet her contribution to the ‘Courage Pot’ was to document it... and secretly.

Even after the story is resolved and the book has been published and the villainess has been rebuffed and the marriages have been strengthened and the stereotypical abusive Black man has been put out to pasture and, as required, Kennedy’s funeral has been relived and the mother has come around to see the quality of the daughter and the maids are m=now being fed by their employers and the church has said, “Amen,” and the older people have faced their demons and come to grips with the folly of the ways and daylight has come and he wants to go home. After all this, Skeeter is yet given another opportunity to be brave.

Momma: I want to buy you some new clothes for New York.

Skeeter: How did you find out?

Momma: I’m a mother, and your publisher called.

Skeeter: But you have cancer and are dying.

Momma: This little ol’ cancer? I’ll be okay.

Skeeter: That works for me, let’s start at Macy’s…

Then again (after she has already told her mother she has decided to go to New York)

Aibileen and Minny: You are going to do great in New York.

Skeeter: I’m not going.

A & M: Why?

Skeeter: I can’t leave you two. After all you risked for me; there are bound to be nasty blowback as a result of the book. You could be killed!

A & M: We will be fine.

Skeeter: Works for me, can you give me a ride to the airport?

Never has the lead character of a movie been given so many opportunities to shine and come up empty. If this were and Indiana Jones film, our hero would have contracted gout on the plane and died of measles during the opening credits.

I get this movie and, more importantly, I get why it works. Every 6-8 years Hollywood decided to discuss the undiscussable: RACE. Sometimes it is done in a profound manner (To Kill a Mockingbird, Do the Right Thing, In the Heat of the Night); sometimes in a decent fashion (Crash, Imitation of Life, Finding Forrester); sometimes it's done tragically (Dangerous Minds, Lakeview Terrace, Obsessed). Regardless of quality, each time one of these films is put out, their importance is discussed widely because our society is yet again presented with an opportunity to discuss the Race Issue. Which is never done in any meaningful way.

I have never understood this phenomenon, as I discuss and am aware of Race in all things. That is not to say I see racism in all things, but being a Black man requires, for purposes of survival, I see things from more points of view than my own. And since I was not raised by cowards, nor raised to be a coward, I discuss all manner of things with everyone I know, Race included. I have never required popular culture to ignite that in me, though I understand my upbringing and life experiences to be unique.

My issue with The Help is not that it is an inferior movie about Race. My problem is that it is an inferior story, which means it had no opportunity to be anything other than an inferior movie, full stop. So by definition, since it is not good film, it cannot be an important film.

And that is my take on The Help.

(As an aside, should you want to see the companion film to The Help, which follows what these “Society Women’s” husbands where doing during their bridge games, please rent Mississippi Burning)


Hand Job

Everything written in this article is based on economic information gathered on Wednesday, August 10, 2011. All sources for claims made in the article have been hyperlinked for substantiation purposes.

The President is talking about job creation.

The Speaker of the House is talking about job creation.

The Senate Majority is talking about job creation.

Your Mayors, Governors and local governments are talking about job creation.

The reality, my friends, is that they are only talking about it. More jobs are not going to be created in the foreseeable future. I have the proof that will make you second guess your desire to spend money on that Career Coach, drop $40,000-100,000 on going back to school to "be better equipped for the job market," or plan any aggressive move to "get your name out there" in this market.

Regardless of what everyone else is saying about bringing jobs back to America, the reality is ...those jobs which have left, and are gone permanently. How do I know? Read on...

I never rely on what media says about anything to make my mind up, so screw those links I laid out before. Here is what I have been monitoring to make such a bold statement.


Monster.com is one of the Top 20 most visited destinations on the web, out of over 100,000,000 sites. It is the second most visited job site in America.

So how has Monster been performing in this wonderful, "everyone who is important is talking about jobs" environment?

Their stock price, due to the jobs outlook, has dropped exactly 50% since the beginning of May 2011, or more plainly, the last 3 months. The market snapped another 10% off the online job center in Wednesday's trading. Does that sound like insiders are thinking a furious crush of jobs are about to be thrown the public's way? I don't think so either?

To compound the problem, Manpower, the largest temporary staff solutions provider? employer in the world, is down 45% since the start of May, or, more plainly, in the last three months. Does that sound like great things are in the offing for new job creation? I don' t think so, either.

By watching these two companies, and using them as metrics for the future, it is not hard to surmise, jobs are not in the plans for America's near future. Sorry to break it to you, but as Levar Burton used to say on Saturday mornings: "Knowing is half the battle."

Plan accordingly.


Bull(sh*t) Market

Of note: I am writing this after the close of the bell on Tuesday, August 9, 2011. Therefore, any mention of stock price, metal price or index performance is in relation to the close of business on this day. All highlighted text are hyperlinks to my sources, so feel free to click through for proof of what I am saying. Other than that, I stand by everything you will read in the following article.

This afternoon, in a rally that started 35 minutes before the closing bell, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 429 points, to end the day at 11,239. And while the world stood up and cheered the magnificent run-up to end the session - and 1,000+ negative swing over the last few trading days - I thought it the worst possible thing that could have ever happened in an uncertain investment environment. Here's why:

The Bizarre

The responsibility for rally lie solely in the lap of the Federal Reserve, whose chairman, Ben Bernanke, made a nationally televised statement centered around two points:

1. The economy is in worse condition that they, the Fed, previously thought.
2. The have seen fit to keep interest rates, for financial institution borrowing, stagnant for the next couple of years.

On point one: The sole job of the Fed is to manage the money supply, ie watch the economy. Nobody in the world has more adept men and women in their job to do just this task. Chairman Bernanke is one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject of economics during the Great Depression. So if he, and they, are telling you that they are in new, unexplored territory, then you are in new, unexplored territory.

On point two: The Fed, which historically (before 2007) addressed the issue of interest rate adjustments once per quarter, has usurped that process by announcing that the rate for institutional borrowing will remain near 0% until at least 2013. In the past, traders had stood breathlessly awaiting the word of the chairman of the Fed on that one Tuesday per quarter where he would announce a rate increase (bad for markets), or decrease (great for markets). The actions of the chairman today were indeed bold and, perhaps, necessary to stave off a market implosion. However, he shot the entire load on this one announcement. There is literally nothing else left in the Monetary Policy bag of tricks to counter whatever roadblock is put in the path to economic recovery later on. This is vastly important to remember, but more on that later.

On a day when markets supposedly "rallied," GOLD closed higher - and not by a little bit. Gold is the place money goes when it is worried about the future. That is why Gold, that closed above $1700 for the second day in a row, has risen 132% since the day President Barack Obama was elected. Don't you find that a strange occurrence during a "rally?"

Here is more bizarre for you: Where does money go to hide in time of uncertainty? Switzerland. The Swiss Franc rose another 2.2% against the U.S. Dollar today, to continue it's steady climb toward parity to the Euro (or death to the Eurozone, should that happen). Why all the interest in Swiss Francs? Because in war and peace, in good times and bad, Swiss banks make good on all accounts; always have, always will. But why, you ask, would this happen during a "rally?"

More bizarre for you: Oil fell nearly 3% on the day, which allowed for the most bizarre news of the day. Exxon, as a result of the oil dip, lost market value at the same time the market darling, Apple, was shooting up. Apple would overtake the energy giant to become the World's Most Valuable Company, if only for a brief moment before close. Now help me understand how, in the midst of a Global Depression, with tightening credit, and massive job loss, and Austerity measures being put in place in every country in the Western world, a consumer products company (Apple) overtakes and energy giant (Exxon) in market cap? IPhone 5, my ass! Yes, Apple makes much desired products. Yes, they have the most anticipated product of 2011 hitting shelves sometime in the next six weeks. But, no, people will not have the money (or should i say "the available credit" to make the splurge. Some will, but I am certain many won't, if only because they can't. Anyone sitting on Apple shares will be crying for mercy come October. $374 will look more like $275, or even $249 (since Apple likes to end prices with nines), but more on this later.

A Few Major Companies Peek Into the Future

GM - They of the Biggest Car Company in this, or any Universe, has announced their doubts about hitting their year-end target for auto sales in the United States. Now that is a pretty odd announcement to make before your brand spanking new 2012 models hit the showrooms later this month. And even before all those great rebates and sales marketing blitzes to clear out the 2011 models have taken place.

What does GM know that the market doesn't? They know that even if you: like the car, love the car, want the car, the bank is not going to approve your loan without a substantial down payment (which you do not have), or a stratospheric credit score (which you also do not have). Banks know you do not have these requirements because if you did have them, you would not be buying a GM vehicle. That is not a joke, and was not meant to be a putdown. It was merely intended to convey the thinking behind the determination made to refuse the vast majority of loan applications that will cross their desk this Autumn. Believe it!

Fossil - The watch company that makes FOSSIL, MICHELE, RELIC, ZODIAC, ADIDAS, BURBERRY, DIESEL, DKNY, EMPORIO ARMANI, MARC BY MARC JACOBS and MICHAEL Michael Kors watches, announced that it will be coming up short this year, and shares promptly dropped 12.5%. What does Fossil know that the market doesn't?

They know that purchase orders for 4th Quarter, far and away the busiest time of the year for retailers, are trickling in this time of year, and the ordering is clearly lighter than in years past. Normally a store can write an order and have it filled within 30 days. However, the orders for 4th Quarter are so large, Fossil needs more lead time to make the product, so they require orders to be turned in by mid-July or mid-August, for delivery at the beginning of November. This year's orders must look mighty bleak for them to come out mid-year and say, "we ain't gonna make our number." But, that is exactly what they did.

Bank of America - Yes, that Bank of America. The one that nearly every person on the West Coast has an account with. Bank of America has lost half of it's market value in the last 4.5 months. That is a loss of $77,000,000,000.00 (with a "b") in four months, and oh so quietly has tis taken place. Raise your hand if you knew they are actively being sued by multiple partied to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. It is not a question of if they are going to lose, but how much the company will end up paying in damages. So the Big Five will become the Big Four, and possibly before next Summer. Doesn't seem like a good thing for the market's long term outlook.

Europe in Crisis

I have hollered about the PIIGS countries long enough, so you should be well aware of that problem be now. I will only say, if it weren't for the Arab Spring, you could look at a heat map of all the rioting in non-Islamic countries, and my case would be made. Austerity is not going down too smoothly in Europe.

There are two major stories that have come out in the last week that have not been covered by the American Press, and so here they are:

1. Italian banks, in a move to make themselves more handsome for bailout funds from the EU, have openly stated their intent to give fewer loans in the foreseeable future. That will directly impact the cost of everything at all of the world's favorite luxury goods makers. And right before 4th Quarter production runs begin. Ouch!

1.1. France, the main motor behind the Greek loans just one month ago, is now in the crosshairs for a Rating downgrade. There is a critical need for the government there to reduce their spending through passing Austerity legislation. This would show the EU that they were serious about their debt issue and, perhaps, qualify them for immediate loan assistance from the European Union. One problem: the French don't play that shit. The last time someone tried to thrust Austerity on the French, via "let them eat cake," her head wound up in a bucket. This, though necessary, will not be easy. So it cannot be good for the long term health of the market.

2. Only two (2) traditionally White Western countries are creditors at the moment. Wow, can you repeat that? Yes, I can. Only two (2) traditionally White Western counties are creditors right now.

Only the United Kingdom, which is on the Great Britain Pound, not the Euro, and Germany, which is everyone in the Euro zone is indebted to, are creditor nations in the Western world, at the moment. All of the rest of the European Union and the Americas are indebted to Asian countries (specifically Hong Kong, China and Japan). The Old Boys Club way of settling repayment "issues" out of the public eye is over! There is no more back room dealing to be done; things will not be done publicly, regardless of how embarrassing it may be.

China has already said they are not buying any US Treasury Bonds until they are backed by something other than "good faith." They want assets, and that poses a problem because I am not sure America has any assets. I am serious.

The United States

Which brings us back to the Untied States. The U.S. Credit downgrade was a major embarrassment to the political class, characterized by their flummoxed, rambling, uncoordinated and incoherent response to the news. The one unifying theme that both sides of the political aisle coalesced around was, the Super Congress being put together to look for further deficit reducing implementation strategies to bring the budget more in line. This is exactly why the more the investment community looks into what will come out of this Super Congress, the more uncertain, and unpalatable, the market's future become.

Here are a few factoids you can feel free to bank away:

There will be 12 members on this special committee. Yes, we elected 635 members to Congress to represent us (535 House of Representatives, 100 Senators), but the future of our country will be decided by only 12 members of that body - less than 2.5% of the total - and their decisions will be binding.

The findings, defining up t0 $1,500,000,000,000.00 (that's trillion with a "t!"), must be made public on November 23, 2011. For those keeping score at home, that is the day before Thanksgiving. But more importantly, two days before Black Friday, the most important shopping day of the entire American calendar year. I can't think of a better idea than releasing the most catastrophic slashes, sure to impact every soul in the country, in the nation's history, the day before everyone is meant to go out and spend all the money they do not have. Doesn't sound good for the market, does it. But wait, there is more...

After the Super Congress's determinations are made public the day before Thanksgiving, the law states that they must be voted on by, you guessed it, December 23, 2011 (since Congress does not sit on Christmas Eve or Christmas). So then these massive cuts will be made into law just in time to make it under the Christmas tree of every American, young and old. Historically, the last Saturday before Christmas is the second busiest day on the American shopping calendar. Though, since this year Christmas falls on a Sunday, that will most likely fall to the Friday before Christmas (American store usually close early on Christmas Eve, and I say "usually" with great hesitancy). So what is the date of the Friday before Christmas this year? Yeah, December 23rd. Do you think that bodes well for the market? For anyone? I don't either. But wait, there is still more...

If the Congress decides that they are afraid to vote the recommendations of the Super Congress into law - perhaps because it will be political suicide to have your name attached to this - and so vote them down, or decide not to vote at all, an automatic across-the-board cut of $1,200,000,000,000.00 (with a "t") will go into effect. So it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. Austerity is coming to a Christmas tree near you this holiday season. Which can't be good for the markets, can it?

On a side note, Max Baucus and John Kerry were just named to the Commission, so Democrats can forget it! 75-90% of the cuts will come from your side of the aisle. I'm serious.

In Closing, and Back to That Big "Rally" on Tuesday

The run up to a +429 point win for the Dow took all of 35 minutes. It was done with the full knowledge of everything I just posted ...by a few people. And those people just manipulated the market up so that they might get rid of a few of their more questionable investments. And now that this problem has been solved for those few, what is in store for the rest of us? Investors are not stupid, and they will be up all night, just like me, putting together this puzzle i have just laid out for you. When they walk into work tomorrow (Wednesday) things are going to be crazy!

That fake 400+ point rally has to disappear. So I will share with you that, the worst single day drop in the Dow Jones' history was on September 29, 2008, when it fell by -778 points. Due to the faux run-up on Tuesday afternoon, that number will be eclipsed sometime in the next 8 sessions, or between Wednesday, August 10, 2011 and Thursday, August 18, 2011.

Hold on to your hat.