One commenter at Black Youth Project suggested that any film highlighting racism in any form is a good thing: that raising conciousness about racism is, in and of itself, notable and worthwhile. To this I say, "no." Sugar-coating racism allows white people to continue to think that: 1) racism is a thing of the past; 2) racism is about a few hateful people, not about a system of oppression that white people still benefit from and perpetuate; 3) racism is about the past and those people, not about the present and me; 4) the racism of the past wasn't "so bad"; 5) racism of the era (and of today, although less obvious to white people) didn't involve torture, murder, and rape; 6) defeating racism / being non- or anti-racist is about white folks not abusing (and sometimes being nice to) black people. (Based on the reviews I've read, it seems that this movie and book doesn't even follow this: the protagonist uses the black people for her own benefit. But, she's "sweet" about it, so it's not really abusive.) I could go on. Perhaps Dr. Melissa Harris Perry puts it best when she says, "“The Help reduces sexism, systematic violent racism, and labor exploitation to a catfight that can be won by cunning and spunk.”
The Help, based on the reviews, seems to fail to address the imbalance of power and privilege inherent to the protagonist's project. As a budding qualitative researcher, I understand that it may be impossible to conduct research equitably: some form of power imbalance will always exists between researched and researcher, no matter how far the researcher goes to minimize explotation or to reciprocate. Apparently the film doesn't bother to begin to question the ethics and consequences of a highly privileged (racially, economically, educationally) individual using a highly oppressed and marginalized individuals (in every way) for research or self-promotion.
Reviews that have informed my perspective on The Help:
Melissa Harris Perry's Review: "Ahistorical and deeply troubling": An interesting note to me is that Dr. Harris Perry notes that she could be labeled as a "killjoy" for critiquing a "feel-good" movie this way. Sara Ahmed presented a wonderful lecture on this where she smartly observed that so often it is the one pointing out the problem, rather than the actual problem, who is pointed to as the problem (and labeled a "killjoy" or as "willful.").
Arts Critics Atlanta: "'The Help': A Feel Good Movie for White People"
Black Youth Project: "On Not Seeing 'The Help'"
This Amazon review of the novel