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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When Black Stories Are Written By White People

From left, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis are shown in a scene from "The Help." (AP/Disney)

From left, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis are shown in a scene from "The Help." (AP/Disney)

The movie, “The Help,” has been nominated for four Academy Awards. The musical, “Porgy and Bess,” has gotten raves for star Audra McDonald on Broadway. And the HBO television series, “The Wire,” has been cited by television critics as one of the greatest series ever made.

But all three have raised objections in the African American community, which may have to do with the fact that they were created by white people.

For instance, the Association of Black Women Historians says “The Help” distorts and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers.

Here & Now pop culture critic Renee Graham, whose African American grandmother worked for well-to-do white families, agrees.

Graham said the portrayal of the maids was stereotypical and she adds, “The book is called ‘The Help.’ But it’s really about the white protagonist who helps the help by writing a book.”

Graham has fewer problems with “Porgy and Bess,” as she finds it less centered around white protagonists.

As for “The Wire,” Graham says that it takes swipes at the failings of law enforcement, politicians and the judicial system.

But she says, “At the same time I could never get past the fact that the show seemed like a glorification of criminality and black-on-black violence.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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