(Editor’s Note: The Help, a Hollywood film set in the Deep South during the civil rights struggle, recently scored box office gold. It seemed a rare moment in which social activism was successfully married to commerce. But was historical accuracy sacrificed for popularity – especially to reach white audiences? Two veteran political activists discuss The Help and put it in context. Today Peter Dreier compares this movie with the lesser known The Long Walk Home. Tomorrow: Vivian Rothstein, who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, offers another view of The Help.)
Film director Tate Taylor scored a late-summer box office smash with his adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help. A surprise hit with movie critics, too, The Help is set during the racial battles of 1963. It focuses on the efforts of African American maids to maintain their dignity despite the routine discrimination and vicious slights they confront while living in segregated Jackson,
As Occupy Wall Street approaches its one-month anniversary, protest zones have been spontaneously set up from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Familiar bylines in America’s newspapers and on its blogs have, accordingly, been trying to explain the events.
1. The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg tries, in this week’s Talk of the Town opener (“A Walk in the Park”), not to sound too much taken in by the spirit of the protest, while at the same time acknowledging the charm of its spontaneity: “They’re making it up on the fly. They don’t really know where it will take them, and they like it that way. Occupy Wall Street is a political project, but it is equally a cri de coeur, an exercise in constructive group dynamics, a release from isolation, resignation, and futility. The process, not the platform, is the point. Anyway, [it] is not the Brookings Institution.”
Oh, the 1960s!
Back then I was one of those middle-class married women who never dreamed of a career. Then came Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique. And so in my early 40s, I enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work master’s degree program.
On the very first day of class my professor wrote on the blackboard, “Social workers believe in ambivalence.” I was home. I had always been uncomfortable with unalterable truths — generalized philosophies and rules and theories that were supposed to apply across time, place and circumstances.
Now that, 50 years later, there is so much attention being paid to aging (and it’s me the experts are referring to in their speculations), I’ve become weary of all the guarantees being offered for a healthy, long — and I do mean long — happy life.
Ten members of the Irvine 11 were sentenced last week to community service, fines and probation for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador on the campus of UC Irvine. It’s not as important to me whether or not these Muslim activists were within their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as that they were ready to take the risk that civil disobedience implies for their strongly held beliefs.
As a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, I know how breaking a law in pursuit of a higher justice can be a life-changing experience. When I was 18 I joined 400 others protesting discriminatory hiring practices at a San Francisco auto dealership by going limp in the car showrooms.
The status quo does not change without pressure from below. And in the U.S. often that pressure has taken the form of several hundred people “putting their bodies on the line” —