With the success of TV shows like ‘Girlfriends’ and ‘The Game’ the black community has had a quiet conversation about whether or not should be writing black-based entertainment.
In 2009, Kathryn Stockett, a white author, told the story of black maids in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Her compelling depictions comprise the makings of the New York Times’ bestseller The Help. The Help was hugely successful — with 2.2 million copies sold, according to Nielsen BookScan. Adding to this success, a $30 million dollar film based on the book is currently in production, financed by Steven Spielberg and featuring an all-star cast including Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek and Emma Stone.
But this story’s success has sparked some questions — and recently, a lawsuit. Last week, Ableen Cooper filed suit against famed author Kathryn Stockett claiming that the fictional character “Aibleen Clark” is based on her. Cooper, a 60-year-old black woman who has worked for decades as a maid in Jackson, Mississippi, may be shaking up the fate of The Help.
The lawsuit states that Stockett’s inability to admit that Aibleen’s character is actually based on the story of Ableen Cooper, “is so outrageous in character, and so extreme as to go beyond all bounds of human decency, and is utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” Cooper still works as a maid for a relative of Stockett, and says she was approached years ago about being depicted as a character in Stockett’s novel. She replied, she says, with an adamant “no.”
The most emotionally charged part of Cooper’s lawsuit criticizes Stockett’s depiction of black maids of the 1960s south. Among many potentially controversial moments, there is a passage in the book where fictional character “Aibleen” proclaims, “He black, blacker than me,” when describing the appearance of a cockroach.
Cooper is seeking damages of $75,000, but this case conjures up a thought-provoking question that may be prove to be priceless. Should white writers tell black stories?
When asked if is it acceptable for a white writer to depict a fictional story about black people, Howard University English professor Andre Esters replied, “Absolutely; white writers can tell black stories and black writers can tell white stories.”
“When writing these stories, the most crucial element to be conscious of is the time period of said audience which is being depicted, because sensitivity is required with certain audiences or harsh criticism of the author’s work is inevitable,” Esters said.
“The interesting part about a black author writing from a white perspective is blacks historically have known more of whites and the intimacies and behaviors of their lives due to the roles blacks played in their lives. Thus, blacks might be able to tell a more true and compelling story if they were given the task of telling a story of whites.”
Kelsey Grammer and Tracee Ellis-Ross from ‘Girlfriends’
How do you feel about this subject? Is it wrong to white people to produce “black entertainment” or should we just be happy that there is quality programming regardless of who writes it???
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