Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The fictionalized truth

One of the top books on my summer reading list is “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. I’ve been anxiously waiting to read the book since it came out. Unfortunately it’s so popular the library never has a copy available. Guess I’ll just see the movie adaption for now.

“The Help” opened today and stars Emma Stone (one of my favorite actresses), Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and many others. The best-selling book is supposed to be a work of fiction and not based on any actual person, but a lawsuit says otherwise.

One day I'll get to read the book.
Ablene Cooper claims her name and likeness was used without permission as the basis of one of the main characters, Aibileen, in the book and movie. Cooper is the maid for Stockett’s brother and filed a lawsuit in February against the author asking for $75,000. Stockett’s lawyers want the lawsuit dismissed, and a hearing is set for Aug. 16.

According to an Associated Press article:
Stockett's refusal to admit that she based the character on Cooper's likeness "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," says the lawsuit, which represents one side of a legal argument.
The lawsuit quotes passages from the book, including one in which Aibileen's character describes a cockroach: "He black. Blacker than me."
The lawsuit said Cooper found it upsetting and highly offensive to be portrayed as someone "who uses this kind of language and compares her skin color to a cockroach."
Among alleged similarities between Cooper and the character, Cooper said she lost a son shortly before going to work for Stockett's brother, where she takes care of two children, a boy and a girl. Cooper's lawsuit said that's the same as the character portrayed in the book.

Books usually have the disclaimer “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.” Still many writers get their inspiration from something or someone real. In my journalism classes we always learned “Truth is better than fiction.” Stockett very well could have been inspired to base Aibileen on Cooper. But she probably also took inspiration from other people. After all, she grew up with a maid in the house.

Perhaps it would have been wiser for Stockett to get a little more creative with the book’s details and distort the character enough so it was a composite of all her influences. That could have saved a lawsuit. Please believe if someone used my name and likeness without permission, I’m suing for at least a cool million. Hopefully the two parties will reach an agreement. Either way, I’m looking forward to reading the book and seeing the movie.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about the logistics behind the movie, but I will tell you this: I liked it and I didn't like it. I watched it twice. Once for the movie critic in me, and another for the historian in me. The critic like it. It's not Oscar-worthy, but it's a well-put together movie. I didn't like that it's marketed as a story about "the help" when it's actually a coming of age story about the white lady whom the help works for.

    The other guy in me didn't like the way the 'help' was portrayed. It seems (without spoiling it for you) like the dialog is forced or something.

    I don't know what I'm talking about anymore. Hell, I own a cat. I can't wait to hear what you think about it.