The Academy Awards coincide with Black History Month this year and coincidentally black actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are up for Best Actress and Supporting Actress for "The Help," which is up for Best Picture of the Year.
A black history fact: In 1940 Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mammy in "Gone With the Wind."
Seventy-two years later playing mammies and maids is still a controversial choice for black actors as such roles harken to times many prefer to forget. Viola Davis, in fact, almost turned down the role of Aibileen, fearing, she said, that black fans might be as unforgiving as many were of Hattie McDaniel, who is reputed to have said, Better to play a maid and earn $700 a week than to be one and earn $7 a week.
It's not just the maid thing, black critics of "The Help" say, but Hollywood's tiresome habit of casting whites as the true heroes of black people's struggles against injustice.
My cousin Barbara Jean, however, puts "The Help" in a different category. The movie, she said, actually honors women like her late mother who raised seven kids on a maid's wages.
Popular culture is powerful and more people will see "The Help" than will read non-fictionalized accounts which suggest that not being permitted to use their employers' toilets was the least of the insults visited upon many black domestics in the age of segregation.
I'm Betty Baye, and that's my Point of View.