Disgusting Lebanese People: The “Help” Doesn’t Get a Chair… The Purse Does

Disclaimer: This post was published originally on Sunday October 20th. I then took it down as per Dyala’s request because she got word that the family had actually asked the maid to sit and she refused.

My friend Dyala Badran was having lunch at a Beiruti restaurant today when she spotted something that made her twist in anger.

A Lebanese family was sitting across the place from her having their Sunday lunch. They were all seated happily, enjoying their food. The father was cuddling his newborn who was sitting on his mother’s lap. And there was their maid, standing there, clutching the chair that was empty… save for the bag of the madame.

And Dyala documented that moment in picture.

Let’s talk about two scenarios.

Scenario #1: 

The maid wasn’t actually told to sit as Dyala was told, in which case I wonder what is it about the madame’s brain that got her to think that poor human being, who probably spends more time with that woman’s children, looking on their table had no right for a chair. Oh, nevermind. How could a Lebanese share a table with the Help? It’s so beneath us, duh!

The maid actually sat at one point to nurse the baby. Then she was told to stand up again after finishing.

The madame probably thinks she’s doing her maid a great service by taking her out with them for Sunday lunch. Who’s willing to bet she will brag about her open-mindedness in that regard to her friends in a few days? Who’s willing to bet she may have also forgotten to feed her lunch? Who’s also willing to bet she’s even prouder of that uniform she got her because “their clothes are just too filthy?”

Scenario #2:

The family asked the maid to sit and she refused. People took this as a sign that the family is good, that people treat maids well but they don’t want to benefit from our goodness as Lebanese.

Has anyone wondered though: why did that person refuse to sit? Why does she refuse to take a chair? What has led this person to believe that sitting, as an equal to the family on that table, is an abomination? What has gotten that poor woman to believe that she shouldn’t take the seat that the bag ought to have?

Conclusion:

Regardless of whether scenario #1 or #2 played out in that restaurant yesterday, a pattern emerges of a disgusting Lebanese mentality that manifests in a behavior that believes sharing the table with that person is a disgrace, a lowering standards. That woman didn’t sit because this country is brimming with disgusting individuals who don’t think she deserves an empty chair.

Dyala has written her own blog post on the matter in which she has declared “shame on [her]” for taking down the picture. I regret hiding this blogpost yesterday as well.

We “import” these people in a form of modern day slavery. We work them like there’s no tomorrow on a salary that is not only laughable but a disgrace. They don’t have rights and even if they had, we make sure they don’t have access to any of those rights’ forms. They cannot seek protection. They suffer from our abuse day in day out. Our media ridicules them or goes on manhunts against their existence because the Lebanese is always right.

But that doesn’t matter, I guess, because Beirut is THE place to visit.

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The Lebanese Help

As I was sitting with some family members who were visiting my mother after a recent surgery, the issue of the “help” in Lebanon came up.

I sat and listened as the “grown-ups” spoke about the maids that entered their homes and left. One of my family members, however, had never had a maid. With her turning 40 and an increasing backache, she was considering the idea – especially with one being available at her disposal the moment she says yes to her sister’s offer.

But that woman was worried. The cause of her anxiety? She only had one bathroom at her house and God forbid the maid uses the same bathroom she uses.

I snapped.

I never thought the passages present in the book, The Help, would actually pop up in such dramatic fashion in a Lebanese society. I never thought for a moment the bathroom issue was actually an issue in Lebanon. Aren’t those maids cleaning the bathroom to begin with? Aren’t we, in 2012, at a level of culture and knowledge that is sufficient to know that, unlike popular belief, those maids are not bringing in with them a ton of foreign viruses the like of which Lebanon has never seen before?

I replied to my family member. I was strict and somewhat rude in my reply. I think she was offended but I didn’t care. I knew Lebanese society was racist but you never think it goes on in your family until it actually takes place in front of you.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Flash forward a few days later, I was having dinner with a couple of friends my age. And if you thought the older generation, with its minimal contact early in life with “the help,” may be justified somewhat in the racist ideas that swirl through their heads, then what “excuse” could you come up with when a twenty two year old agrees with my 40 year old family member about the bathroom issue? The justification given was: but they are “dirty.”

And it is then that the need for a Lebanese version of The Help became obvious to me. Many people had spoken about how that book, and movie, were very relevant to our society today. Most of those people had thought about that only fleetingly, for the few moments after having finished the book or the movie. Some had even blogged about its relevance

But then I thought, why not have an online version of The Help, adopted to Lebanese society, that tells stories of the maids that come to our homes, before something bad happens to them and their story becomes top news and activists get outraged at the injustice in our society when it comes to “the help.”

If you have your own maid story you want to share, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll start with telling the story of one of the maids that came into our home really soon.

5 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Watching The Oscars This Year

As I’ve made it widely known already, I will not be overnighting to watch the Academy Awards this year for several reasons, the main ones being:

1) I do not care about any of the nominees in best picture. Meaning, I don’t give a rat’s a*s if The Help wins best picture or The Artist or The Descendants or Moneyball or any of the other nominees. Why? Because, despite some of them being good movies (The Descendants is atrocious and I couldn’t go through Tree of Life), they are simply nominated because academy members are a bunch of elitist snobs who couldn’t take a risk. The Artist is getting hype because it’s the first silent movie to be made in a long time (if it weren’t silent, it would have crashed and died), The Help is making the rounds because of its brilliant cast and captivating story. I have no idea why Tree of Life and The Descendants are nominated, to be honest, apart from the names associated with them.
Is it worth it to watch an award show from 3 AM to 6 AM when you don’t care about their top honors? Nope.

2) I do not care who wins best actor. Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt or George Clooney. None of them have given me a performance this year that I feel is truly captivating enough for me to root for them beyond measure. Last year, James Franco delivered a tour-de-force one man show in 127 Hours that should have gotten him an Oscar. I had him to support. While I do have my preference, I still wouldn’t care if it goes either way, which means yet another reason as to why I wouldn’t want to tire myself by staying up all night for nothing.

3) Viola Davis or Meryl Streep? The million dollar question, as they say, for this year’s awards rounds. And yet, I don’t feel invested in any of them. Viola Davis was great in The Help. I have yet to watch Meryl Streep’s movie but everyone’s saying it’s a one-woman show, which is almost always the case whenever she’s present – regardless of how strong her supporting cast is. However, I haven’t been exposed to that one performance which absolutely blew me away, like I was with Jennifer Lawrence’s Winter’s Bone last year. If you haven’t watched that movie, you absolutely must. So as you see, with another one of the major awards becoming irrelevant to me, this turns up yet another reason not to watch.

4) Best director? Let’s pretend we understand all the technicalities that come with this. And let’s also pretend that Terrence Malick is not there because of his name and because academy voters usually worship at his altar. Let’s also pretend that Martin Scorsese’s Hugo deserves eleven nominations, including one for best director and let’s also pretend that Alexandre Payne is nominated because The Descendants is actually a good movie, which it most definitely is not, and not because he’s been away for seven years. And while you try to pronounce the name of Michel Hazanavicius, you’re left with him as the only one person who deserves it. However, I feel no investment in whether he actually wins or not. I really couldn’t care either way. I was invested in this last year because I was furious Christopher Nolan didn’t get a nomination. This year, not so much.

5) I tried to come up with a fifth reason and there’s no better reason than the fact that I didn’t bother with closing any of the major categories like I did last year. I haven’t finished watching all the acting performances. I still need to watch one of the Best Picture movies (Tree of Life doesn’t count). The one I still need to watch, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, has an aggregate score of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and received mixed to negative reviews at best. The reason it was nominated? Probably its theme of 9/11 drama. Simply, there’s nothing about the Oscars this year that screams excitement. There are no breakthrough performances, no surprise nominations. The Oscars this year are a mess of safe choices that will go well with the history of the Academy and, in the long run, become forgotten as movies of the “it” moment that fail to garner considerable traction with the people.

 

Top 13 Movies of 2011

Note: This list is tentative and will be constantly updated to be hopefully finalized by March at the latest due to the unavailability of many movies that are garnering critical acclaim and award traction, be it on DVD or in local theaters.

After checking my first “Top of 2011” list which dealt with music, it is time for the second one about another thing that I’m interested in and which I’ve discussed many times throughout this past year: movies.

So without further ado, let us begin.

13 – X-Men: First Class

This reboot of the franchise of which I am a fan was a very needed approach in order to keep these X-Men relevant. Showing how Dr. Xavier became as such and Magneto became, well, Magneto, the movie was really a breath of fresh air for action movies that became more reliant on screen explosions and aerobics than on a decent story to which those special effects come as a complement. (My review of X-Men: First Class)

12 – Stray Bullet

This Lebanese movie may be too short and not a very accurate reflection on the war it is supposedly set in but the acting performances in this are so gut-wrenchingly real, it can’t but be on my list. (My review of Rsasa Tayshe/Stray Bullet)

11 – The Ides of March

This political drama is my favorite of its genre this year. I may not agree with the accolades it’s getting everywhere over more deserving movies but it’s still a great movie in its own merits. It’s riveting, engaging, highly reflective and real. It can happen anytime in any political campaign. The performances are top notch as well. (My review of The Ides of March).

10 – Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s back to basics is definitely one of the better movies of the year. This Parisian comedy will make you dream. It will take you beyond the confines of whatever room you’re watching the movie in and take you aboard its own fantastical world in a trip back in time. Marion Cotillard is more than brilliant in this. The plot is very original and the movie is very enjoyable. (My review of Midnight in Paris).

9 – One Day

Many didn’t like this movie. I found it enthralling and enchanting. Telling the story of a couple revisiting each other on the day they met every year over the course of 23 years. The premise is intriguing and while I’m sure it flows more smoothly in the book upon which this is based, the movie doesn’t botch it. In fact, the transitions are very smart at times. (My review of One Day).

8 – A Separation

This Iranian movie is simply stunning. It’s a cross examination of Iranian society through the lives of  a couple getting a divorce. The emotions in this run high, they never relent. The hurt in the characters is examined and not feared. Taboos are approached and at the end of the day, it leaves you with a stereotype-breaking view of Iranian society. (My review of A Separation).


7 – War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s WWI epic is, well, an epic movie as well. Based on the children’s book of the same name, War Horse is emotional and phenomenal. It’s stunning to look at and boasts one of the most pleasurable scores I have heard this year in a movie. It is a sentimental movie that transcends age lines and turns into a story for the ages. A must watch. (My review of War Horse)

6 – Moneyball

Brad Pitt shines as Billy Beane, manager of a struggling baseball team, as he tries to get his team to survive a grueling league with a dismal budget. So he enlists Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand to help him change the whole baseball game and turn it head on heels. Moneyball might be the best sports movie made. (My review of Moneyball)

5 – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher’s take on this Swedish noir novel preserves the book’s essence and turns it into a stellar movie, fueled by a top notch performance by Rooney Mara who embodies the novel’s heroin Lisbeth Salander in spellbinding manner. I loved the book and the movie. (My review of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

4 – The Artist

The Artist is a black and white movie which relies on the symphony playing throughout its run for its only auditory input. And it just works. It asks nothing of you as a viewer but to simply watch, not even listen. It relies on the strength of the performances by its cast to communicate the emotions it tries to convey. (My review of The Artist).

 3 – The Help


Based on the book of the same titleThe Help is easily one of the best movies this year as well. It is the tale of the quest of three Southern women in a 1960s racially segregated America for racial equality. The movie may be a work of fiction but it feels so real when you watch it, you can’t but be amazed. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important” – that’s a sentence for the ages. (My review of The Help).

2 – Where Do We Go Now? (W Halla2 La Wein?)


The Lebanese movie that could. Nadine Labaki’s latest movie is without a doubt one of the best movies this year. After being robbed of a Golden Globes nomination (Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you), we find solace in this movie winning at the Toronto International Film Festival. Telling the tale of women who go beyond their means to get the men of their religiously-divided hometown to ease the tension, the movie tugs at your heartstring, activates your tear ducts and makes you laugh uncontrollably – all at the same time, sometimes. (My review of Where Do We Go Now?)

1 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Because there’s no other movie that deserves to be here. Because there’s no other franchise that has had such a thrillingly brilliant finale. Because no other movie has ever gotten me this close to tears and because every single award show is hell-bent on shunning this from the awards it most definitely deserves. Yes, this may be predictable to many but there’s just something about the final installment in the story of Harry Potter that transcends it being just a movie and turns into a cinematic experience that we, as the Harry Potter generation, are very lucky to have experienced. (My review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2).

– – – – – — – – – – — – – – – –

Notable mentions:

Puss in Boots, previous #13 on the list’s initial version. 

Soul Surfer (check my review) previous #12 on the list’s initial version.

Source Code (check my review) previous #11 on the list’s initial version.

5 Reasons the 2012 Golden Globes Nominations Are A Big Failure

If you, like me, were outraged by how ridiculous the Golden Globes nominations were this year, this is for you. And if you’re not, this is why you – as a movie enthusiast at the very least – should be.

1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was nominated… for nothing. Not a single category. Nada. Disregard the fact that it’s the last movie in the series. Disregard the fact that it’s the highest grossing franchise in Hollywood history and disregard the fact that Hollywood owes a huge chunk of its financial well-being to Harry Potter. Leave it all aside. Deathly Hallows Part 2 has an aggregate score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. For reference, the other nominated movies have scores that range from Moneyball’s 95% to The Help’s 75%. And if you thought Moneyball’s 1% difference is irrelevant, it becomes relevant when you notice that Moneyball has this score based on 194 reviews whilst Harry Potter has his based on 257 reviews.

But no matter. For those who think Rotten Tomatoes is not a decent criteria – after all Bridesmaids is truly horrible – I shall refer to Metacritic, which gives movies a certain grade if you want based on the reviews they get. Harry Potter has a grade of 87. Hugo has a grade of 83. Moneyball’s grade is 87 as well. The Help comes in at a measly 62. I’m just saying.

It’s either the reviewers are bipolar or those nominating in these award shows are bipolar. I’m sure there’s a correlation between those reviewing and those nominating, which leads me to think this double bipolar disease they have is truly damaging to the industry. What’s even worse about this is that Warner Bros actually tried to get Harry Potter a nomination. Ah well… elitist snobs always win, I guess.


2) Lebanon’s Where Do We Go Now was not nominated in the foreign movie category but the United States’ In The Land of Blood of Honey was. Apparently the fact that the latter movie had an American production, albeit being filmed in Bosnia, did not deter them from considering it foreign. They consider the language the movie was spoken in apparently. Add to that the fact that the movie has an English version which was submitted to other categories for consideration. But as you know, In The Land of Blood of Honey is Angelina Jolie’s movie and as a friend put it, these award people can sometimes be starwhores. Just look at the other nominated movies in this category: Flowers of War has Christian Bale. The Kid With The Bike and The Skin I Live In were also directed by more famous names than Nadine Labaki.

Perhaps our Oscar hopes are not totally dead now. But Where Do We Go Now‘s chances are now very slim at best.

3) Glee gets nominated for best comedy series but The Big Bang Theory, which is truly a comedy, does not get any nominations except for Johnny Galecki’s (Leonard) nomination for best actor in a comedy. Jim Parsons (Sheldon) was not nominated. I don’t even feel like having to elaborate on this.

4) Nina Dobrev, who plays two characters on the CW’s hit series The Vampire Diaries, doesn’t even get a nomination for drama actress in a TV Show. Her characters have nothing to do with each other to make it at least easier for her to portray them. They’re as different as different go. And yet, she’s snubbed. How could a CW TV show be considered worthy after all, right? It’s not like it’s not better than most TV Shows out there. But I guess you should refer to point #1 for their view on quality. I’m sorry to break it to Nina Dobrev but apparently anything she does won’t be enough to get her an award outside the Teen’s Choice or People’s Choice Awards.

5) House’s Hugh Laurie and Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall are both not nominated for best actor in a drama even though they’re both portraying totally twisted and sick characters that should be eaten up by any award committee. The fact that they’re slowly becoming iconic characters in our generation apparently doesn’t help as well.

I guess the finger given by Hugh Laurie as House is fitting.

The Help – Movie Review

Based on the best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett (find my review of the book here), The Help is a drama about three Southern American women in their struggle for racial equality in Jackson, Mississippi.

Emma Stone stars as Eugena “Skeeter” Phelan, a recent college graduate going back home, who wants to break out of the mold society has limited her in. She’s an aspiring writer who happens to live during the era of Civil Rights Movements. Viola Davis stars as Aibileen, a maid working for a Mrs. Elizabeth, her main job being taking care of Elizabeth’s little girl, Mae Mobley, whose mother doesn’t care about. Octavia Spencer stars as Minnie, a snarky maid who literally can’t keep her mouth shut but whose cooking is so superb that her white employers tend to turn a blind eye to her blabbing.

After a proposal by Skeeter’s friend, Miss Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), to have separate bathrooms for the colored help, the idea in Skeeter’s mind of the necessity of change begins to blossom, especially after it gets fueled by an enthusiastic New York publisher who wants her to write. So Skeeter sets to write a story about the help in Jackson. Her first two maids to go on board? Minnie and Aibileen, who will tell Skeeter their deepest and darkest stories – stories they’ve hidden for such a long time they’ve become permanent scars in their souls. Aibileen tells her about all the little kids she raised, about how Elizabeth is an unfit mother, about how she doesn’t treat Mae Mobley like a real mother should. Minnie, who also happens to be Miss Hilly’s former maid, tells Skeeter about the “horrible awful thing” she did, which involves a special ingredient in a pie, to which you will have heartfelt laughs. But it is their struggle as a community that will bring the other maids on board – the chance to tell their side of the story, to be liberated – at least on paper – and to somehow seek salvation.

The performances in the movie are top notch. Starting with Emma Stone, she is one of our generation’s most promising actresses. After a great performance in Easy A and being the best of the actors in Crazy Stupid Love, she is back here not to steal the show but to offer an emotionally subtle performance that is exactly how the character she portrays is: not flamboyant but calm and reserved. Stone’s most emotional scenes come when she remembers her maid Constantine and discovers the story of how Constantine left them and it is in those scenes that she truly shines.

Viola Davis’ performance is being touted by critics everywhere as a tour de force performance. And it truly is. There’s one scene in particular, when she tells the story of how her son dies, where she plays on your emotional strings like a banjo in a country song. But her performance throughout is always nuanced, always great and always emotive. Probably the movie’s highlight scene, its ending, is purely her work. Davis is truly captivating. Whenever she focuses her eyes on another character in The Help, you almost see her gaze into that character’s soul. She is penetrating, invasive… and you welcome it with open arms.

Octavia Spencer is equally great as Minnie. She brings humor to the movie. It may be dark humor sometimes – literally – but it will still get you to feel happy that even amid all the horrible things these people had to go through, there’s still room for happiness in their lives. She gives hope to the other characters in the book and to you, as a viewer, that there could be a better tomorrow for them. She portrays Minnie’s strength subtly. She comes with a bruised eye to work and acts as if this wasn’t caused by her alcoholic husband. But deep down, below the strong outside of Spencer’s character, you can feel the volcano of hurt waiting to erupt.

The movie’s director, Tate Taylor, is Kathryn Stockett’s best friend since childhood. This deep understanding between such two friends has helped him bring her book to screen while entirely preserving the message she was trying to get across on page. While there are many differences between book and movie, some of which I had wished to be included in the movie, the screenplay Taylor wrote still works as a great adaptation, one of the better ones for a book to movie adaptation.

The Help is also a stunning movie visually. And even though there’s obviously no visual effect work here, this means recognition should be given to the cinematography crew that worked on it, most notably Stephen Goldblatt, whose previous works include Julie & Julia, Charlie Wilson’s War. etc…

If there’s anything to take out of The Help it’s that everyone is a victim – even those white socialite women. Yes, they are the victim of their ignorance, of their repressed memories of the black women that brought them up. The black women are victims of being at the wrong time. The little white girls are victims of negligent mothers.

At the end of the day, The Help can be summed up by its most emotional scene, which also happens to be its conclusion. As Aibileen leaves the house of her employer, Elizabeth, she sits by Mae Mobley and asks her to repeat what Aibileen has been teaching her every day. Mae Mobley stares into Aibileen’s deep, dark eyes and repeats: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

9/10

The Help (Book Review) – Kathryn Stockett

For the movie review, click here.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi and raised at the hands of a maid, Kathryn Stockett knows firsthand how it was to be a “superior” white person in the American South in the 1960s. The black maids tend to the white children, watch those children grow up and eventually become their bosses.

So it is with that sort of autobiographical flair that Stockett approaches her debut novel: The Help. No, the book is not an autobiography but it feels very real because it draws upon life-like elements and historical events to drive its plot. Eugena “Skeeter” Phelan is a fresh college graduate going home to Jackson in 1962 after a failed attempt at securing a job with important New York publishers. As she settles in the hierarchal routine of her hometown, Skeeter starts to realize that she doesn’t really belong in the bridge circles her friends have every week or their banquets. She’s also not as interested in the mundane elements of their lives that they love to share so much. So as Skeeter looks upon her friend’s maid, Aibileen, she asks her if she wished things were different. Aibileen cannot reply. But in a world where the white people of Jackson were trying to pass a regulation whereby colored individuals would have a different bathroom just because “they” carry different germs that do not go well with them while folks, Aibeleen has every reason to want change.

It is to the backdrop of racial segregation, fear, the KKK and white supremacists, mostly in the form of Skeeter’s friend, miss Hilly, that three women: Skeeter, Aibileen and a third maid, Minny, embark on an extraordinary quest that is really ordinary in all of its details: write a book about the stories of the maid of Jackson, a book that talks about the help including all of the bad, the ugly and the beautiful moments they have lived with their white employers.

The Help is told in three main parts, divided according to each character. The three parts intertwine as the story progresses but they are as distinct as they can be mostly due to the drastically different natures of the characters outlining and driving each part. Even the english language employed by Stockett is drastically different for each part: Aibileen’s part is mostly slang, Skeeter is proper English and Minnie finds a middle ground between them.

What is common to the three parts, however, is that all three characters driving them jump off the page due to their complex structure, warmth and exquisite character. Aibileen is the mother who cares about her employer’s little girl, Mae Mobley, as much as she cared about her son. Minnie is the angry, scrappy character who can’t stand silent to her employers berating her, who can’t stand by as Miss Hilly accuses her of being a thief. Skeeter is the woman wanting change in a time when people like her even existing is frowned upon, in a time where even the people she was trying to help are wary of her.

All of this is exposed in Stockett’s The Help in three-dimensional glory.

What leaves you as you finish The Help is a sense of happiness. It is a book about tormented lives seeking emancipation from the bonds of society. It is a book that gets you to laugh at points and sit in reflection at your own life at other points, especially as we, the Lebanese, have many of the incidences taking place in this book happening in own households with our “help”.

The Help, at the end of the day, is a book about empowerment. Be it the white woman empowering the black women to rise beyond their predicaments or Aibileen empowering Mae Mobley to be more than what her mother tells her: “Mae Mobley is kind. Mae Mobley is smart. Mae Mobley is important.”

The Help is kind. The Help is smart. The Help is important.