|Viola Davis, The Help|
"During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women's employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it."
|Hattie McDaniel, Gone With the Wind|
Before motion pictures, the Mammy figure appeared in print with Aunt Chloe in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) described this way:
"A round, black, shiny face is hers, so glossy as to suggest the idea that she might have been washed over with the whites of eggs, like one of her own tea rusks. Her whole plump countenance beams with satisfaction and contentment from under a well-starched checkered turban, bearing on it; however, if we must confess it, a little of that tinge of self-consciousness which becomes the first cook of the neighborhood, as Aunt Chloe was universally held and acknowledged to be."
In an excellent overview of the Mammy stereotype, the Jim Crow Museum describes "Commercial Mammies":
"The mainstreaming of Mammy was primarily, but not exclusively, the result of the fledgling advertising industry. The mammy image was used to sell almost any household item, especially breakfast foods, detergents, planters, ashtrays, sewing accessories, and beverages. As early as 1875, Aunt Sally, a Mammy image, appeared on cans of baking powder. Later, different Mammy images appeared on Luzianne coffee and cleaners, Fun to Wash detergent, Aunt Dinah molasses, and other products. Mammy represented wholesomeness. You can trust the mammy pitchwoman."Aunt Jemima appeared at the peak of the Jim Crow era near the time that Plessy v. Ferguson maintained the status quo of "separate but equal". Gone With the Wind was released just before World War II labor shortages and opportunities in the military opened new areas of employment for African Americans. This is not an image that needs to be continued into the 21st century.