The 2009 best-selling book The Help — written by Kathryn Stockett — is set in the 1960s and focuses on the relationships between three people: a young white woman, Skeeter, who aspires to be a writer, and two black maids, Aibileen and Minny. According to ABC News, the fictional character Aibileen Clark speaks in "heavy ethnic lingo" in the novel, and, in in one passage, compares her skin color to that of a cockroach.
"That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor," Aibileen says in the book. "He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me."
Here's the thing: Kathryn Stockett's brother, Robert Stockett III, has employed a nanny — who is black — for years. Her name? Ablene Cooper. She calls the portrayal of Aibileen "embarrassing," and has filed a lawsuit against the author.
Cooper has said the likeness is uncanny. Besides their names, both maids have a gold tooth. Like the fictional Aibileen, she lost her son to cancer several months before the birth of the Stocketts' first child.
Obviously many writers use their lives — and the experiences of people they know — as inspiration. But when the characterization is such a thinly-veiled portrait, does the subject have any grounds for legal action? Cooper claims she finds the book "emotionally upsetting." She's suing for $75,000 — probably a hell of a lot less than Viola Davis is getting to play Aibileen Clark in the film version of the story, which hits theaters in April.
Black Maid Sues, Says 'The Help' Is Humiliating [ABC News]
The Help [IMDb]