Based On True Story? “The Help” Author Battles Family Maid In Court

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JACKSON, Miss. — Lawyers for Kathryn Stockett want a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses the author of “The Help” of basing a character on a real-life maid who works for Stockett’s brother.

The best-selling book “The Help” was made into a movie that opens Wednesday. It’s based on relationships between white families and their African-American maids in the segregated South of the 1960s.

A driving character in the novel is a woman named Aibileen. A real-life woman named Ablene Cooper, who said she works as a maid for Stockett’s brother, filed a lawsuit in February that accuses Stockett of using Cooper’s name and likeness without permission.

The lawsuit was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court in Jackson, where Stockett grew up and where the novel is set. It asks for $75,000 in damages.

Cooper’s attorney, Edward Sanders, said Tuesday that an Aug. 16 hearing will deal with a motion filed by Stockett’s defense team that seeks to have the lawsuit dismissed.

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.”

Stockett’s attorney, Fred Banks, didn’t immediately respond to a message Tuesday.

In court filings, Stockett’s lawyers argued the lawsuit should be dismissed for a number of reasons, including claims that a one-year statute of limitations has passed. Cooper’s attorneys dispute that.

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

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