A Jackson, Miss., maid says her name and likeness were used without permission

Two years after the publication of Kathryn Stockett’s ubiquitous best-seller The Help – a novel about black maids and their white employers in ’60s Jackson, Miss. – the real-life help is crying foul. Ablene Cooper, a 60-year-old maid and longtime resident of Jackson, has filed a complaint against Stockett claiming emotional distress. Cooper, who is seeking $75,000 in damages, contends that Stockett ignored requests that she not use her name and likeness for the character ”Aibileen,” whom the plaintiff describes as ”black, middle-aged, has a gold tooth, works for a white family in Jackson, Mississippi, and has a son who is deceased.” In an afterword, Stockett wrote that The Help is a work of ”fiction, by and large,” though she admits that it was inspired by memories of her own beloved family maid, Demetrie McLorn, who died when the author was 16.

The lawsuit was filed in Jackson, where Cooper, to further complicate matters, is reportedly employed by the author’s older brother and sister-in-law. ”They came to me and said, ‘Ms. Abee, we love you, we support you,’ and they told me to do what I got to do,” Cooper told The New York Times. In a statement, Stockett’s publisher Amy Einhorn from Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of Putnam, defended The Help as ”a beautifully written work of fiction, and we don’t think there is any basis to the legal claims.”