The Help is a fabulous
rendition of Kathryn Stockett’s book, featuring a stellar cast and
wonderful script. Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, it is a
fictional civil rights tale where the heroes are poor, common, black
women fighting the unjust prejudice inflicted on them by the genteel
white ladies of Southern society.
Employed as maids, “the help”
run the households of their white employers, performing everything from
cleaning, cooking, polishing silver, entertaining the bridge club,
ironing, and buying groceries, to raising their employers’ children.
And yet they are grossly underpaid, ill-treated, and considered dirty
and unsanitary, not fit to use the same bathroom or eat from the same
dishes as their white employers—all of whom are loyal members of the
Junior League, committed to raising money for starving African
children. If this isn’t enough to make you laugh while at the same time
your blood is boiling, then read the book—or see the movie. You’ll be
in for an emotional yet fun ride.
While there is tragedy in many
Southern tales, there is also an enormous amount of humor, mainly
because Southerners have a horrible legacy of evil, and yet we are
loving and open armed, willing to invite strangers into our homes and
serve them a hot casserole at a moment’s notice. And we talk funny
(being a Southerner, I can say that with a twang!). The same is true
for the characters in this movie. I loved how Aibileen and Minnie, the
two black protagonists (beautifully played by Viola Davis and Octavia
Spencer), conversed with each other behind their employers’ backs,
laughing and carrying on in the kitchen when the most horrible things
are being said about them in the other room, particularly by the evil
Hilly (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard’s daughter, who is a
Skeeter (played by Emma Stone),
the white heroine who assists the help in writing an anonymous expose,
has the enviable position of getting a true glimpse inside the black
culture of the day and witnessing the humor as well as the horrific
tragedies that abound. She represents many in white society who see the
injustice and feel the shame and remorse when it comes from her own
friends and family. She wants to do something about it, regardless of
the cost, and the result is a tell-all book entitled The Help.
grown up in the South in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I am intimately
familiar with having a “black maid,” since we had the same one from the
time I was six until her retirement, long after I was married. She was
a wonderful housekeeper, like the
in the movie, who did
everything with excellence, down to the fried chicken, meatloaf, and
potato salad. And when she spoke or wrote a card or walked from one
room to the other, it was as though the queen of England was in the
house. There was a regal sense to her that couldn’t be explained, a
dignity and grace, and yet I, in my ignorance, had no idea what
opposition she had endured long before we met.
For those who may question the
of such subtle prejudice as the usage of bathrooms, ask any Southerner
who had a black maid in their home during this time if they remember
her using the toilet. I even telephoned my mother on this one. Had our
beloved maid used the facilities in the twenty-plus years she had
worked in our modest-sized home—five days a week, from eight to four?
Nope, none of us could ever recall. Not a single time. It was an
unwritten rule of which none of us were really aware—not until I read
Ms. Stockett’s book.
It is these subtle nuances of
prejudice that make this story powerful. Educated white women of
affluence and power would go to their graves insisting they don’t have
a prejudice bone in their bodies, and yet their bathrooms, dishes,
food, and front entranceways—not to mention schools, churches, lunch
counters, movie seats, and the list goes on and on—are off limits to
their black maids. I loved how the power of change was effected by the
weak and lowly black women who used the written word to bring about
social awareness in a very different way from Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Medgar Evers, and other civil rights leaders of that day. It is a
lesson to us all that change can start underneath, in the grass, where
the roots are buried; it is a change that one cannot see, but a change
that lasts forever.
And interestingly enough, it is
a change that can affect the white person who doesn’t have the courage
to stand up against prejudice from her world. The best scene in the
film is when Skeeter’s mother, spurred on by the success of her
daughter’s book, stands up to the evil Hilly—finally. Woo hoo! Go to
the movie just to see Allison Janney—one of the finest actresses in
Hollywood, in my book—play this scene to the hilt. That is a movie
moment I plan to see over and over!
Get to the theater soon and
enjoy The Help. You won’t be disappointed.