The Help is a poignant, dramatic film adaptation opening in Toronto cinemas. Based on a debut novel by southern belle Kathryn Stockett, the film reflects racial strife in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s. Controversial in its portrayal of black maids caught in servitude to white families, the movie authentically captures a reality known intimately by its creators. The film is intensely personal for both the author and the director, as we learn from the following details about its development and filming:
Director Tate Taylor was a virtual unknown before buying the film rights to his friend Kathryn Stockett’s yet unpublished book. Both he and the author grew up in Jackson, Mississippi where the story takes place.
Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1970s, both Taylor and Stockett had maids (affectionately referred to as their “co-mothers”) who cared for them while their mothers worked. Taylor’s co-mother, Carol Lee, has a small part in the film.
The film was shot on location in and around Greenwood, Mississippi where the citizens willingly pitched in by digging around in their attics and basements to find period props for the film. Even producer Brunson Green’s grandmother’s dress wound up in wardrobe.
Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny in the film, is a long-time friend of Taylor. The two had been roommates in Los Angeles for four years. In addition, Green (also from Jackson, Mississippi) is a long-time friend of both Taylor and Spencer and the three used to hang out occasionally with Stockett.
While growing up in Jackson, Mississippi Taylor, Stockett and Green would regularly be treated to milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches at Brent’s Pharmacy soda fountain. The production was able to recreate the real Brent’s Pharmacy as it was back when they were children.
Local chefs were brought in to make sure foods used in the scenes, from fried chicken to congealed salads, were regionally correct and accurate for the times. A conscious effort was made to make it all look homemade, not fancy or store-bought, to add to the authenticity of the film.
Cast members spent a whole day in a ballroom learning how to do period dances, including the bunny hop taught by Sissy Spacek.
A dialect coach, hired to make sure everyone’s southern accent was perfect, flew into Jackson, Mississippi to record accents for the actors. Even the real southerners in the cast were coached in the proper way of speaking specifically for the Mississippi Delta. Allison Janney picked producer Brunson Green’s mother’s accent to emulate for her character Charlotte. In 1963 Mrs. Green was the same age as the character Skeeter played by Emma Stone.
The mothers of Taylor, Stockett and Green all have appearances in the film.
Director Taylor grew up visiting Greenwood, Mississippi as a child and would later spend nights in the home used for the interior of Skeeter Phelan’s house. Taylor was college buddies with the homeowner’s son.
The Mayflower Café, where Stuart and Skeeter eat oysters in the movie, is a Jackson, Mississippi landmark and one of Taylor’s favourite restaurants. It is the place where Taylor ate his first raw oyster as a child.
The movie theatre that Skeeter observes during a gas station scene in the beginning of The Help is the same theatre Taylor went to as a child. It closed down in the 1980s but was resurrected by the film’s production crew. Today the gas station is a yoga studio but was transformed back into a gas station for the shoot.
Enjoy “The Help” when it opens on August 10, 2011. Click here for Toronto theatres and show times.