On August 12, the movie, The Help, opens in theaters. Yes, this movie is perfect for a girls night out, however the assertion that it’s a chick flick, might be wrong. Yes, it does contain strong female main characters and a mostly female cast, but those alone shouldn’t reduce the movie’s importance to chick flick status. How many of our own children really know the history of racial inequality in our country, especially in southern states, during the segregated 60s? (I won’t go so far as to say this even begins to tell the whole story; for that, see Do the Right Thing, Mississippi Burning, and Roots.)
The first time I heard about the wonderful novel, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, was through my friend Sarah. She had been reading it during a road trip, but couldn’t put it down even though she had arrived at her destination. I’m a tad bit compulsive/obsessive with reading…I not only acquired the hardcover book, but also the audiobook—since my mom and I had an upcoming long drive. That was two years ago and both the book and the audiobook are still being passed around! It’s the type of book you can’t help but want to share, and then, discuss.
I attended an advanced screening recently and wanted to share my thoughts. As par for the course with a wonderful book that’s made into a movie, some content is rearranged for story flow, a smidgen of plot is added, and some storylines are abbreviated. However, just like the magnificent storytelling in the book, the movie will also transport you to other places. You will be lost in the hair, wardrobe, set design, backgrounds, and colors. (Oh, and fried chicken has a brilliant cameo!)
The Help stars Emma Stone (loved her in Easy A!) as Skeeter, Viola Davis as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny—three very different, amazingly brave women, in Jackson Mississippi during the early 1960s, at a time and place where huge changes were just on the horizon. Cicely Tyson has a very important cameo. I know of no other actor who can play oppressed, albeit noble, as she does. She plays the part of Constantine, the maid who Skeeter loves like a mother. It’s their relationship that tells the real story of just how much impact a maid can have on a person’s life.
Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny build an unlikely friendship around a secret and dangerous-for-the-times writing project. Skeeter, a young, wealthy, and refreshingly liberal white woman, has recently graduated from college and wants to be a writer. She finds her break when she’s inspired to tell the stories of Jackson’s black maids, all who work for white families. What comes forth are tales of abuse, cruelty, and injustice, at the hands of their white employers. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Hilly Holbrook, the film’s antagonist. She is the racist and intolerant mean girl/queen bee. The other women in her Junior League group seem uncomfortable with her need to bully the help, but simply can’t express it. Hilly somehow has too much power. It is Hilly who pushes for white families to build bathrooms outside their homes for their black maids to use. She uses the argument that blacks “carry different diseases” even though these same black maids tend to their babies and cook their food.
From the unlikely association between Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen, a significant and important sisterhood develops. Although the movie doesn’t accurately portray all of the ugly reality of 60s-era Jackson, the storytellers choose to show more humor and hope. This movie’s focus is on empowerment. And we were thoroughly charmed.