The Help directed by Tate Taylor (Dreamworks SKG, Reliance Entertainment, Participant Media, PG-13, 146 minutes)
Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain
I visited Jackson, Mississippi last year during my spring break. I took a group of students to a small, entirely African-American suburb nearby to sing in churches, schools, and community events.
We stayed in a town that was literally divided by train tracks, and if you were on one side of the tracks, you were living on the African-American side of town. I was blown away by the rampant racial inequality still not only surviving but surging, in this community outside of Jackson. I even had breakfast a few mornings at a place where biscuits, grits, and gravy were standard, and mistakenly made the social faux pas of sitting on the “black side” of the establishment, which both shocked and saddened me.
This experience rather reminded me of The Help.
A Book about Racism
Adapted from the book of the same title by Kathryn Stockett, the story is about African American maids working in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s. Skeeter (Emma Stone), one of the main characters, decides to write a controversial book about racism in the perspective of the maids who work for white families.
Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) are the two black maids who decide to help Skeeter out with her project. They, understandingly, are reluctant to help at first, as they fear they will lose their jobs should they share the uncomfortable situations they’ve encountered. Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), meanwhile, is petitioning for her “Home Help Sanitation Initiative” which proposes separate bathrooms for the help, as black folks carry “diseases” because of their skin pigment.
|The Capitol in Jackson, MS|
Continuing to write the story, Skeeter tries to publish the book quickly, as her publicist believes that the Civil Rights Movement will be a passing fad. So, she publishes it quickly, but only after Minny tells her the story of the “terrible awful” in which she bakes her former employer, Hilly Holbrook, a special pie, with some special ingredients.
Minny, meanwhile sought employment elsewhere, where Celia Foot (Jessica Chastain) desperately needs a housekeeper. Celia treats her well, and in a tear-inducing scene, actually treats “the help” to a dinner saying “you will always have a job with me”.
The film, and undoubtedly the novel (I haven’t read it, so I’m not sure), portrays something of southern Mississippian society that is still sadly partially present today. There is a racial inequality present, but one individual who chooses to speak up can actually change it all. Though things in Mississippi may not be anywhere close to perfect, there have been huge changes in the culture overall since the Civil Rights movement, and someone like Emma Stone could change it even more if they were to arise and be bold.
The movie portrays a great deal of hope, and deserves the Oscar nods it received: two for best supporting actress—for Olivia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain; one for best actress—for Viola Davis; and one for best picture. I think if you’re in the mood for a good convicting drama, you should check out The Help.
Verdict: 4 out of 5