Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Tate Taylor (screenplay), Kathryn Stockett (novel)


Emma Stone ... Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan
Viola Davis ... Aibileen Clark
Bryce Dallas Howard ... Hilly Holbrook
Octavia Spencer ... Minny Jackson
Jessica Chastain ... Celia Foote
Ahna O'Reilly ... Elizabeth Leefolt
Allison Janney ... Charlotte Phelan
Anna Camp ... Jolene French
Eleanor Henry ... Mae Mobley
Emma Henry ... Mae Mobley
Chris Lowell ... Stuart Whitworth
Cicely Tyson ... Constantine Jefferson
Mike Vogel ... Johnny Foote
Sissy Spacek ... Missus Walters
Brian Kerwin ... Robert Phelan

Rated: PG 13 (for language, racial expletive, and violence)

The Help is based upon the debut novel of Kathryn Stockett. Ms. Stockett is herself a Southerner and in part wrote the story about her own relationship with the family help.

Skeeter Phelan's just finished her degree in journalism at "Ole Miss" and she's back home with her parents trying to begin a new life. She's an outcast already among her society girls, because she didn't attend college with the strict goal of finding a husband. She's never even dated.

What Skeeter wants to do is be a writer, maybe histories, maybe a novelist. Despite her mother's concerns, she gets a job with the local paper doing the Aunt Myrna column.

Unfortunately, Skeeter doesn't know a thing about keeping house. So she asks her friend, Elizabeth if she can get help from her maid Aibileen with the questions people send in to Aunt Myrna. Aibileen's the perfect person to ask. She's been working as a domestic since she was fourteen, that's forty plus years and seventeen White babies she's raised. Aibileen's a good mama, a lot better than her employer, Elizabeth is. Every day, she teaches her charge, Mae Mobley, that she's a good and worthwhile person. That's one thing Elizabeth just does not have time to do.

Conversations between Skeeter and Aibileen begins innocently enough. Then Skeeter ups the stakes. She needs something to write about -- and what better topic than the relationship between Blacks and Whites in Jackson, Mississippi, 1963.

That kind of research in the Jim Crow South is like sitting on a powder keg and lighting matches. Nationally, Dr. Martin Luther King is preaching civil rights. Locally, Medgar Evers is encouraging the Blacks to get active. Blacks can't go to the White side of town after dark and Whites like Skeeter are suspect as agitators if they're seen in Black homes. Even researching the Mississippi laws relating to "nonwhites" is enough to get Skeeter in trouble if the wrong people find out.

Meanwhile, the "League", Skeeter's women's club, has started an initiative, the Home Health Safety Initiative, sponsored by Skeeter's friend, Hilly Holbrook. This initiative would require all homes that hired colored help to have separate bathrooms for Whites and Blacks.

As the story progresses, tensions heat up even further. The relationship between employer and employee in a lot of cases deteriorates. Participants in Skeeter's interviews wonder if it's going to be safe to go through with the project.

The Help is painfully real. It's the kind of movie every person who doesn't think racial relations matter should see. It's a harsh reminder of our past and a warning for what we could be if we ever become complacent and allow our civil conscience to slip. In my opinion, the White community in this film were a sad bunch sending money to starving children in Africa while their own servants hadn't a shot at a better life. They were cruel and thoughtless for the most part and treated people who'd raised them, their children, and cleaned up their messes with singular ingratitude.

I think the book and film came at an excellent time because of the increased racial tensions we're experiencing in the United States right now which science fiction author and physicist, David Brin, likens to the third civil war in this country.

My husband and I paid full price for The Help and it was worth every penny. I'm not sure that I will purchase the film, but I may well see it again. I'll definitely be recommending The Help to friends who teach history of the period because it contains powerful lessons about humanity and race.

The burning question all of you who read the book may want to ask is, was the film better than the book? I finished The Help in one sitting about six weeks ago and it's up there with To Kill a Mockingbird for me. One of my favorite scenes from the book is not in the film (maybe it'll end up in a director's cut). For me, most films do not quite live up to the written promise, but this one was very close. I could not have cast many of the characters better had I tried and some choices were far better to the people I saw in my head.


There are two sides to every story and I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Black viewers' feelings on this film may be a whole lot different than mine. Here's an excellent review of the film from Black author, Valerie Boyd, who also teaches journalism at the University of Georgia.

Part of the sum-up for Ms. Boyd's review was:

"‎....Aibileen is now an unemployed maid, Skeeter is moving forward in her life of white privilege — and the filmmakers expect viewers to feel good about this."

My response is -- this depends on whether you're a glass half full - half empty kind of person. Every good film leaves something to the viewer's imagination. My hope was that Aibileen was going to go out and write the best-seller that was in her and set the world on fire. (And keep in mind, Aibileen had different connections with Minny working for the Foote family, so she may not be unemployed after all)

Minny had left that abusive man she was married to and her children were going to have a better shot at a decent life, particularly since she now worked for people who did appreciate her and realize the contribution she'd made to their lives.

Skeeter was going to see that Blacks could have a better/different life in New York. Yes, she was going to have a better job in New York, but she would use that position to start really working in the Civil Rights movement and make a true difference in race relations.

Mae Mobley (who would not have had a chance had it not been for Aibileen) was going to become a strong, competent woman who was different and better than her Mom.

Hilly was going to have a nervous breakdown and end up totally disempowered in Jackson society--she could never look at chocolate again without screaming.

Rebecca Kyle, August 2011

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