Must See Movie: The Help Explores Challenges and Victories During Civil Rights Era
If there is any movie that you need to see out of the plethora of summer films that have hit the big screen, it’s The Help. Although movies adapted from books are very common, this particular production is sure to evoke an array of emotions. Like most movies, it does differ from the book in some ways, but if you have read the book, you will be pleased to know that the changes do not detract from the story line, but rather enhance it.
Set in Mississippi against the backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights era of the 1960s, the plot centers the lives and dynamics between the black housekeepers/nannies and the white female employers. The movie focuses on three women: Eugenia (played by Emma Stone), the woman who decides to pen the controversial novel, Abileen, (played by the lovely Viola Davis), the wise and calm black housekeeper, and her friend, the feisty and witty Minnie, (Octavia Spencer) who has a terrible problem of “sass mouthing” her white employers. The movie does a great job of capturing the tensions that were surrounding African Americans at this time as well as highlighting the close relationships that develop between the housekeepers and their employer’s children that they raise. It also highlights the theme of the relationships between mothers and their children.
Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a recent 23 year old college graduate who has recently returned home in pursuit of her dream career of being a journalist and discovers that the childhood maid whom she had grown close to has left abruptly. Skeeter doesn’t fit in among her peers because she is not actively pursuing marriage and wants to be known for her intellect. While working in her hometown, Jackson, Mississippi, she takes a job writing a domestic column about housekeeping (in which Abileen supplies the answers). She gets the idea to pen an anonymous nonfiction book based off the experiences of the housekeepers after applying for a job with a New York based publication. The publication’s Editor suggests that she submit something to possibly grab attention before even being considered.
In the beginning, apprehensive Abileen is the only one willing to assist Eugenia with Minnie joining shortly after. At first, many of the housekeepers don’t want to participate, fearing for their safety. But after seeing one of their peers being thrown in jail after a dramatic encounter with the antagonistic Hilly Holbrook, they all have a fierce change of heart and decide to share their stories. In the end, the book winds up stirring up controversy and being one of the catalysts to spark change as well as being a huge success.
Even though the movie is set in a different era, you are reminded that it was not too long ago. The movie interweaves footage from integral civil rights events with the plot lines of the characters to reinforce how dangerous it was for minorities, from Medgar Evans’ assassination, JFK’s assassination, and Dr. King’s March on Washington. It also reinforces the attitudes and some of the racial prejudices people had to experience at that time. From housekeepers being unjustly accused of stealing so they would get fired to the local, white citizen’s push for African American housekeepers to have their own bathrooms constructed outside of the white employer’s homes because of the belief that “they carry different diseases so we need to keep our children safe”, this movie does a great job of carefully exploring those issues without going overboard. If anything, it causes you to laugh at the antagonists and feel pity for them instead. It almost reminded me of the Denzel Washington movie, “Remember the Titans”, whereas the movie was not graphic and did not use a lot of profane language but still made you feel strongly for and even relate to some of the characters while remaining a family friendly movie.
One of the standout and many funny moments of the movie is when you find out what Minnie’s “Terrible Awful” is in reference to her famous chocolate pie but of course, you have to see that for yourself. Once you find out what she means, it is sure to solicit a laugh every time it’s referenced in the movie. Another great highlight is the surprise appearance of the legendary Cicely Tyson in the role of Constantine Bates and Sissy Spacek in the role of Hilly Holbrook’s mother.
The Help will make you laugh, shout, cry, and sometimes all at the same time but at the end, you will feel good. You will cheer and root for Minnie, Skeeter, and Abileen while shedding a few tears as well. While this may not be a movie for the smallest moviegoers (it may not be acceptable for children under 12 as it has some mild language in it) you can still take your family to see it as it is a bit reminiscent of the movies, “The Blind Side” and “Remember the Titans” as far as the sense of togetherness and making unlikely friends in the midst of turmoil. Run…don’t walk to see this movie.” You’ll be glad you did.
The Help is a Dreamworks Pictures film and hits theaters on August 10th.
Aspire Online Magazine and The HIGH UP.com had the opportunity to attend Press Day for The Help at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead. Here are some highlights:
Interviewer: Viola, how long did it take you to take on this role? Once you read the book, was it automatic…?
Viola Davis: “Oh, it struck me right away! You know, usually characters of color are relegated to a page or two. You know, I always say that when you’re invited to the coolest party in the world with the coolest people, you don’t think about people who were not invited. So, a lot of times people say, ‘Oh, you’ve been working so long, you have such an illustrious career, whatever.’ You know, usually, I get three or four scenes in a movie and that’s it at the most. At the MOST! I work at total of nine days, maybe. And that’s a lot. And people will say, ‘Yeah, but you were in that movie.’ I was a character in that movie, you know. I had a role. But this was a chance for me to actually really develop a character, to really be a part of it, you know? Then, major characters, characters who are really explored beyond taking care of babies and cooking in the kitchen. They’re lead roles for black women so it was a nobrainer.”
Interviewer: How did you prepare for the role?
Octavia Spencer: “My character drew on past experiences and from people in her life and family. In reference to paying homage to past men and women who worked in less than desirable positions that benefited others and why she had no trepidation in taking on the role, “I wanted to be truthful to them and to give them a voice.”
Octavia also stated she was currently writing and producing her own material and creating roles for women that would not be normally given roles, such as curvy women.
-Karissa J. Parker for AOM & The “HIGH UP”