The much anticipated theatrical version of New York Times best-seller The Help (by Kathryn Stockett) is a story of change and unlikely friendships. For weeks, all I’ve been seeing on television and online are teasers and segments regarding the cast, the author, and the story itself. Set in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi, it is a tale of two cultures during the pre-Civil Rights era and focuses on the relationships between black maids and their white employers.
I’ve been reading lots of controversy around the web, regarding the portrayal of the characters and racial subject of the book. Listening to the interviews and reading the opinions online makes me pause and think about how our culture differs still today, in various parts of the US. While many people in other areas of the country seem to be offended by the subject matter, here in the Southern states I see women of all races sitting and reading The Help and they have expressed anticipation of the movie when asked.
The film version does have a few plot changes, but is entertaining as movies should be. It offers drama and comedy. During the screening, I was glad I had tissue handy to dab at my eyes as I watched the indignities the maids suffered in the movie, from being denied use of the indoor bathrooms to being accused of stealing employer’s jewelry.
What really stuck with me while watching the movie was the touching relationship between the housekeepers and the small children of the household.
“You is smart. You is good. You is beautiful.” states Aibileen Clark (played by Viola Davis) to one of the children she took care of. Be sure to keep the tissue handy.
While this is a fictional story, it reminded me of the lady who took care of my brother when he was little and too sick to attend preschool while my parents worked. Miss Fanny was at home every day when I stepped off the school bus, and she made sure I completed my homework each day and had a snack. Of course, she was also fond of me taking afternoon naps. I think I may have been a chatterbox as a kid. When I mentioned this to my mother, she recalled memories of the lady who cleaned house and watched her while her own mother worked (I come from a working family on both sides where my grandmothers worked when it was the accepted practice to stay home).
While we were not wealthy by any means, The Help features the wealthier families of Jackson and the status symbol of having outside assistance in the home, as if it were a right. Junior League meetings, afternoon Bridge games, and fundraising balls were the norm in the social life of these society ladies. Most were raised in this lifestyle and instead of being grateful and respectful of their household employees, they treated them as less than human.
What The Help movie made me sit back and think about was the way I’m raising my own children, trying to give them the things I didn’t have. I don’t think my own daughter will grow up to be a mean old Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), but it doesn’t hurt to reevaluate how by making my children’s lives easier I may be doing a disservice to their character development. Although we don’t have a housekeeper, I do spoil the heck out of my kids.
The Help is not about what’s going on now, it’s a peek into a window of a way of life that is no longer here, and makes us stop and think about personal respect and respect for others, no matter if their job is blue collar or white collar. No matter what career path we take, we should all be respected equal, whether employer or employee.
I recommend seeing The Help with girlfriends or your mom. It was funny, poignant, and worth the price of admission. Be sure to bring the tissue and make a bathroom stop before the movie starts. You don’t want to miss a moment of the film. I plan on going to see it again.
And Miss Fanny, thank you for brining me that Icee when I was a little girl and was home sick all day from school.
The Help opens in theaters on August 10, 2011. Directed by Tate Taylor, it’s based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett. The movie has an all-star cast and was filmed all around the state of Mississippi, keeping true to the setting of the book. The movie itself is 146 minutes long, but I didn’t realize just how long it was until we stepped out of the theater. It was that good.