‘The Help’

U-News Staff

Skeeter, Emma Stone (left), says goodbye to Minnie, Octavia Spencer (center), and Aibileen, Viola Davis (right).
Skeeter, Emma Stone (left), says goodbye to Minnie, Octavia Spencer (center), and Aibileen, Viola Davis (right).

Civil Rights flick set in the 1960s South is an instant hit

“The Help,” based on the 2009 bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, is a chick-flick set in Jackson, Miss. at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963.

Despite its subject matter, the injustice of Southern race relations at the dawn of the civil rights movement, “The Help” is a carefully manicured, almost genteel piece of moviemaking.

It quickly gained the number two spot at the box office opening weekend, garnering support to the tune of $25 million.

The film is highly popular because it recounts a time in which some people above the age of 55 remember, or can relate to, and also hits the bone of activism that many youths possess.

It strikes a cord with people, grips you and makes you ask yourself, “Why was this ever okay?”

Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a misfit belle and recent college graduate, lands a job writing the cleaning tips column for her local newspaper.

She can’t figure out the reason why Constantine (Cicely Tyson), the beloved family maid, was let go.

Patently false excuses are the only thing she can get out of her mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney).

The relationship between Skeeter and Constantine is obviously closer than that of Skeeter and her mother.

Skeeter is a non-conformist among the Southern belles of Jackson Miss.
Skeeter is a non-conformist among the Southern belles of Jackson Miss.

Among other things, “The Help” is about the intense emotional connection between white children and the black maids who raised them.

Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) has raised 17 white children in Jackson during a time when she had lost her own son, due to an “accident” at the mill.

Skeeter, who is far more sensitive to racial grievances than any other white woman in Jackson, coaxes Aibileen to tell her story for a book that she plans to write that will eventually include the stories of other local maids.

The dangerous nature of the book project is shown as the community grieves after the killing of Medgar Evers, local Civil Rsights champion.

The film tells the story from the perspective of the help.

By privileging Aibileen’s thoughts, the film gives adequate voice to the plight of the help; moreover, the absence of a voiceover from Skeeter prevents one from making the erroneous (and ignorant) error of dismissing the film as simply another condescending tale in which a white woman does good.

On the other side are many white women comfortable with the way things are run in the Jim Crow South.

The film’s chief target is Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), president of the local junior league, who is pushing a bill that would require employers to build separate outdoor restrooms for the help.

At some point, everyone is forced to make a choice — to stay or break with the status quo. For the maids of Jackson, whether or not to participate in the book becomes the test.

By the time it lands, it has become the kind of political hot potato that is searing and scathing in ways that will leave you laughing and crying.

You don’t want to miss this quintessential Southern portrait of a long, hot summer of discontent.

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