Originally published on Regent Times March 2012
An aspiring author, during the civil rights movement of the 1960′s, decides to write a book from the perspective of the African-American maids. An account of their daily struggles serving the white families they work for.
Written for the screen and directed by Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of the author, Kathryn Stockett, The Help is the tale of middle class revulsion of their African-American maids.
Skeeter Phelan, played by Emma Stone, is a young lady growing up in such a family. An aspiring writer, she takes a cleaning advice column in the local paper and sets out to enlist the help of her friend’s housekeeper Aibileen Clark. Whilst doing this it transpires that the treatment of the help is atrocious and Skeeter soon wants to write a novel about such conditions from the women’s point of view. Whilst not happy about letting a white girl assist them in their struggle she soon gains the confidence of the ladies and sets about telling their tale.
The treatment of the help continues and Skeeter soon finds she is a lonely voice in trying to make changes.
Outside toilets so the help don’t touch the porcelain palaces of the rich families they serve is just one example of the awful way the help is viewed. None more so than by local leader of the women’s community Hilly Holbrook, played by the terrific Bryce Dallas Howard. Her portrayal of the evil racist Stepford wife is uncomfortable to watch, but the role is bravely played.
It seems astonishing that nearly 50 years on from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we are still using the word “brave” to describe any work dealing with racial hatred, and some parts of the film you will struggle to comprehend.
Allison Janney from the superb West Wing plays Skeeter’s mother Charlotte Phelan, and whilst suffering cancer becomes so confused by her own views on race. She wants to fit in with the other high-powered families in the town but knows the way she hires and fires these ladies is wrong. The entire cast is engaging and you feel the plight of the help, you sympathise with Skeeter and the journey she has undertaken, and grow to hate the families that treat them this way.
“I inherited my maid in my mothers will” is the line that really shocked me the most. An example that slavery was still amongst us.
Parts of the book have been missed out due to having the time constraint of two hours in length for the film, but none of the salient points or character portrayals are effected in any way.
The Help is available from DreamWorks on DVD now and is a must watch movie and future Oscar winner for sure.