Continuing with the theme of Black History Month comes a triumphant film about one young girls efforts to combat racism in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s – The Help.
The era in which this film is set played favour to the Civil Rights movement, during which a young African-American Activist called Medgar Evers was assassinated by a member of the White Citizens Council, Byron De La Beckwith, in 1963. Evers’ activism was focussed around equality in civil rights for white and black people, and shortly after President Kennedy made his address in favour of this cause, Evers was shot by the future Klu Klux Klan member. It was a time of change for America, but it was difficult making this a reality. The Help revolves around a young, aspiring writer called Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, who wanted to expose the racism and abuse that occured from white home owners to their black hired Help in her home town of Jackson.
Upon returning home from University, Skeeter learns that her families Help, Constantine, suddenly quit her post with the family and returned to Chicago. Sceptical Skeeter finds it hard to believe she would have done this voluntarily, without saying her goodbyes. In the 60’s, the Help were mostly responsible for raising the children of the families they lived with as well as performing other maids duties. Young girls of this time, like Skeeter, often had a deep admiration and bond to their Help as they were closer to them than they were to their own Mothers.
As an aspiring journalist, Skeeter has her own newspaper column called ‘Homemaker Hints’ and seeks the knowledge of her friend Elizabeth’s Help, Aibeleen. Skeeter grows increasingly concerned when she sees the way in which her friends treat their maids, especially the acts of Hilly Holbrook, whose maid Minny is Aibeleen’s best friend. Hilly introduces the ‘Home Help Sanitation Initiative’ whereby she proposes a law for a separate toilet to be given to the Help as she believes they carry diseases. Desperate to put an end to this appalling treatment of such devoted women, Skeeter asks Minny and Aibeleen to tell her about the racism they endure on a daily basis to be part of a book she wants to write. They reluctantly agree for fear of getting in to trouble, but as Hilly’s scheme becomes closer to being a reality they start talking. Skeeter writes a draft of her book and a publisher takes interest, she tells Skeeter to get more maids to testify as it will make a stronger case.
Upon learning of the assassination of Medgar Evers, the other maids soon come forward and Skeeter fills her book with various stories from maids all over Jackson, including one that Minny calls ‘The terrible awful’ – I shall say no more and let that one be a surprise! As more terrible things happened to the maids in the neighbourhood, the more they came forward with their stories and so Skeeter’s book was finished, printed and published. After sharing her earnings with the Help who testified and basking in the glory of Skeeter’s success, we return to Aibeleen, whose final moments on screen are emotional, uplifting and full of hope, as she leaves her household to start a brand new life.
Adapted for the screen by Tate Taylor and based on the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help offers an original insight to a world that had a blind eye turned to it for so many years. The themes of racism and discrimination are strong in this film, although perhaps sometimes slightly washed over, nevertheless it certainly invites a heavy emotional investment to its characters, lead strongly by Viola Davies who plays Aibeleen. It was very well received and addresses issues faced by the Black community without allowing the politics to envelop the storyline, the only way the Help learn about what is happening during the Civil Rights era is by catching snippets of television or radio and from word of mouth. If the politics and events of the Civil Rights Movement had been a heavy plot point, it could have potentially detracted from the small town vibe that Tate Taylor was trying to create.
The Help is a really great film with a strong message and acts as homage to the women it portrays,
The Help is an excellent Black History Month film, and perhaps you might even like to give the book a try too!
You can find The Help DVD in the DVD ZONE – Shelfmark 791.43 and the book in the BOOK ZONE – Shelfmark 823.91 STO. Ask someone at the issue desk if you have trouble finding them!
Further Reading in the Information Store:
To Kill a Mockingbird – BOOK ZONE – 823.91 LEE
Independence and Equality (1940 – 1968) – BOOK ZONE – 323.4
Making Their Mark – BOOK ZONE – 323.4