The theater lights dim and we enter Jackson, Mississippi, the 1960’s. Certainly no place to be if you were African American. Segregation is the norm and menial jobs with no basic protection is all that is available. The Help follows a group of extraordinary women who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project- a project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. An improbable alliance is formed and a remarkable sisterhood emerges, giving these woman the courage to force their town to come face-to-face with the changing times. And what a journey it is.
The film is directed by new-comer Tate Taylor, who was selected for the job by her friend, novelist Kathryn Stockett. Stockett wrote her debut novel by the same name in 2009 and it quickly became a best-selling phenomenon leading to its rapid transformation to the silver screen and one viewers don’t want to miss!
This story begins when a young white college grad (Stone) decides to make a career in journalism her first priority after obtaining a job writing Miss Myrna’s cleaning hints column for the Jackson Journal. Since she has no experience in these matters, Skeeter turns to Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis)- her best friend Elizabeth Leefolts’ (Ahna O’Reilly) maid- for answers to her readers questions. It is during her many visits with Aibileen and in her friends homes that her eyes are opened to the humiliations that are endured on a daily basis by ‘The Help’ . While continuing to write her column, Skeeter decides to start on another book project and enlists the help of local maids to create the true stories of their life experiences from their perspective.
The film is full of powerful performances and at the center is Aibileen played by Viola Davis. She tells us she is a maid just like her mother and grandmother who was a house slave. She has raised 17 white children and has always tried to instill self-respect in each one of them. She constantly recites to her current baby Mae Mobly ,who is brushed aside by her mother ,“You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” At first it is only Aibileen who will speak with Skeeter and their meetings are done is secret, at night, in the dark.
Minny (Octavia Spencer) is a spit-fire housekeeper/cook who constantly gets into trouble with her employers because of her mouth. She is feisty and contemptuous. Minny gets fired by Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) the president of the Women’s League because she dared to use the inside bathroom during a tornado. Unable to get a job in town, she gets employment with Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) who lives outside of town and who is unable to break into the inner circle of the Women’s League. They consider her white trash and refuse to associate with her as per Hilly Holbrook’s instructions. It is this turn of events that gets Minny to agree to talk with Skeeter and her ‘sweet’ revenge is not to be missed.
The turning point of the story comes when Minny’s replacement Yule Mae Davis is arrested for stealing an unwanted ring she found behind the couch. She was going to use the money to send her second twin son to college. She had already asked for an advance from her employer but Miss Hilly had refused the request. As a result of this incident, Miss Skeeter is able to get all the stories she needs to fill her novel from the other maids in town.
The Help is a compilation of the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a story of friendships, of love and hate; it makes us feel good but also bad. It provides us a mirror to our humanity while reminding us of our historical flaws. There are laughs and also some tears. At the end of the movie I attended, the audience clapped when it was over. This doesn’t happen often but when it does it gives you a great feeling all over. The feeling that you entered the theater as individuals but you leave having gone on a journey together.