Since its first incarnation as a novel in 2009 to its film adaptation last summer, The Help has been surrounded by controversy. Questions have been raised regarding whether it is acceptable for a white woman to write about the plight of black maids in the 1960s south; and are the actresses portraying the maids Uncle Toms, playing negative stereotypes while catering to an industry that continues to marginalize them based on their combine race and gender. While there are no right answers to these questions, there’s no denying that the movie and its message are powerful.
The Help is told from the point of view of three strong, resilient women. Aibileen (Viola Davis) is a middle aged maid who has spent most of her life raising white babies, Minny (Octavia Spencer) is also a maid, filled with volumes of contempt and a quick tongue, and Skeeter (Emma Stone) is a young white woman fresh out of college. Returning home Skeeter learns that Constantine, the maid who raised her, has mysteriously left, leading her to finally see the way maids are treated in her community. This revelation paves the way for an idea to write a book based on the point of view of the help, though she quickly learns that this is not an easy task when Aibileen immediately dismisses the idea as dangerous for any maid willing to speak to Skeeter. But Aibileen is tired of the way she and other maids are treated by their employers and bravery quickly trumps her fear and she joins the project, soon followed by her friend Minny. The three women begin a journey of discovery as Aibileen and Minny, and soon other women, share stories that are tragic, uplifting, hilarious, and ridiculous.
Many movies based on race relations tend to go to extremes, either wretchedly depressing or succinctly hopeful. The Help dips into both. For Aibileen life is about raising white babies, spending more time with them than their own mothers, who then grow up to treat her with casual disrespect. With her hands Minny creates delicious meals for her employers only to be screamed at for using their toilet. The racism these women deal with can often be defined as purely ludicrous and the film does well to display that while also emphasizing the fact that they suffer from the ugliness of deep seated hate and ignorance. As Aibileen and Minny, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were brilliant. Both women were nominated for Academy Awards, Spencer took home the prize for Best Supporting Actress, and the honor is well deserved for powerful performances. Emma Stone, known for playing likeable characters in lighthearted movies delivered a pleasantly mature performance as Skeeter.
The Help was directed and screenplay was written by Tate Taylor based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett. Along with the aforementioned ladies, the movie features Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain in an Oscar nominated performance, Chris Lowell, Allison Janney, and Sissy Spacek.
Rated PG-13, The Help is146 minutes long. You can find a copy just about anywhere.