The Help

August 21, 2011 5 Comments

Can we talk about race yet?  The wide range of responses to “The Help”  suggests progress, but reminds  that we still have a ways  to go.  This film was a much anticipated adaptation of Kathyrn Stockett’s blockbuster novel and was directed by Tate Taylor (the author’s close friend).  “The Help” has been applauded and vilified.  It has been blasted as “a primer on racism for grade school children” and a  banal story of “archetypes” rather than characters.  Viola Davis’s portrayal of “Abileen,” the maid who steps up to tell her story, has been acknowledged as deeply moving, and far surpasses Emma Stone’s “Skeeter”(the film’s actual white protagonist).   There is a bit of anxiety (white guilt?)  in many of the most positive reviews–is Abileen too much of a cliche?  Is the emotion that we feel “appropriate” or are we attempting to exonerate ourselves for  heinous events by sharing a “feel good” ending?  Good questions!!!!

Although much of the film is painted with very broad strokes, I found myself touched by quiet moments, especially between the maids and the white children they raised….was I being manipulated?  What is the “right way” to feel?  Again, good question.

I saw this film in a theatre with a primarily African American audience and found myself at times measuring my reaction to certain scenes with the larger audience. Were we seeing things similarly? Did the racist white people of Mississippi seem too cliche?  The film seemed well-received,  by the audience,  but there was no dialogue between us at the end…at least not yet…..this is a “Must See” movie……..Jolyn Wagner

Must See Movie of the Week
5 Comments to “The Help”
  1. Dave Lundin says:

    While I thought the Mississippi characters were predictably stereotyped,(white oppressors and very bad, black oppressed and very good), there is considerable truth to that. I didn’t know that black maids had their own bathrooms built outside the house because they weren’t allowed to use the home’s bathrooms inside, even though they were caring for the children and changing their diapers. And I hadn’t made the connection between slavery and white homeowners ‘owning’ their maids. And there were many touching intergenarational scenes, for example between the liberal author and her culture-bound mother and between the black maids and the white children they were raising. Also many comedic moments that the largely black audience appreciated, such as when the snotty whites get their culinary comeuppance. Though not perfect, definately worth seeing.

  2. Margo Siegel says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this film as I did the novel; Stockett’s first by the way. The theme of racial prejudice during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement is well portrayed as we are taken back in time so beautifully with this period piece. They did a wonderful job with the set design (cars, clothing, furniture, hairstyles, etc.)as I felt like I was on the streets of this Mississippi town. The film also encouraged additional themes of friendships (good and bad), mother-daughter relationships, male-female roles. I thought Viola Davis was outstanding. Didn’t she portray the Mother in the movie, Doubt? I found it very interesting that affluent, Caucasian women “allowed” their African American “help” to raise their children, but not allow them to use the same bathrooms because they might “catch a disease”? I would highly recommend this film, but be sure to bring some tissues along.

  3. Jolyn Welsh Wagner says:

    I agree with your experience of the film…do you think the (low) status of the white women fed their ability/need to deny the significance of the women who were actually raising their children (and who in fact had raised them!),,,I found this one of the most intriguing themes of the movie…the imperative to accept the loss of these mother-figures via the denial of their crucial immportance–which would require that they be recognized as equals or more-equals–in order to gain admittance to the bridge club…what a dilemma…..

  4. Margo Siegel says:

    Absolutely. They were shallow women who were suffering themselves from “inferiority” in society, and I believe they needed a way to make themselves feel better; no different historically than any other persecution scenario. One question that does bother me is why did Skeeter, who was raised just like her friends, react so differently to the situation? She loved the African-American woman who raised her (Cicely Tyson); so great to see her back in a film. Why didn’t any of the other women share her perspective, or maybe they did; but were not strong enough to verbalize it?
    At the end of the film when Mae Mobley was asking Abileen not to leave her, extremely emotional scene, the camera shot went right to her Mother’s face to catch a look of desperation, and perhaps a bit of guilt over what was going to happen here. I also found the character who lived in the country, forgot her name, to be one of the most interesting because of her transformation from the beginning of the film to the end. She was not welcomed into the “elite” club, but it made her stronger. Of course, the influence of Minni also promoted her change, and the respect of her husband. At any rate, I could go on and on about different aspects of the film….thanks for sharing your perspective!

  5. Margo Siegel says:

    Absolutely. They were shallow women who were suffering themselves from “inferiority” in a societal view, and I believe they needed a scapegoat; no different historically than any other persecution scenario. One issue that I question is why did Skeeter, who was raised similar to her friends, react so differently to the situation? She loved the African-American woman who raised her (Cicely Tyson); so great to see her back in a film. Why didn’t any of the other women share her perspective, or maybe they did; but were not strong enough to verbalize it? At the end of the film when Mae Mobley was asking Abileen not to leave, extremely emotional scene, the camera shot went directly to her Mother’s face to catch a look of desperation, and perhaps a bit of guilt over what was going to happen here. In addition I found the character who lived in the country, to be one of the most interesting because of her transformation from the beginning of the film to the end. She was not welcomed into the “elite” club, but it made her stronger. Of course, the influence of Minni also promoted her change, and the respect of her husband. At any rate, I could go on and on about different aspects of the film…thanks for sharing your opinions!

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