The Help is one of the most moving, inspirational movies I have seen in quite some time.
Set against the first stirrings of the civil rights era in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi where for over a century black woman have been house slaves then maids (sadly in terms of the treatment meted out to them there was scant difference between the two types of servitude, though the latter one meant they were ostensibly free) to the landed gentry of the town.
Everything continues much as it always has until ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone), a southern society belle (but worlds apart in attitude and thought from her close friends), returns home from university determined to forge a career as a writer, and decides to write a book about the lives of the maids in the town.
She encounters resistance at first until Aibileen (Viola Davis) decides that the only way that true change is going to come is if light is shone into the darkest recesses of Jackson society, starting with the lives of the close knit black community and the impact that white racism has upon them.
It’s a gutsy move, and while Aibileen’s best friend, Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is at first reluctant to join in, she soon does, and eventually so do many other maids leading to a massive outpouring of stories that highlight the great inequities in southern society.
In the midst of this book being written and then released, great changes are wrought in Skeeter’s friendships, her relationship with her mother, the lives of the maids themselves, and though just a crack or two at first, in Jackson society itself, through the simple act (thought ultimately there is nothing simple in the act of being brave; these women bare their should and risk much to reveal the truth) of the maids talking about their lives.
I found the movie intensely moving. The courage of these women, treated like less than nothing by their employers who actually thought they weren’t racist, in standing up and being counted was beyond inspirational since it mirrored the lives of so many people during the civil rights era who fought hard to be treated as people of equal worth and standing, which, of course, they were.
I always watch movies like this which depict man’s utter inhumanity to man with horror and contempt for the perpetrators, scarcely believing that anyone could treat another as less than human simply because their skin is a different colour, and while knowing it happens, wishing that people could simply look beyond prejudice.
The true genius of the book, and now movie, is that it shone a light on this racism simply by allowing these women to tell their stories, to show that their lives are every bit as valid, and intrinsically worthy as anyone else’s.
Thank god for the courage of the few to start change that will affect the many, and thank god for The Help which shows how powerful those sorts of movements can be.